Redefining inclusion beyond exams

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) recommends that access arrangements for exams are part of a student's "normal way of working". But what does this mean and what does this look like in a busy classroom environment?

In this episode, we're putting these questions and more to Simon Tanner from Bohunt Education Trust. Simon shares his experience as Director of SEND in supporting students to produce their best work and have the right opportunities come exam time.

Find out more about Simon's MAT SEND Leadership Programme on Twitter and get to grips with the latest JCQ guidance


Paddy McGrath (00:00:15):
Welcome to another episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast. As always, we've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education, right through into the workplace. So make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode. And of course as always, you can also join the conversation using the hashtag TexthelpTalks on Twitter. We'd love to hear your feedback on this episode. And of course, any questions you may have for my wonderful guest here today, we'll be sure to put those to him, and we'll include that in the show notes after today. I'm Paddy McGrath, I'm Head of Education Strategy here at the Texthelp Group. And it's my absolute pleasure to welcome Mr. Simon Tanner as our very special guest today on our podcast. Simon has, of course, been a friend of Texthelps and my own for some time now, and I'm so excited to at long last, have the opportunity to interview him.

Paddy (00:01:07):
So Simon of course, is Director of SEND at the Bohunt Education Trust. Simon's been working at Bohunt School, Liphook since September 2007. Having started as an NQT within the PE department, Simon was promoted to subject leader for the Certificate of Professional Effectiveness, and held pastoral middle leadership posts before applying for the position of SENCo since complaining his national SENCo accreditation qualification, Simon has been in post at Bohunt School, and helped to establish the Support for Learning department at Worthing and also at Wokingham.

Paddy (00:01:39):
Simon is passionate about ensuring the best outcomes for students identified with special education needs, and actively seeks opportunities for students to succeed and remove barriers to learning experiences. Simon's vision for special educational needs across the trust is to ensure that SEND is viewed as a key priority by all staff, and that all teachers are teachers of SEND. Simon has recently been successful in becoming a select member of the MAT SEND leadership program, which is part of the whole school SEND.

Paddy (00:02:09):
And we're really looking forward to having a chat with Simon, and just by way of introduction to today's topic, a key part of course, of any exam access arrangement is that it's part of a student's normal way of working. And this means that making the exam room a level playing field starts really by making sure that the learning throughout the year is inclusive at all times. It's about embedding inclusion into the design and delivery of teaching every day, and continuing it through the exams process.

Paddy (00:02:37):
But the question that we're going to address today with Simon is what is a normal way of working, and what does this look like within the realities of a busy classroom environment? We're going to find out from Simon what this means to him, and the team at Bohunt Trust, and get his advice on how we can support all students to produce their best work, get the help they need, and of course not be in any way disadvantaged when it comes to sitting those end-of-year high stake exams. Like everything, and as identified in Simon's bio, as we've just went through, we all together want to make sure that every single pupil under our care can reach their full potential. So Simon, that is probably one of the longest bios that I think I've read out in quite some time, but it's a huge pleasure to welcome you. Welcome to Texthelp Talks, a long time, but you're very, very welcome to our episode today. How are you?

Simon Tanner (00:03:26):
I'm very good, thank you, Paddy. And thank you for having me on. Been looking forward to this for quite a while.

Paddy (00:03:31):
Absolutely. And I did notice the tweets coming up in advance of today, it kind of felt like you were a little bit of a kid before Christmas time for this, so I know you're really going to deliver for us on this episode. No pressure, no pressure!

Simon (00:03:42):
Fingers crossed, fingers crossed!

Paddy (00:03:46):
Simon, we're we're going to go through quite a few things today and I'm keen as we go through today to find out about the practice that you have put in place. We'll maybe explore a little bit more about the leadership rules that you have in place, some of the wider trust initiatives, but I wanted to start off just by maybe thinking about some examples, particular to your situation. And if we think about exams, so let's start there. Think about the end-of-year piece, first of all. And in a practical sense, what does exams look like in terms of the inclusive practice you've got to put in place? Forget about during the year, when it comes to exams, what sort of mechanisms, what sort of arrangements do you currently put in place at the trust, or indeed at this specific school you work in, with regards to inclusion?

