Nasen, the professional association embracing all special and additional educational needs, recently celebrated its 21st birthday at a House of Commons event hosted by Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for education.
At the event, the organisation looked back on its achievements since its inception in 1991, and outlined its new Every Teacher campaign, which highlights the need for support for professionals and provides a conduit for information between ministers, school leaders, SENCOs, teachers, governors and SEN and disabilities (SEND) professionals.
The evening also saw a special performance by pupils from Whitefields School in London. Accompanied by headteacher Elaine Colquhoun and music therapist Peter Whelan, along with members of staff and parents, the children performed to an audience of supporters, members and influential educators, providing an inspirational backdrop to the evening.
Nasen was formed in 1991 from the amalgamation of the National Association of Remedial Education and the National Council for Special Education.
As I said to those at the event, Nasen was established to be both a strong and influential voice speaking on behalf of children and young people with special needs, but also to be a provider of advice, support and information for those working within the field.
As we celebrate our 21st birthday we may have had to adapt and change in the way that we work, but we have not lost sight of our original aims – to promote the interests of those with exceptional learning needs and/or disabilities, to provide a forum for those actively working with or caring for children with special and additional educational needs and/or disabilities, and to contribute to the formulation and development of policy and practice.
For the past two years we have had the privilege of working with more than 4,000 SENCOs as part of the Department for Education-funded training project that Nasen has been co-ordinating.
The feedback from many SENCOs is that many teachers do not feel they have the skills and knowledge to support those pupils with ever-increasing complex needs in their schools. We have come to rely very heavily on additional support – teaching assistants and learning support staff – often resulting in the least qualified being responsible for the education of the most vulnerable young people.
Following a recent Labour party SEN review, Ms Hodgson made a series of recommendations for addressing these challenge. Calling for policy to adapt to the needs of 21st century teachers and the pupils they support, the review called for a robust SEN module to be part of initial teacher training to support every new teacher in identifying and intervening with pupils, along with one INSET day per year given over to promoting good practice on inclusive teaching, sharing experience and knowledge of SEND. Echoing a long-held Nasen view, the review also called for SENCOs to be part of the senior leadership team.
This comes at a time when both Ofsted and the new Teachers’ Standards are very clear about the role and responsibilities of all teachers. With this in mind, Nasen wishes to reinforce the message that every teacher is responsible and accountable for all pupils in their class, wherever or with whoever the pupils are working.
At the event, we officially launched our Every Teacher campaign, which aims to communicate the message to all ministers, school leaders, SENCOs, teachers, governors and SEND professionals that if every teacher is to be responsible and accountable for each pupil and the outcomes they achieve, then it is crucial to ensure that every teacher has the knowledge, skills and understanding to be able to offer high-quality teaching experiences.
Every teacher is accountable for every pupil’s progress and should understand the needs of all of their pupils. However, in order to do this, every teacher is entitled to high quality professional development and the support of their peers, the school leadership team, the education community and the government. It is only with this sort of grass-roots change that we can be sure we are doing everything we can to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children.
At our event, Tricia Murphy, a Nasen member, spoke of her belief in our work: “Nasen is a great organisation that we desperately need, not only for the children and young people but for those new teachers coming in who want to make it their career, and they will be the ones taking it forward.”
Richard Denyer, non-executive director at the Royal College of Nurses Publishing Company, who recently joined the board of Nasen’s trustees, added: “Nasen’s work is vital in order to provide a solid foundation for young people to build upon, and to champion the work of the most passionate and committed professionals working with vulnerable young children. The aims of the organisation reflect the expertise and feedback of its members and its journey is one which should be backed by all who work in the education sector.”
Lorraine Petersen OBE is chief executive of Nasen.