As part of our August team development session, we held a virtual SEND-related documentary watch event: we chose an episode from Channel 4’s ‘Last Chance School’, which went behind the scenes at Gloucester House, a special school day unit for children with complex social, emotional and mental health needs that “provides a model of good practice that fits the Education, Health and Care Plan model” (https://www.gloucesterhouse.net/). Our team found it an emotionally challenging yet rewarding watch. It was interesting to see examples of educational and therapeutic provision in action, and encouraging to see how involved children/young people and their families can be in reviewing their progress and deciding on their next outcomes. However, the most impactful element of the documentary was witnessing the real-life difficulties and emotions of the children and young people and their families, and understanding their perspective of their needs, successes and hopes for the future.

The opportunity to gain an understanding of the personal day-to-day experiences and feelings of children and young people with SEND is also a subject that has been raised recently in the context of the Local Area SEND inspections.

In August, Ofsted/CQC published their report of the SEND revisit of Lancashire from back in March, which took place as a result of the written statement of action (WSOA) issued following their initial 2017 inspection. Among numerous positive findings, the inspectors reported that the local authority “have made sure that children, young people and families have been at the heart of their work”. This achievement is reflected in the comments from the chair of Lancashire’s Parent Carer Forum, Sam Jones, who remarked to Lancashire Live that “we are able to sit down together and have difficult conversations to inform senior people what our lived experience is like – and they have taken that on board as a useful perspective rather than hearing it as a complaint”. Improving relationships with parents/carers and really trying to understand their situations has also resulted in improved parental satisfaction, which Ofsted/CQC reported is “reflected in the much-lower rates of mediation and tribunals than seen nationally”.

Relatedly, an evaluation by Ofsted of the SEND Local Area inspection framework, published in July, recommended that “finding space in the framework for case tracking or thematic deep dives would give richer insight into the lived experiences of children and young people”. The evaluation reported that “area leaders and frontline professionals […] thought there was an over-emphasis on data during inspection” and that inspectors felt “there is greater emphasis on the timely processing of EHCPs (which is easier to measure) than their content and impact”. These views contributed to the consideration that “future versions of the framework would benefit from a greater focus on the lived experience of children and young people”.

Remembering the child or young person behind the paperwork has always been at the core of how we approach our support, and indeed is central to the spirit of the SEND reforms; it can sometimes be useful however to have a refreshing reminder of this aim.