Simon (00:04:33):
Great question, and good one to kick us off with. And I think what we've tried to do, and I'm going to constantly refer back to your main point about normal way of working, what we've tried to do is ensure that when the students get to that point, that they're sitting their final exam, it is what they are used to. So, it is the process they've had for their mocks in Year 11, whether that be one or two occasions. For us in the trust that's approximately around about now. And they've also had a mock process before Christmas, around the end of November, and equally any Year 10 assessments as well.

Simon (00:05:07):
So they've had multiple opportunities as students to sit assessments, exams, as they would do when they come to then the formal one at the end of Year 11, whatever that may look like this year. Because obviously for the last two years they haven't had them and that's caused issues in itself. Not necessarily within our main school, but certainly up in 6th form level, because the students aren't in the process of sitting as they would've done previously.

Simon (00:05:33):
So, what we've got is we've got your main hall along with what most schools will have, and you've got your batch on the side that will have their extra time. What we've then put into place alongside that is two separate classrooms, where we have students that would have computer readers, scribes, use of word processors, rest breaks, or a combination of any one of those things. Along with coloured paper, enlarged papers, et cetera.

Simon (00:06:03):
And within that, they have structured seating plan that doesn't change. So their seat is their seat, that remains in place throughout, so they have consistency and they have routine, they know the process, what's going to happen. They know what time they need to arrive, and then they're not bothered or impacted by other students then leaving. We've tried to ensure where possible, that they are in an area of the school that is quiet, is calm, isn't bothered by other students coming out of lessons, going into lessons, break times, lunch times, et cetera, because we've seen in the past that this can have an impact at certain times.

Simon (00:06:44):
The other thing that we always try to ensure we've got, as I'm sure most schools do, is that we've got members of the IT support department on standby, so that they can support any issues with technology, because you always have them. The main reason why we have these mocks is to iron out these issues, but you always get them in terms of battery life, laptops not syncing, not working, coming on, whatever it may be. So we've got to ensure that we've got someone there that can sort those out immediately for the students, because otherwise if they're waiting half an hour, 45 minutes or more to start their exam? Well, that's not going to put them in the best mind. And we're already talking about a vulnerable group of students who potentially are panicking, are nervous, are lacking confidence, self-esteem, whatever it may be about that exam. And we don't want to heighten those levels of anxiety. So, in terms of what it would look like right at the very end, we try to make sure it matches the process they've been through beforehand.

Paddy (00:07:42):
And seeing that typical exams situation you've talked about, what sort of percentage of students are we talking about typically, say across the trust or specific school examples? I mean, does that look like 10% of students with access to arrangements, 50%? What does that look like for you as a trust?

Simon (00:07:57):
Great question. It differs across the trust in terms of cohorts. It's a great question to ask me, because I'll be getting that data this Friday, so I can quite happily send that across to you, and you can add that in, and that can go underneath. I know for Liphook, which is the school where I'm based at, we're sitting at just above 18% for students with a form of access arrangement, which is beneath, if you look at some of the figures that are out there, certainly within the independent sector, but of course they've got a smaller percentage, a smaller number of students, therefore the percentages are higher in some cases, not in all.

Simon (00:08:33):
But it's certainly something that we are passionate about and we do back, to ensure that we level the playing field. Some of these processes are tough enough for the students out there already, in terms of maybe having to recall three years' worth of knowledge in an hour and a half paper. So, what we need to try and ensure is that they've got every possible chance to do that. And that's where those access arrangements help.

Paddy (00:08:57):
I suppose you've talked about a mix there, but you have computer readers. So whether that be pens or laptops, you've also got scribes in there as well. And that, of course through the years has obviously started to slowly replace human readers and human scribes. Have you noticed any difference, any impact either way with the students? For example, one of the things that I think sometimes goes amiss, although you did mention it earlier, is that perhaps increase in confidence when there's a bit more reliance on technology, rather than having to ask a reader permanently to read things back. Is that something that you've noticed and is that a reason why you moved to digital platforms?

Simon (00:09:37):
Yeah, I think we were noticing that the demand for having that access arrangement was there, and it was really about what can we do to ensure that we are meeting that need. Human readers, as good as they are, you are then talking about a big percentage. So, nearly one in five students potentially in our cohort of 340 students needing a reader, that's not going to be possible via human method, it's just not. Plus then you come into the fact in terms of when you sit in your English papers and having your reader, or you can't cause of tone and emotion and whatnot. So you need to be using your computer reader.

