Leadership for inclusion

Steve Pendleton writes..

With increasing numbers of students being identified as having SEND and record numbers of students with an EHCP, local authorities are expecting more to stay in mainstream schools. In one primary school in Warwickshire, large numbers of pupils with SEND are flourishing, and it would seem that this success can be tracked back to the Headteacher’s unshakeable commitment to inclusion. In this month’s Leadership Blog, Jen James talks about how she has created an inclusive school.

‘Does it matter?’ – Embracing SEND through our shared moral purpose.

Does it matter? I must have asked myself and my staff that question more times than I care to remember over the last few years. Does it matter if she isn’t sitting down? Does it matter if he needs to chew on his sleeve? Does it matter? This has become a whole school mantra and in many ways, these few words have completely changed how we plan provision for children with SEND.

Having been thrust into the headteacher’s chair in January 2017 as an inexperienced, naïve and completely unprepared educator, I had no idea the moral dilemmas that I’d be faced with as a leader. Balancing needs and standards amongst many other things has not been an easy task and it has been even more complex for our governors and trust to understand.

Only recently, we have taken a child with very complex medical needs on to our roll. Having been previously refused by several schools, we were of course concerned about how we would meet his needs in terms of managing his oxygen and his tune feeding. Now he is here, settled and thriving. It was a challenging time for all involved but ultimately, we are doing what is right by the children and families. An opportunity to access mainstream education for as long as possible.

Practising fine motor skills

Our partnership with the local Special School has helped support the vision we have, where pupils on their roll attend our setting anywhere between half a day to 5 days a week. We needed to know if we could fully integrate these children into our mainstream classrooms. If we could make it work for these children, what other children could benefit from this? Over the last 18 months, a shift has occurred. We have begun to expect more from ourselves as to what experiences we could offer to children with SEND in terms of full integration into the classroom.

Multi-sensory approaches to cognitive development

I am not saying that this is easy – it absolutely is not and the hard work and dedication of our team is not to be underestimated. This has been something that every member of our whole school community has had to buy into in order for its potential to be maximised. Our whole staff body are trained in Makaton, communicate in print, nurture philosophy and many other areas to enable every corner of our provision to be accessible to all pupils.

Our school has become more than I could have imagined – a community joined by a shared vision, aspiration and passion for ensuring inclusion is at the very heart of what we do.

Jen has changed the culture of school by inspiring all staff to share a commitment to inclusion. Not all staff in a school will initially feel comfortable with this change in culture. This poses some questions to SEND leaders.

What is the best way to support staff who have values and beliefs that are not aligned with the school’s vision of inclusion?

Are these beliefs and values malleable? In other words, can reluctant staff change when the new arrangements are shown to work for all children?

What support needs to be in place for SEND leaders implementing a cultural change that is challenging to the values and beliefs of some staff?

Jen James is the headteacher of Rokeby Primary School in Rugby, part of the Stowe Valley Multi Academy Trust


Leadership is about unlocking potential

By Giles Delaney

It’s a new year – a time of reflection, gratitude and expectation of the year ahead. In this blog, my intent is use use a narrative reflection to draw out dome key learning points for those in leadership or stepping into it.

Recently I was reminded of an interaction I had some years ago with a newly appointed member of our school leadership team. She had been appointed to lead a section of the school which involved responsibility for pupil progress, pastoral care and parental liaison. She was an inspirational colleague who enjoyed the absolute respect of the pupils and the strong support of her colleagues.

Six months into her appointment, she met with me (the head teacher) to say that she did not feel she was performing her role well enough and that another colleague would be better in the role she held. I asked her why she felt this and she replied that her colleague, with whom she enjoyed a strong working relationship, had many really excellent ideas/observations for the department and she was concerned that she was missing things and had not thought of these ideas herself.

This interaction highlighted the dilemma that many face on taking up positions of leadership: a sense that others can do the job better or that they are being judged by their colleagues for their apparent weaknesses.

Over a period of some weeks, I was able to coach, discuss and evidence with this colleague her many strengths and demonstrate, even over a relatively short period of time, the systemic change she had begun to implement in her department. I felt that this ‘validated’ her appointment and current position, but also showed her the measurable progress she had made against her own development plan: she was, undeniably, ‘on-track’.

She had contributed in a significant way to a systemic change in the culture of the school (and been appointed for exactly this reason) but her story draws into focus the dilemma facing many who move into leadership positions in the education sector.

