This article was written for SEN Leader Magazine and first published in July 2018. If you have a subscription, you can read the full article on the SEN Leader website.
In my previous two articles exploring the role of the SEND named governor, I suggested that the governor responsible for special educational needs provision should endeavour to know the following:
- How pupils with SEND are identified
- What – and how much – funding has been allocated
- How that funding has been used and to what effect
- How the attendance, progress and outcomes of children with SEND are tracked
- How support and intervention strategies are being monitored and evaluated and what the evidence suggests
- What training staff – including teachers and support staff – have had, what impact has had, and what further training needs have been identified
- How teaching assistants are being utilised and to what effect
- How other resources are being deployed and to what effect
- How effectively parents are being engaged and communicated with
- What liaison has taken place with external agencies and the LA and the outcomes of this
- What the data shows about the extent to which the school is diminishing the difference
- What information has been published on the school website and if it is up-to-date and accurate
In addition to understanding the policies, processes and protocols outlined above, I also suggested that the SEN named governor should maintain up-to-date information pertaining the school’s SEN provision which they can do by asking the following questions:
- Do I know the number of children with SEND within the school? Do I know the proportion of those children who have EHCP, My Support Plan or a school-based plan?
- Do I know the range of needs of children with SEND within the school?
- Do I know the various funding streams available for SEND and how the funding is broken down?
- Do I know how the SEND funding is spent, how its use is monitored and evaluated, and the impact it has on pupils?
- Do I know if the school gets value for money from its SEND budgets?
- Does the school publish its Local Offer on its website and, if so, is it up-to-date? Are all other documents required by law published, up-to-date and dated?
- How does the school work with parents and carers of children with SEND? Are parents/carers involved in decision-making as co-producers of EHCPs?
- Does the SENCo have enough time to carry out his/her duties? Is that time used wisely?
- How do the school’s SEND actions contribute to improving outcomes for pupils with SEND?
- How does the attendance of pupils with SEND compare to non-SEND pupils?
- What progress do pupils with SEND make and how does this compare with the progress of non-SEND pupils?
- What outcomes do pupils with SEND get and how does this compare with the outcomes of non-SEND pupils?
- What is the gap in progress and outcomes between pupils with SEND and non-SEND pupils?
- How does our data compare with other local schools, with similar schools nationally, and with all schools nationally?
I said that, in addition to holding regular meetings with the school’s SENCo, the named governor should conduct learning walks around school in order to see for him or herself how pupils with SEND are catered for. A SEN learning walk, I said, should focus on two things:
1. The physical environment
2. Teaching and learning
In terms of the physical environment, the governor should observe classrooms, corridors, playgrounds, the canteen, and other areas of the school to assess access arrangements, hygiene facilities, and any special adjustments that have been made for particular pupils. They should ensure the physical environment is clean and safe, and that the needs of all pupils are catered for.
This may involve providing a distraction-free learning environment for pupils with ASD – measures may have been taken to reduce background noise and to tidy up cluttered displays.
In terms of teaching and learning, the governor should observe lessons to see how successfully the curriculum is being differentiated for all pupils, and what adjustments have been made – including tailored resources and the use of additional adults in the room – to support children with SEND.
Whilst conducting a learning walk, the named governor may find it helpful to refer to any EHCPs in place so they can assess whether the needs outlined in these plans are being met.
In this article I wish to explore the practice of learning walks in more detail…
What is a learning walk?
In 2005, the National College for School Leadership, as it was then known, provided this definition: A learning walk is an “organised and highly structured collaborative enquiry through the classrooms of a school by colleagues from that (and other) school(s) in order to identify evidence of progress and areas for development. [Learning walks may include] short visits to classrooms by a team of people who work together to collect evidence, learn about what is happening and ask questions.
They are intended to be constructive rather than judgmental and aim to help the school understand how teachers teach, how learners learn and what gets taught to whom and when.”
The key phrase here, I think, is “constructive rather than judgmental” and that marks a difference between a learning walk and a formal lesson observation. Although the practice of grading an individual lesson observation for the purposes of performance management is far less common than it was, say, five years ago, and although Ofsted no longer does this for the purposes of inspection, observations often still carry with them an air of formality and judgment whereas learning walks, being shorter and more informal affairs, are regarded as a means of supporting a teacher’s, department’s and school’s professional development and are not linked to performance management and appraisal.
In 2011, the National Unions of Teachers (now known as the National Education Union) provided a model learning walks policy echoed the above sentiment. They said that “learning walks may take place in order to collect evidence about teaching and learning, evidence of progress and areas for school development. They are intended to be developmental and constructive rather than judgmental and are a whole-school improvement activity. There should, therefore, be no attempt to use this approach as part of capability procedures or for appraisal.”
Of course, learning walks take different forms in different schools and depending on their intended purpose. Learning walks can be used to review developing practice across a year group, key stage and subject; they can be used to provide a ‘snapshot’ of a certain teaching approach or strategy; they can be used to identify and share good practice as well as to promote consistency; they can be used to raise awareness of new ideas; they can be used to determine individual, departmental and whole-school training needs; and they can be used to provide quality time for reflection and to stimulate professional discussion.
The NUT, in the model policy I mention above, advises that schools publish a planned programme of ‘learning walks’ that has been agreed with teachers so that they know the date, time and focus of the learning walk and who will be conducting it, so that they can organise their classes accordingly. The NUT also advises that leaders explain the purpose or focus of a ‘learning walk’ to all relevant staff prior to its commencement, and specifically advise that the purpose or focus should not relate to the performance of an individual.
The NUT’s model policy makes clear they expect learning walks to be conducted with minimum disruption to teachers and pupils. What’s more, they should be undertaken in a supportive and professional manner. They advise that a maximum of two colleagues be involved at any time and that pupils are not asked for their views of an individual teacher.
Those teachers whose classes are visited should be given the opportunity to see any written records which have been made and there should be no evaluation of an individual teacher.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, the NUT advise that, when a school still operates formal observations as part of performance management alongside learning walks, each learning walk should be counted towards the overall maximum number of observations a teacher will receive each year, which the NUT sets at three.
It’s certainly wise, when implementing learning walks for the first time in a school, to agree the protocols with staff first.
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