Simon (00:10:17):
And we just found that actually by using the computer reading program on Read&Write that that actually provided students with independence. So we're promoting them and giving them tools that they can then use as they go onto college and university in later life. This type of technology is readily available for dyslexic students out there through their smartphones. They are using it constantly, whether it be to send a message, to dictation, send a message, whatever it may be, or having it read stuff back to them and get around it like that. They're still reading, they're just accessing it in a very different way.

Simon (00:10:54):
And again, that ensures that it levels the playing field. So, we recognise that and needed something to ensure that we could provide that for our students, which is why we've then implemented that program. What I would say is that for those... We found that the students that have a scribe would then use a human reader, because we found that that ensured that the process maintained pace. But obviously with the exception of that English paper, so that's something that we've noticed, and equally the students that have engaged with it and stayed with it have got good reward out of it.

Paddy (00:11:34):
Yeah. You were talking earlier just, when you were talking about... It was very interesting listening to you talk about the complexities of the exam hall and with so much going on at that point. And you mentioned earlier on about the need to have the IT team, for example, on hand, because things go wrong, they do go wrong. But I'm wondering wider than that, what at Bohunt, and for example, it's up to you if you want to take Liphook particularly, the complexities of pulling the strands together. And as an example, is it, and has it been important to make sure that your exams officer is working incredibly closely with your SENCo? How does that relationship work, and how do you foster that to be a tight-working relationship that means the pupils see the best outcome?

Simon (00:12:16):
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of our setup, we might be quite unique to other people listening in, but I would argue that the closest relationship certainly in Liphook with the exams officer, is with our specialist teacher, who is then awarding the access arrangement. So, previously it was someone called Frank Paul, who now works across the trust at two of our sites, and is gradually growing that area and the background of it from Year 7 upwards, as well as taking priority with the Year 10s and 11s and 6th forms, et cetera. But in Liphook, that's now Alex Alcott, who's taken that role on. So they have a very close relationship to ensure things like, you mentioned seating plans are in place, they're correct, people are in the right hall, who needs that one-to-one space because of very, very high anxiety, mental health needs through CAMHS, et cetera.

Simon (00:13:09):
So that's where that comes into play. But it is a vital relationship, because they have to ensure that they get that information right when they send that out to parents, the correct arrangements are in place, they are available. And actually I would then go one stage further, and ensuring that certainly over the last two years... We thought we were pretty hot on it. I'm going to put my hands up, and say that we thought we were slightly ahead of the curve on this and that. And having had them informally within classes, et cetera, right the way back from 2013 for Years 7, 8, and 9 and making recommendations.

Simon (00:13:45):
But it was really when we hit lockdowns, and we were talking about TAGs, regular assessments, assessment windows, what they were going to look like, that actually... It was a bit of an eye-opener for us in all honesty, in terms of one, positively the amount of staff that were inputting these as common way of working within the classroom, and following through this, because that was very good.

Simon (00:14:12):
But we still had a few that were saying, "No, that's just for assessments." And I've noticed this across all schools, not just necessarily within Bohunt. And it's like, no, this isn't just for GCSEs. This isn't just for assessments. This should be, coming back to our title, that normal way of working for these students. And it was really a big push, because possibly naively, I thought we had it cracked.

Simon (00:14:36):
And I thought we were coming from a very strong standpoint, but actually we then needed to go back to it and do a lot of work and put some training out there in terms of right, so this is what this means. Things like where we were looking at putting on exams and thinking, right, okay, so we've got a Period 6 exam. That's going to start there. Well, it's 40 minutes, so that's going to finish before the end of the day. Well, no, it's not because those students who have 25% extra time or 50% extra time, that's going to go beyond the end of the school day. That's not fair. They're not going to want to do that. Or they might not be able to do that.

Simon (00:15:06):
So we need to ensure that we are bringing that exam back for them, so that they have the amount of time so that they're not getting up at the end and they're not disadvantaged. Because I'm sure you've seen this and heard about this, but if you've got a student that is then finishing, everyone's catching a bus, jumping up going home, and they're sitting there still finishing? That's just not going to work well.

Paddy (00:15:26):
Huge pressure, yeah.

Simon (00:15:28):
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Paddy (00:15:30):
To be clear on that, did you have to take the exams arrangements that we've talked about here, and start to retrospectively look at the classroom level teacher, and start to introduce PD there then, to create a wider understanding of it long before exams time? Did I get that right, in terms of the process you had to follow there?