When many join the teaching profession, a significant driver is the desire to build meaningful relationships with children and to make a difference in their lives. In the early stages of our career, this is manifested by personal interactions which fuel our motivation, commitment and a sense of our own identity. Messages of gratitude from parents, the pupils’ own testimonies, observing their academic or creative progress as a result of our personal intervention: these are all significant factors. However, when we enter a leadership position, this dynamic can change fundamentally. There are two changes that are particularly marked: firstly in our colleagues’ perspective of our performance and ability to bring change and secondly, in our fundamental relationships with our pupils which, on an individual level, are reduced. The very factors which drive our sense of identity and motivation have changed at our most vulnerable time.

My colleague experienced this same sense of anxiety: that there were aspects of her leadership role that others were doing better than her and, importantly, in areas that she felt were critical to her identity as a leader, for example; innovation and reflection. She was of course right in the sense that her colleague was contributing experience that she did not have, but it is important to acknowledge the culture she had brought about. She had given this colleage the space and confidence to share their oberservations in the knowledge that they had something of value to offer. She had created an environment where her colleagues cared so deeply about her vision and wanted to contribute and play their part. This was a measurable element to the ‘systemic change’ I mentioned earlier. The pupils sensed the teachers’ buy-in to this cultural change and their relationships with them had begun to change also.

As leaders, one of the most important things we can do is to recognise that our own success, at that of our schools, rests on our ability to unlock the potential in our colleagues and to create an environment in which they can be the best version of themselves. If they can offer skills and knowledge that we cannot, then so much the better.

These changes do not minimalise our influence or agency, they re-focus it on a larger scale. We can still have an enormous impact on individual children but the ‘drivers’ I spoke of earlier will be replaced often by influence and change which is not as easily measured or which evolves more slowly. This change is the result of our creating an environment where both our children and colleagues flourish: it is the essence of ‘servant leadership’ – serving those around us.

It seems appropriate to finish with the first piece of advice I ever received after taking up my first headship. My new secretary at the time said to me “…remember, you cannot look after 300 children….but look after the staff and they will look after the children for you”. She was absolutely right, although it was very difficult letting go!

What advice would you share with fellow leaders or those aspiring to be leaders?

About Giles

After more than two decades of headship, Giles joined TeamADL in the latter part of 2022. He has a Masters degree in Teaching & Learning, but is pursing further studies in child-centred approaches for wellbeing and academic progress. To contact Giles visit www.teamadl.uk

Expect great things from your team & do great things for your team!

By Dr Anita Devi

One month into the academic year and it’s important to check in on how are you doing and also how is your team doing. Those of you who have heard me speak before know how much importance I attach to teams, as a significant part of #leadership

Last month Jenny Bowers addressed the need to be ambitious Quoting Edmund Burke, Jenny suggested ambition can be a season of creeping along or soaring the skies. Either way, movement is involved.  This led to question, what should we be ambitious for?

So, this month in our #Leader5ADay blog, I am looking at teams through the lens of William Carey.  In 1792, Carey gave an iconic speech based on Isaiah 54.  Adapting this as leaders, we could ask:

Do we expect great things from our teams, and do we do great things for our teams?

Let’s address the second part of the question first. To be a leader is honour and a privilege. It means we have been entrusted with a group of people – their care, their progress and their contribution to a wider vision.  As such we have a responsibility to them, not just for them.  We have a responsibility to enable them to be the best they can and more. This requires us to first and foremost know our team members.  To have a healthy relationship with them that creates space for an honest and open two-way dialogue. These meaningful interactions do not happen overnight.  People have to invest time, energy and forgiveness.  Forgiveness you might ask – really?  Absolutely! Honest relationships will at some level involve friction and so showing each other grace to know we all make mistakes is key for team building.

Expecting great things from your team isn’t just about setting high expectation or targets.  It’s about believing in them & their success. Sometimes this can be about encouragement and cheering them on, at other times it is about providing honest feedback that helps them grow.

Leadership isn’t easy. Author Sandra Carey (no relation to William Carey) advises, “Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”  Wisdom in leadership is critical.  It’s about skilfully combining experience, knowledge and good judgement by being still and listening to that wise inner voice.  As leaders how much time do we make to be still.  I know for me; this is a critical part of my day and enables me to be effective in myself and for my team.  Acquiring wisdom in different situations and season is a continuous process.

 “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

― Albert Einstein

So, in practical terms, what would expecting great things from your team & doing great things for your team look like?  Isaiah 54, where this all started talks about reaching out to the world – a global perspective on justice and goodness. Using the acronym GLOBE seems apt:

Give of yourself fully to your team and its success

Listen and reflect, its foundational for wisdom

Observe, analyse and celebrate successes and failures

Be compassionate of needs and forgiving of mistakes

Encourage everyone to be the best they can

At the start of this year, TeamADL announced its membership to Catalyst 2030.  We are part of a global vision, and we are directly contributing to the wider fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 4.  From my perspective, as team leader – it is a privilege and honour to serve my team to be the best they can, as well as serve with them to deliver the best we can for children, young people and their families. On Friday 30th September 2022, the Catalyst 2030 community gathered in an Online Conversation Cafe to discuss the leadership of special educational needs and disability. As part of the discussions, we all agreed – everyone is on the SDG 4 Team, everyone has a responsibility to make it happen and a contribution to make. This includes you! We will share more in the coming months about how you can play your part. Follow #TeamADL

You can read the Catalyst 2030 Report presented to the United Nations in September 2022 on Pathways to Transforming Education: Proven Solutions from Social Entrepreneurs here.

