As nasen launches its free membership, Amrit Singh, Finance and Commercial Director, reflects on how the charity has sought to support the workforce through the pandemic and its plans for the future
I joined nasen mid-lockdown in July 2020 after 17 years in the commercial sector. I felt a strong draw towards working with nasen because of the opportunity to make a difference for future generations by driving inclusive education for all.
I have strong views on inclusion and have been involved in many corporate working groups throughout my career, mostly to do with gender and ethnic equality. In my role I get the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people, who all pull together with a joint passion to promote inclusion by ensuring the educational experience for learners with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) is consistently as good as it is for learners without SEND. By working with the sector as a trusted partner, nasen is seeking to create an equity of educational experience for all learners.
nasen has been on a journey of self-discovery over the last 12 months, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic and our decision to shift strategy in early 2020. The pandemic has impacted people all over the world and continues to do so today. Special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), school staff and families have faced huge challenges over the last 10 months.
When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, schools remained open for children of key workers and vulnerable children, including those with the most complex SEND. The way in which schools up and down the country have managed since then, particularly for children with SEND who don’t have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, has been inspiring. I continue to be amazed every day by the achievements of SENCOs and school staff to support our future generations by consistently doing the right thing, despite the difficulties facing them.
Responding to the needs of the sector
At nasen we have also faced challenging times due to the pandemic. Our staff, many with small children, were asked to pack up the office and start working from home overnight in March 2020. As schools closed their doors, our staff pushed to go the extra mile to provide support to the sector.
Working with the Department for Education (DfE) and our Whole School SEND Consortium partners, we swiftly developed resources to support SENCOs and the wider workforce. We also moved much of our face-to-face training online and developed a suite of webinars based on high-quality continuous professional development and learning (CPDL). We worked with our funders to deliver content online enabling us to reach a wider audience, albeit with people sat in small boxes on a screen rather than on chairs in a room.
The pandemic has shone a brighter light onto the needs of nasen’s stakeholders as seen in the National SENCO Workforce Survey 2020, which received 1,022 responses and was published last week. Nearly three quarters of SENCOs felt their school had experienced challenges in providing support to children and young people with EHC plans. 8 out of 10 secondary colleagues found it difficult to provide differentiated learning to children and young people with SEN. Only 1 out of 10 SENCOs were happy with the support they received during the pandemic, whilst overwhelmingly reporting an increase in workload.
SENCOs reported that duties and responsibilities related to senior leadership and safeguarding increased, in addition to being required to teach class bubbles, which meant that often their SENCO role was not their primary focus.
The results of this survey, specific to the impact of the pandemic, should serve as an insight into the areas we should focus our attention. Moving forward, we will be utilising these results and others garnered from future member surveys to develop content and strategies to support the workforce where it is most needed.
Free nasen membership for all individuals
nasen will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and to ensure our sustainability and impact we have committed to some major changes. In early 2020, before the pandemic struck, nasen made the strategic decision to widen our reach and aspire for every school and setting in England having access to expertise in SEND.
A key pillar in achieving this is the decision to remove the financial barrier to entry and make nasen membership free for all to ensure everyone can access our new member benefits. Spanning across the nasen family, we have brought our Whole School SEND Community of Practice into our nasen membership to ensure all our members have access to the free resources and information published by our Whole School SEND consortium.
To support this wider access for our members, we have today launched our new websites, nasen and SEND Gateway, and free membership-for-all underpinned by a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. This has been a huge transformation project for nasen and I am proud of what has been achieved so far.
To support our work in providing the right level of access and expertise for our members, we are also launching a new suite of paid-for-services. Our SENCO Support Service provides guidance and support on questions or issues around SEND. The Publication Subscription includes hard copies of nasen Connect and digital access to our peer reviewed academic journals. These new services are now available alongside our Annual Webinar Pass, which provides access to 70 SEND CPDL webinars per academic year and is currently being offered at a discounted rate until March 2021.
We will do all that we can to increase awareness of SEND, not just with the workforce and families of children and young people with SEND, but to a much wider audience than ever before. We aspire for our nasen community to grow and become a vibrant hub of support and information for the workforce.
Over the coming months, we will be further surveying our members to understand their needs and listen to their perspectives, alongside using our website and wider information to support the workforce more than ever.
Our thought leadership work in the sector will grow as we delve into important areas, such as meeting the needs of those with dual and multiple exceptionality (DME). We will achieve all of this, whilst staying true to our core mission, vision and values that we live and breathe every day.
After 30 years of nasen working with its members, we are entering a new dawn. I invite those of you who are not currently part of our community to sign up to our free membership and be part of this brave new future. Together, we can shape a positive future for all children, regardless of their needs and differences.
To our long-standing and existing members, thank you for your ongoing support and please look out for an invitation to reactivate your account with new member benefits.
If you have not received this by 1st February, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org