Simon (00:15:53):
Yeah, you did. The nuts and bolts of it was there, I think. In terms of then ensuring that it was consistent. Now, this works two ways, Paddy, okay. Because there is the emphasis on numerous staff to ensure that they have provided that access arrangement. So, your 25% extra time within your class or whatever piece of work you're doing. In theory that should be every piece of work you're doing, any question you're answering. That, to a degree, is nigh on impossible, okay. There should be that accommodation made for that. For example, Paddy, in two minutes, I'm going to ask you this question, have a think about it, I'm going to come back. Bang, you've had your planning time, you've had your processing time. I'm not putting you on the spot, okay.

Simon (00:16:37):
Equally, and this is the point that we're finding the most, is that the expectation is on the student to use it, okay? Now what we found, sorry, was that the students didn't want to necessarily use their arrangement, because they'd look different from their peers. Which is something me and you have spoken about before, and that was the barrier for us. And it really rang true to me in terms of, I had someone in our school that was fighting for better awareness of access arrangements, but didn't use them themselves. And-

Paddy (00:17:15):
That comes down to us though, Simon as educators, to actually focus on the wider picture of inclusive learning in our classrooms that you and I have talked about a lot. How do you remove stigma from a piece of assistive technology, or just a piece of technology? That actually normal way of working is genuinely normal way of working. That that's just what I use. You talked earlier about a dyslexic pupil using their mobile phone all the time. They don't give that a second thought of using text-to-speech and that, and why would it? But when it comes to a classroom environment and you're rolling out the laptop to have a text-to-speech piece on there, suddenly that's a difference. And so there's an inclusive piece there, I guess, within the classroom to reduce stigma.

Simon (00:17:54):
Yeah, a hundred percent. And usually you'd look at it and it does come down to the fact that exactly, as you just said, they don't want to look different from their peers. The stigma that's attached to it, we don't want to be special, whatever the term may be that they would use, or possibly something not as polite as that to each other. But when you look at the class, usually the amount of students that are in that class that have an arrangement is usually fairly large.

Simon (00:18:23):
You could be talking like a third of that class, and it's disappointing that then not all of them are using it. Now where we have seen, and I suspect we're going to come onto this with a later question, excuse me, is in our schools where we do have one-to-one devices. Because in all intents and purposes, that's then hidden. Other students can't see what they're accessing. They can't listen to what they're playing back to themselves. They can't see that they've masked their screen. All of those little strategies then disappear when every single student in the class has their own device.

Paddy (00:18:58):
Yeah, no, absolutely. That equity of access removes stigma, removes inclusion and is proper integration, I guess. I was listening as you were talking there about trying to instigate or try and develop that normal way of working piece. And the thing that challenges us most actually from a Texthelp perspective, is that call that comes into our team that says, "I need a computer reader for wee Simon." "Okay, well, what do you need for wee Simon? And when's wee Simon doing his exam?" "Oh, a week on Tuesday." And you realise that actually Simon there, or whoever the pupil is in that case, has not had access to that tool across the year. And you have to take a step back and go, "I am wondering now, am I putting Simon as a disadvantage in his exams? Because now suddenly he's been asked to learn something new to supposedly help." Or, "How am I actually helping him?"

Paddy (00:19:55):
And that's the one thing we really, I suppose, wanted to focus on this. And in terms of that normal way of working, and I think you've answered this well, but I kind of wanted to drill into it a little bit more. Why do you see this being so crucial, that this normal way of working has to be in place throughout the year? As in, is it about confidence? Is it about awareness of technology? Is it about feeling that you're prepared for the exam, or are there things that you would highlight where you'd go, "Look, when a pupil's just using this through the year, it just makes sense because..." In your head, what would you say as a SEND practitioner on that?

Simon (00:20:33):
Well, it's all the things you've just mentioned quite literally, as well as going back to your example of you've got an exam in 10 days' time, and here's a scribe. You're not going to know how to work with that person, okay? So fundamentally, I'd pull it back to one of the things I said earlier, which would be routine. You'd get used to it, you come in, you sit down, you log on, you flip it up, "Right, this is the toolbar I need to open up, right, there it is." And you go through that process. Because you're heading into a GCSE exam, there's of course, a level of anxiety associated with that, whatever your difficulty is, or even if you haven't got those associated learning difficulties. As opposed to your example of, I'm going to walk into a room and here's my computer reader, well, how do I open this? How does that work? Oh, I need to do this. Oh, how do I play? Oh, I don't know how to play it. How do I... And so on and forth.