Keep leading!


About Anita:

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning. Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning. In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Anita is author of the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers and has contributed to several other publications. Anita passed her PhD thesis viva on the career trajectory of a SENCO (beyond the NASENCO) in in 2022. Currently a Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL www.teamadl.uk and #365send www.365send.uk T: @Butterflycolour Insta: @Butterflycolour9

Perspective is power

Welcome to the first 2022 edition of our #Leaders5aDay Blog.   I hope you have had the opportunity for a mental break as well as a physical one.   If not, consider booking yourself a day’s retreat with one or more of your loved ones.  My wife and I had a 1 day (child free) visit to the Lake District a couple of days before Christmas, only an hour’s drive from here.   It helped us step off the materialistic Christmas culture train and put our week into a healthier perspective.  We walked along the base of a mountain and enjoyed a drink alongside Lake Windermere as the sun was setting before we traveled home.   Not an expensive trip but immeasurable in getting our minds in sync with nature and this amazing country we live in.   I cannot tell you how much I needed this shift in perspective, but I’m guessing many of you understand that after a tough school term.

So, this left me thinking, how can I help my teams find their healthy perspective at the start of the Spring term.   Here’s a starter for ten for you to try and consider cascading through your teams a healthy but structured dialogue around perspective.  

This is Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, ‘The Café Terrace at Night’ (1888).  

‘The Café Terrace at Night’ (1888).

Where would you say is the focus of the one-point perspective in this picture is situated?  (don’t cheat but for the answer visit Perspective Drawing – Using a Central Eye Level (artyfactory.com))  

This time of year, we sense and see the contrast between dark and light, as can be seen in the painting with the diagonal sections between the starlit and the lamp lit street.   I wonder what your eye is drawn to at first glance, in the same way I wonder what our team players are drawn to at first glance of each day, each challenge, each interaction with their colleagues.  

As always, the culture starts with how we as leaders set the tone.  Are we planning to launch straight into highlighting how dark the season is, how challenging our School Improvement goals are, how far away our pupils are from the results we believe OFSTED will be looking for? (#TMOS) Or will we be able to help ourselves and our teams start off on the right foot with the right perspective (which in the case of the painting is NOT at the end of a dark alley – there’s a clue for you!)

John C. Maxwell in his book, ‘17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork‘ highlights several hints that will help you put your goals for this season into a lamp lit perspective point.  This month let’s focus on one, the Law of significance – the key here is that we all need to feel we have significance. 

[1] Write down the things that you know provide you with value and self-worth.  Repeat for each member of your team and help them understand the significance they play.  The painting has a lit curve in the drain that leads your eye to man in white in the café.   Your role is to help create that path for your staff to be drawn to the lit focus and away from the dark shadows. 

[2] Make sure to connect the shared  vision and the short term goals you have.   Together we can put people into space and together we can find a path through, even when the predicted results seem out of reach.   If you or anyone else does not appear to be part of the team right now, consider why that might be.  Most common reasons I have from teachers recently include:

  • A desire to never return to the pre-COVID ways of working.  We’ve all experienced a work life shift, and many want to hold on to the pros of working from home at a different pace without weighty performance targets.   Work with your teams to find the most effective systems that will help move into a new way of working rather than assuming we must somehow find our way back to previous unhealthy habits.
  • Fear of the unknown.   Most of us have commitments beyond school, as partners, carers of elderly relatives, as parents, etc.  As well as being on the front line working with people most likely to spread COVID variants, we have worries about how we manage our own health and protect those we love at home and at school.   This is the reality.  We need to have open dialogue with our teams about this.  Use the painting as an analogy of working in the light we can find whilst acknowledging the dark alley is still there.   Remember, in the 1600s an estimated 30% of the entire world population died off due to pandemics and climate change, in 1918 20-50 million people died from the Spanish Flu, and yet in the UK we have been offered 3 jabs within 18 months free at the point of access.  
  • Consider utilising the exercise around mind mapping our fears and then identifying those that are within our sphere of control, those we could influence with action and those that are beyond our control at this time.   Focus our next steps for action on those things we can do well now and begin to influence the things that seem just beyond our reach.   The number one thing here for each and every one of us is the quality of practice in our classrooms.   Let’s focus our time and resources on high quality inclusive teaching strategies.   This will ultimately improve all measures of success we need for any measure of accountability. 

