Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

A vital role

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Valley School has remodelled its workforce to strengthen its ethos of total inclusion, for special needs students as well as those most at risk in society, and given non-teachers prominent roles in management. Brian Rossiter explains how it works.

Valley School takes pride in being highly inclusive and in supporting some of the most vulnerable students in our community in north Nottinghamshire. Workforce reform has played a major part in our approach. Over the last decade we have developed a new inclusion structure, moving the work away from teachers to an enlarged support team.

The diagram (below) shows the structure that we have designed. The deputy head (student development) is the link between all areas of inclusion, including the learning support department. The deputy has oversight and responsibility across all areas and contributes to setting the direction for inclusion at a whole-school level.

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We took some risks as a school in adopting this model. The only colleague with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in this team is the deputy head. All the other colleagues are members of the school support team.

A significant change in our organisation was our move to a non-teacher delivering the role of special needs coordinator (Senco) under the title of learning support manager (LSM). This is a recent development for us, though not unique nationally. It takes forward the government agenda of distinguishing between posts that require a teacher's abilities and those that require other skills.

In our new structure a deputy head line manages inclusion and learning and gives a strategic lead. The government's perverse new regulation requiring the Senco to hold QTS means that the deputy head nominally holds the title while the very effective learning support manager continues in practice to carry out the duties of the Senco.

In the case of the Senco there are very few areas of responsibility that currently require the skills and attributes of a teacher and I have argued for some time that the role does not have to be undertaken by a QTS holder. I know of an increasing number of schools going down the route, for example having a HLTA (higher level teaching assistant) in this position with input from a teacher for curriculum and teaching elements of the role.

Credibility of advice

I know this view runs counter to the beliefs of the vociferous special needs lobby which convinced the government that the school Senco should hold QTS. In my view this is nonsense and contradicts the reform agenda being promoted elsewhere in DCSF.

One argument was that advice from a teacher is deemed more credible than that of someone who is not a teacher. This is certainly not the case here. I interviewed 14 science staff and they referred extremely positively to the advice and support of the attached science teaching assistant (TA). The TA is well respected and her guidance is taken on board as teachers calibrate their learning materials to meet the needs of their students. This applies in other areas of the school, too.

I argue that if the non-QTS Senco/ learning support manager is talking sense then s/he will gain the respect of the teaching body. For us, teaching status for the Senco has not been the key element to the differentiation of materials in departments. My conversations with staff indicate that it is the experience, skills and sense of the individual TAs in departments as they work with teachers that makes the difference.

Many documents quoted by the special needs lobby in support of a teacher being the appointed Senco in school appeared some time before the government's move to restructure the teaching profession. The oft-quoted SEN code of practice was printed in 2001, some years before the current requirement to allow teachers to focus on teaching and for schools to provide structures to support that activity.

I believe that this wholly false discussion about who is 'qualified' to hold the Senco title will raise its head again. Until that time we will continue to give the title to the deputy head and the day-to-day working to our very effective LSM. We are fully aware of the implications of regulations and will implement them. But we strongly believe that we can offer a better service to students and families by adopting our current staffing strategy.

Pastoral support

Previously, like many schools, we had teachers as year coordinators for pastoral support. As we were all aware, their jobs were becoming near impossible as they coped with both increased academic monitoring and more demanding social work with their cohorts.

We considered a variety of options under workforce reform and have put in place a team approach to each year cohort.

A teacher who is given the title of progress leader (PL) now has an enhanced role for monitoring the academic progress of their cohort and works on an equal basis with a member of the support team known as a pastoral support manager (PSM). PSMs pick up many of the social issues around school and some within the community. They focus on attendance and rewards as well as induction and integration of new students to the school. They are paid all year round and available for work outside the normal school day.

These five teams of PLs and PSMs are brilliant and are central to the school's future development as they provide the day-to-day support required by our students. I have sat in many meetings and marvelled at the quality of support and guidance that PSMs have given to students and their carers. PLs are currently line managed by a senior colleague (the achievement coordinator) while the deputy head (student development) leads the PSM team.

Colleagues in classrooms and parents cannot speak highly enough of this arrangement. Two other colleagues, the student development manager (SDM) and student inclusion manager (SIM), work with some of our most needy and extremely vulnerable students. The SDM handles most of the alternative pathways programmes in school. She puts together packages of support and alternatives to the more 'traditional' curriculum on offer to the majority of needy students.

Extreme casework

The SDM also handles day-to-day child protection issues and much of the extreme casework with external agencies such as social services and youth offending teams. A measure of her success can be seen in the progress of 17 former year 11 students. All had significant off-site packages involving monitored work placements, FE college taster courses and so on. In September, 16 of the 17 were in paid employment, most with training attached. And of those 16, four had been taken on as apprentices by their work placements.

These students are living examples of successful inclusion as they have all achieved positive progression routes from Valley School into the local working community. If only Ofsted could measure their achievements in contextual value added (CVA) terms.

The SIM and his two colleagues have a classroom base and offices where they counsel and work with referred students. Courses focused on student self-esteem and anger management are among the events that take place there. These colleagues also go into classrooms to work alongside students and accompany them on activities taking place away from school.

Our SIM is highly creative as he seeks out and implements practical projects, in and out of school, that produce successful outcomes for his charges. His latest projects are roller hockey and an allotment within our secure grounds. I await the first crop of lettuce this summer.

And where does all this take place? We were fortunate to be designing a brand new school at the time of workforce reform and so we created an 'Inclusion Corner' in our new facilities. This area brings together workspaces for all of the sections I have mentioned above along with specialised classrooms, a Primary Care Trust base, physiotherapy room and hot-desking office space for agencies such as the police, social workers and educational psychologist.

We are proud of the inclusive nature of our school. The development of a cohesive and visionary inclusion team, ably led by the deputy head, has been to the benefit of all our students, including those with the most obvious social and special educational needs. Our move in developing our support team structure has ensured that we continue to be considered "highly inclusive" as we seek to ensure that all of our students have progression pathways from Valley School.

Brian Rossiter is head of Valley School, an 11-18 comprehensive in Worksop, north Nottinghamshire.

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