Simon (00:21:22):
As opposed to the person or the students that have been interacting with it on a frequent basis. In school, at home, et cetera, it becomes second nature. And certainly the students that we have seen use the program the best, they are by no means as high as we would like them to be terms of number of students. Because it is something we push hard, but of course you can't necessarily force them fully in into doing that. So I think that's where it then comes into play, because it's the same example, as you said about having to read a program, I'll use the example of a scribe.

Simon (00:22:01):
If you don't know how to use a scribe and work with that, it doesn't work. And we've had students, severe dyslexia, that have gone on to achieve sevens and eights at GCSE level, where if you take away that support and their access arrangements, they're at ones and twos because they simply can't get it down on the paper. They've then gone on to our 6th form, and they've had those same tools in place. So, consistency through another two years and they've gone on to achieve As and Bs, and gone on to university. And that's what it's about, as opposed to someone who goes, "Well, I know I have a computer reader, but I'll use that for my GCSE in two years' time." And they come into it, they sit down, and they won't use it. They don't know how to use it. They don't then get the benefit of it.

Paddy (00:22:46):
Yeah. And I suppose to be fair to some of the rules that we all almost live and die by as an exams officer, SENCo of course, the JCQ requirements. The JCQ requirements are very, very clear about all forms of access arrangements. It's an incredibly comprehensive set of guidelines, but it makes it super clear there that the reason that they can have access to, for example, a computer reader in this case, is because this is their normal way of working. And it's crystal clear, and sometimes I can't help but feel that people will skip over that small detail, which actually is probably the most important detail in the entire doc!

Paddy (00:23:22):
Do you think that normal way of working piece, that we really do have to focus on going forward, starts to open up wider discussions around inclusion? We talked about this a little bit earlier, but do you think it starts to mean that technology should be able to be better embedded, or do you think it's... Which is the push pull? Is exams helping us with technology, or is technology helping us with exams, I suppose is my question?

Simon (00:23:49):
The latter, I think the technology's helping us with the exams. Sadly, because it's always been there the other way around. But if you go back to the example that I gave earlier, and I think you've touched on it as well, partly in terms of everybody in the class having a Chromebook, an iPad, a pen, whatever it may be, that you've got access to that device. And if you go back to when me and you were at school, which is maybe quite a few years ago-

Paddy (00:24:13):
They didn't have computers. They didn't even have an abacus when I was at school Simon, I don't know about you!

Simon (00:24:19):
But when you go back then, you'd been given out your coloured pieces of paper, if you were lucky. Why have I got this? Why has everybody else got white? So my point back then, and this wasn't that long ago when I took over back in 2013, '14 was, well give everybody the same colour. Then there's no sort of differentiation. The differentiation is there, because I've done it. But to everybody else, that's fine. Pastel background on your slide point, and what do I do as a member of staff when I stand up and I talk to staff? Black slide, white font, the worst thing I could possibly do, okay? So you've got to kind of model that behaviour, but I think that that's there in terms of those tools around screen-masking, around not being able to see what's going on.

Simon (00:25:00):
Okay, well, I didn't quite get that message, so I'm going to list... We've downloaded the resources onto Google Classroom, so I'm going to go in, I'm going to replay that. Well, here's a QR code that I can scan on my iPad, and then I can watch this video back. Ah, right, okay. I get now what sir was telling me. Instead of me going, "Hey Paddy, what's this video all about?" And you tell me they're doing it in different ways.

Simon (00:25:20):
And I think for me, that's where that technology is then leading it, but it's still going to be of benefit. But you've got to have that setup in class, to be able to then do that. And you've still got a point. I taught a tech lesson yesterday, so I stood at the front doing a demo. And then linked into the Google Classroom, we've got a video example of the... Here's one I did earlier, guys, and here it is. So they can then watch it back. And then I've got a picture of what it looks like on the board.

Simon (00:25:49):
There's multiple things that can be layered into it, that the students can then access, because everyone will be different in the class. And let's not underestimate the impact that this has on teachers as well. Because it has to inform part of their planning. Me as a SENCo, I have to get that information to them in terms of what they need.