[3] Have meaningful 1-1 dialogue with your key team leads to clarify where they are at in relation to the above and light up their pathway with clear support and focus this Spring term.

For the next steps on this journey in spreading light through your teams get in touch with Team ADL for your own 1-1 and look out for part two of my blogs ‘Perspective is Power’ due in February 2022.


Everybody having fun ?

Building resilient staff teams in times of uncertain futures

“So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun.   Look to the future now it’s only just begun.”

Slade, 1973

I heard this in a store at the beginning of November and the grumpy old man in me sayeth, “I don’t believe it!”  Then I thought, actually I have missed you my old friend, I did not hear you last year and yet you have been a consistent part of my annual cycle of life for most of my life (since the age of 2 to be exact).  It rang in my ears  when I rehearsed the Nativity in my first year of teaching in North London in the early 90s and it was there that year as a Head teacher I had to endure dressing up as a Spice Girl (Thank you very much staff from a certain town on the south coast, you know who you are!)  

And so here I am today having lived through what is probably the most challenging start to a school year in my whole career.  Anyone had a full complement of staff in school yet ?  Let’s hope Christmas brings us the joy and peace we so yearn for.  Take a moment to think about what joy and peace will feel/ look like for you.

As a leader I hope for an opportunity to bring connection to my staff, a rebuilding of that sense of belonging to a community.  Or maybe I am thinking, let’s just make it through and hope for the best.  So, here is my Christmas gift, a challenge to all leaders out there.   I say let’s be real, let’s face the elephant in the room with more than another 2 hour wellbeing slot in the staff meeting schedule.

Let’s talk about building resilience in my staff team, right now, this term.  “Cole, you’ve got to be joking!” I hear you scream back at me, whilst covering staff absence, dealing with poor staff mental health and your own rapidly reducing capacity to stay sane.   Well, I acknowledge where you are at and believe me I understand having spent time allowing leaders to (literally) cry on my shoulder and scream down the phone and WhatsApp their emotional rants on almost a daily basis.  

Pause, breath, have a moment with me and bear with my blog.  

Start here (watch this video) … Amygdala Hijack

Search for other video clips describing the concept of the amygdala hijack, often discussed in the business world, but very relevant to help educationists understand their own emotional self-awareness.   This is a concept that I have found very useful in opening up meaningful discussion in staff meetings that perhaps could have more substance than discussing the setup of a well-being twilight.  

Here is how I would approach it:

  1. Watch the video
  2. Lead by example in telling a true story of an amygdala hijack you have experienced in work life at some point in your career.  Ensure you complete the story with a clear example of what resilience tools you have learnt to apply as a result of this incident.  
  3. In groups of 3 or 4 map out the potential root causes of emotional threat that have been evident in our work lives over the past 2 years
  4. Ask the staff groups to come up with and/or research on the internet any tools / strategies they have that help them.  
  5. Ask each group to share their top 3 tips for helping us regain or even avoid the onset of a hijack when they can sense it coming on.
  6. Work together as a staff team in creating a ‘Resilience Wall’ of tools/strategies to help in times of emotional hijack.
  7. Touch base with staff at regular intervals in keeping the dialogue open about being self-aware, taking control and/or helping one another when feeling overwhelmed
  8. Celebrate successes and be kind to oneself in times of success or otherwise
  9. Share what you have learnt in leading this process and pass on the key messages from this exercise to other members of our key teams and colleagues across your local area.  Remember #TMOS (True Measures of Success in leading ourselves and our teams to thrive)
  10. Teach the pupils to learn from your example increased emotional self-awareness

So here is my key point in this challenge.  Find a way (perhaps with this exercise) to open up the dialogue and create a common language, non-threatening but evidence-based model for discussing issues around our mental health.   This shared vocabulary and openness can help also find the solutions, many of which already exist within ourselves or those around us.  We are in this together, in the good times and the bad.   There is no greater gift we can give to ourselves, and our staff teams this year than to face the fact that life can be hard, but we are in it together.

There is no greater joy than to find peace in any and every situation, in good times and bad.   Let’s begin opening this gift and commit to building each other up with tools to help us regulate our emotions in healthy ways.  This is the most powerful intervention we could consider. 

Final thoughts ….

When teachers thrive, pupils thrive. 

When pupils thrive, their progress accelerates.  

Do you agree?  #TMOS (what have been your true measures of success in building resilient staff teams this year?)  Share and let’s face the future with renewed confidence and a renewed hope that we can look to the future together.

Merry Christmas one and all