Paddy (00:26:10):
I guess Simon, that's one interesting thing that's really come out for me. And it comes out in lots of conversations we have, which is that importance of the wide range of stakeholders stretches across the senior leadership teams, stretches probably across multi-academy trusts. And some of the initiatives that we'll talk about you're involved in, all the way through to parents and pupils themselves.

Paddy (00:26:30):
And I think that's clearly an important thing that we've all learned about inclusion. It was always there, I guess, but with technology, I think it's become more important, because we need to see everybody engaging. Just a quick point on technology, at Liphook or at Bohunt in general, what's the general provision look like for technology? Because you talked about one-to-one devices there? Can you share with us just really what the view is on tech use?

Simon (00:26:54):
Yeah, of course I can. In any of our newer schools, so Worthing from 2015, Wokingham 2016, and Horsham 2019, they are all one to one. So, Worthing now, seven to 11 Wokingham the same, and Horsham seven to nine. And they built that as they've then gone through. You've then got all bar one of the other BET schools that started in Year 7, either last academic year or this academic year. So, they are then gradually growing up. And they're having their iPad throughout every single year group, which for us is then... It's a real positive, because it gives them an additional tool that they can then use. As we've mentioned throughout, they're then not standing out as different from their peers.

Simon (00:27:44):
And that is very much seen as a tool to support education. And it is to support, there are times when they need to have their iPads away, and go back to the traditional methods of pen and paper, hands-on, be practical, whatever. So it's not that solely the iPad is used for everything, but it should be used to support learning. And that's what we've put in place, and we've seen a big push on that since the pandemic, across the majority of our schools as well.

Paddy (00:28:12):
Yeah. I think I've always been a great advocate as you probably know, Simon, of the two things for me are flexibility and opportunity, to provide pupils with the flexibility to use the technology as their normal way of working and do exams when it suits them is a really important thing. That's only one side of it for me. The other side is, how do we encourage a classroom teacher to make sure that they actually give the opportunity to say, "Okay, you are permitted to use your devices here." And that for me has always been that chicken and egg thing about technology uses. It's okay to give them the device, but we really need to make sure we give them the opportunity to actually use the device and the tools that are there, and to explore, so they're ready for the situation of exams.

Paddy (00:28:55):
So thinking about, as we start to wrap up this episode, just how do we start to change this conversation? If you were giving advice out, and I know you've given some wonderful advice out through this episode, but if you're working with another school, and they're saying, "Actually getting my staff to look at this as a normal way of working rather than just considering it, three weeks before the exam period." What's the sort of advice you would give there, and why is it important that they do that? Legislation and JCQ requirements aside, what do we tell other schools in this regard?

Simon (00:29:30):
I mean, I've given this advice. It's pretty brutal, but in essence it's going to impact on them. It's in their best interests. Because if you give this to students, it's proven that they will perform to their level of capability. And if you don't, you are doing a disservice to the students that you have sat in front of you in your class.

Paddy (00:29:51):
That's what I like about you, Simon, direct and straight to the point there, there's no messing around with you, Mr. Tanner. But you're absolutely right there. The whole purpose of what we do in terms of inclusive education and working with these pupils is to make sure that they have the best chance. And we owe to them to make sure they have the best chance at exams, and throughout the year as well, whatever those tools or human readers or scribes, the technology pieces, whatever the practicalities of that are, it's got to be there throughout the year.

Paddy (00:30:21):
I want to go just a little bit wider to start to wrap up. We talked earlier in your bio about the MAT SEND leadership program. Can you tell me and the listeners a little bit more about that, and how that impacts on your wider practice throughout... Am I right in saying throughout other trusts?

Simon (00:30:38):
Yeah, kind of. Basically, in terms of short version there. So I did the MAT leadership program with Whole School SEND in 2018, and I met a fantastic MAT leader who at the time was working for Astrea Trust, Nicola Crossley. And we touched base then, and then sort of over the couple of years, through a mutual contact, we carried on conversations, and there is nothing out there at the moment that exists in terms of MAT SEND lead support. So as a SENCo, I could join a whole variety of SENCo groups, locally, nationally, whatever. There's nothing for MAT leaders.

Simon (00:31:19):
So, we started this group... When am I going back to... It's probably been running about 18 months now, we started this with a view of right, well, it's me and you. We know each other pretty well, let's see what happens. And we purely put it out on Twitter, and I think for our first meeting we had about 15 or so people come along and attend, and we had a pretty packed agenda, and we spoke about the issues that we faced within the role at the moment, as someone who has that strategic overview of SEN across the trust, and how we go about it.

Simon (00:31:52):
And for every meeting after that, we added another 10 to 15 people. So we're up just under 70 now, we're joined in with Whole Education. We use Whole Education as a platform. They provide us with a meeting account effectively, that is literally what it is. And they help us in terms of sending out reminders, links, video clips, any resources, collate all that, send it out.

Simon (00:32:20):
So from that perspective, it's been really good, because we were getting to the point of, well, we can't do this anymore for free. We don't really want to start charging people, because we think people will drop out. So, actually what we'd like to do is to try and take advantage of that platform if we can, which works for them, works for us. So, that's what we've done. We've got now, as I mentioned, 70 MAT SEND leaders, there or thereabouts across England, that are then passionate about ensuring inclusivity across and throughout their trusts. And actually what it's allowed us to do is share snippets of best practice that we're doing across, get ideas, steal ideas for what's going on, and equally the biggest part of it Paddy has actually been about reassurance that we're on the right track.

Simon (00:33:07):
We are doing the same kind of things that other trusts are doing. We are looking at this initiative or we're looking to put that in. One of the examples we've got across BET is that we've trained someone to be a mental health first-aid trainer. So she is now training more people within our trust schools. So that's got to be a positive, and various different people are doing things in different ways. And certainly, the use, how we can use technology, why we're here today. And that's been quite an interesting thing as well.

Simon (00:33:38):
So it's grown to where we are now at around 70. It seems to have slowed down a little bit recently in terms of numbers, but then we have a meeting planned for the start of May. May the 9th, where all being well, if it's been published, we are going to be talking about the SEND review, and hopefully with David Bartram, who's been involved in that process as well. So I suspect that that will gain some interest, and it'll be very interesting to see what comes out of that SEND review, because if there's anything specifically relating to MAT and SEND provision, then I suspect that's going to be a big platform for us to try and push on, and get over the hundred.

Paddy (00:34:18):
And when Simon is that date, the what's the date for that one?

Simon (00:34:20):
The next meeting is on the 9th of May, and then we've got another meeting start of July. They're an hour, they're done via Zoom. The only criteria is that you are in charge of SEN or inclusion across your MAT. That is literally it. We've had some people try to join that aren't and we've said no, but you kind of have to have that entry requirement.

Paddy (00:34:43):
I know, I can't believe you wouldn't let me in that last session Simon, it's ridiculous. Absolutely refused in, your name's not down, you're not getting in, I think was how that went?

Simon (00:34:52):
Absolutely, no business.

Paddy (00:34:54):
For those other MAT professionals and MAT leaders, how do they get involved in that? Do they contact you? Do they just watch out on Twitter? What's the best way of doing that?

Simon (00:35:02):
Yeah, all of those. So it's quite literally drop me an email, contact me via Twitter, drop me a DM. And you're in, it's as simple as that. We've picked up a few recently, because now MAT leaders are starting to meet with other MAT leaders and they're saying, "Oh, guess what? You need to be involved in this. This is a good group to be part of." And yeah, we're seeing how it can grow. So yeah, that's simply it, but it's been good so far.

Paddy (00:35:28):
Your email address, Simon, Mr. Is that where we're... No, but what we'll do in the show notes, Simon in all seriousness, if it's okay with you, we'll put your Twitter handle in on the show notes. So if anybody wants to reach out that are involved in leadership at a MAT level, I'm sure you'd be more than happy to hear from them. Although I'm quite sure that given the community that we have in the UK, you probably know most of these people already anyway, and are working with them. But if anybody's listening and does want to reach out, I'm sure you'd love to hear from them.

Simon (00:35:58):

Paddy (00:35:58):
And I guess there has to be some considerable impact to an initiative like that. You talked about reassurance, and you talked about looking at being progressive. You talked about sharing good practice, but ultimately for me, that must be a fabulous way to look at SEND leaders within trust, and just how that starts to push down. A simple thing like today in terms of access arrangements, hearing about that and a platform like that must start to have ripples and waves out throughout a plethora of schools around the country because of this network, I'm guessing?

Simon (00:36:31):
Yeah, it does. And what's really interesting is that my role as Director of SEND across BET, is very different to how somebody else's is across whatever trust they're working for. It could very much depend on their experience, how much they work in terms of how many times... I've known it to be the whole week, and this is my focus and nothing else. And I've equally known it to be someone that is on the end of an email chain or a phone if they need advice, and it looks so different. So of course that's something that then helps those people to say, "Well, actually look, in these trusts, they're doing it like this. And actually this is having impact in progress for the SEND learners." So they're pushing and promoting within that to improve their own trust, or that to us is what it's all about, because that's then going to hopefully result in more positive outcomes for students with SEND.

Paddy (00:37:25):
Yeah. Well we're nearly finished with this episode, sadly, I could probably talk all day, but I know you've got a mountain of paperwork there that's waiting for you later on today, Simon. There was just something that I missed out actually earlier that I was thinking about when you were talking, we were talking about stakeholders and we were saying... We're talking about parents and we're talking about leadership and we're talking about exams officers, but there's technology providers in this too. And sometimes we forget they ask the question as Texthelp, we go, "Well actually, is there anything we should be doing to help the ed tech industry? The technology industry?" The inclusive technology industry is obviously there to help, but is there more we could be doing apart from things like this where we're raising the profile and we're kind of helping spread the message? Because we always want to hear about it. What should Texthelp be doing in a sense, do you think that can help this?

Simon (00:38:15):
Well, it's a really good question, and not to be too complimentary about the service that you provide, but I think you are one of the market leaders and you are the market leaders for a clear reason, in that you do do things like this. You do promote, you do constantly provide videos of support, which are useful for parents. So for me as a SENCo, for me to be able to say, "Look, this is our Read&Write program. This is how we use it. And here's some videos, please watch, that are a minute and a half, two minutes, they're short, they're snappy." So from that perspective, that's helpful. The number-one thing for me is of course, being able to have access to it in school and at home. And I think during the pandemic, everyone was so great with ed tech across everywhere, just going right, bang, wallop, have this.

Simon (00:39:02):
And I suppose now we are seeing what people are finding is useful and is of quality, where you've now done the updates, and there are constantly updates coming through. I think that's proved useful, because some of the conversations we've had in terms of right, "Well, if it just did this, that would make ease of use a little bit better." Like you said earlier, I get straight to the point, I suppose the number-one thing is in terms of the voice that's that's on the program, but that's the same for any type of voice-activated software that you use. And sometimes the students are like, "Oh, I don't like the voice." But that's literally initially first go-to thought, but those that then engage with it and use it, it disappears into the background, it's not important anymore.

Paddy (00:39:47):
Yeah. Well, look, Simon, thank you so much for your time today. You may not believe this, but I learn so much anytime I'm talking to you, and I always love the chances that we get to have a chat. And those chats in real life have been few and far between over the last couple years. In fact, they've been nonexistent I think, over the last couple of years.

Simon (00:40:04):
Just the one in October.

Paddy (00:40:07):
That's true, I forgot about that one. Let's not talk about that one anymore. But that said, I have learnt so much from our chat today and really appreciate your time. A particular, I suppose, takeaway from me is that stakeholder piece, that's what I'm going to take away from here. Because when we think about exams, we think about, "Right, we need to talk to the exams officer. We need to talk to the exams officer. We need to make the pupils aware of how they can access this." But realising that there's a world out there that we can be supporting and also delivering these strategies that help with access arrangements, and the normal way of working throughout the year has been of immense help. And I know it will be to all of our listeners on Texthelp Talks. So Simon, all that remains for me to do is say thank you for your time today. It's very much appreciated.

Simon (00:40:52):
Thanks for having me on, really appreciated it and loved it. It's been great fun to catch up.

Paddy (00:40:57):
It's great to see you, and I will put your Twitter address in the show notes. Our team will do that. And any other links that you've referenced there today, we'll obviously put those in, and I'll even stick in links to the access arrangements for JCQ in the show notes today, but I'm quite sure everybody has access to those. That concludes another episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast for today. We are, of course, the podcast that bring you a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through in the workplace. And I would encourage you all to subscribe to Texthelp Talks. You can do that through your preferred podcast player or even just your streaming service, such as Spotify. And you'll never miss an episode.

Paddy (00:41:36):
And by all means, please do reach out to myself, to the team at Texthelp, or indeed to Simon using the hashtag Texthelp Talks on Twitter, post questions to us, post comments, would love to hear your feedback and anything that any of us can do to help. I have no doubt that we'll be happy to do so.