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A Q&A with Lee Royston, our new instructional designer


This month we are delighted to share an interview with the newest member of the Real Group team: Lee Royston. Lee is our new instructional designer, she is based in our Greenwich office and will be working across the company to update, improve, and write our online courses. Lee told us about what led her to become an instructional designer and about the responsibilities of the role.

What were you doing in your previous role, before joining Real Group? What did it entail and how long did you work there?

‘I previously worked for a charity named Red Balloon Learner Centre Group as the director of distance learning. They have four centres around the country and mainly work with children in secondary education who aren’t attending school; the best description of that issue would probably be ‘anxious school refusal’. In a nutshell, the key purpose of my role was to set up and develop an online school for the charity, which really took up the last six years of my life. I covered the project management side of things and managed the staff, but I also developed the teacher training programme for the Red Balloon teachers so that they could better cater for the students.

‘I initially joined Red Balloon as an English and PSA teacher, around seven years ago, and convinced the head of the centre to allow me to continue teaching my students from my home in South Africa while I arranged my visa. So, I taught them from a distance and it turned out that they preferred me at a distance! It was partly the novelty of me being in South Africa of course – they asked me questions about games that I could get over there, and the monkeys in the garden – it resulted in the students really engaging with the project. This is when I realised that technology and education as a combination open up such a lot of opportunities and that was really where my passion lay. This experience, some great funding, and a really supportive senior leadership, enabled us to develop the online school.’

What is your background in terms of work and education?

‘I completed a psychology degree, and then a teaching degree after that. Following this, I moved to Taiwan and taught there for a while, eventually realising that I felt more passionately about teaching psychology as it overlaps with education so heavily. I found it more accessible from a teaching point of view, and then I decided to do an MPhil in technology and education, which I completed last year.’

What particularly attracted you to the role within Real Group?

‘I have a background in psychology and information technology, and when I read the job description I just thought: this is the perfect fit! I had worked for a not-for-profit organisation for a very long time, and I was interested in the role with Real Group. Other jobs that I looked at simply didn’t inspire me, but working with education and technology is something that I am very passionate about. I was ready for a commute to Canterbury every day, and then I found out there was an office in Greenwich – it just ticked every box!

What does being an instructional designer involve?

‘It’s quite a broad role. I’ll be liaising with subject experts (formal academic experts), utilising the in-house expertise, working in a team to design the courses and create content, and driving others to create as well. I won’t be doing the technical side of things (coding, for example) but I will be using the principles of online learning and education theory to ensure that our courses continue to be educationally sound and engaging, and that delegates can navigate their way through a course from start to finish, for a pleasant yet challenging experience.’

Is there anything you are particularly enjoying so far at Real Group?

‘My colleagues, they’re lovely! And if I’m honest, working in Greenwich is really great – you can get a coffee and walk along the river, which is nice.’

What are your interests outside of work – what sort of thing do you like doing in your spare time?

‘We do lots of travelling when we can, and walking the dog takes up a lot of our time – we have a Jack Russell crossed with a Dachshund whose name is Frank.’

Issue 19 of The SEND Practitioner published Sunday 21 May

Issue 19 of The SEND Practitioner published on Sunday and features in-depth interviews with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr Sarah Hendrickx about autism and its diagnosis.

In this month’s issue, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen discusses how the social pressure on girls to fit in and conform can mask their autism, making it difficult for teachers and practitioners to identify. Dr Sarah Hendrickx also explores the issue of autistic girls ‘hiding in plain sight’, and what she feels are the advantages and disadvantages of the expansion of specialist support for girls. Dr Wenn Lawson draws on his own experience of gender dysphoria and autism, discusses the links between the two conditions and the ways in which he overcame barriers.

Issue 19 also includes an interview with Ruth Deutsch (educational and child psychologist, and co-author of CAP) about the foundations and history of CAP, and how the course has developed since its inception. We also speak to two CAP users, Dr Yehuda Marshall and Deborah Smith (a specialist teacher), and learn how the use of CAP has impacted on their practice and professional lives.

Read issue 19.

Read previous issues of The SEND Practitioner.

Why the CAP fits! We interview two CAP delegates about the course’s impact on their professional lives

With our upcoming CAP course on the horizon, we were delighted to speak with some of our previous course delegates about how using CAP has benefitted their practice. Dr Yehuda Marshall (consultant clinical psychologist) and Deborah Smith (specialist teacher) discuss cognitive profile analysis, and how the domain structure of CAP has deepened their understanding of a client’s strengths and weaknesses. Head to our People page to read the interviews in their entirety, or find them in the forthcoming issue 19 of The Send Practitioner.

Read the interviews.

Thinking CAP? Find out more about the course.

A Q&A with Mark Farthing, our new head of operations

Mark Farthing

In March we were so pleased to welcome a new addition to the Real Group team: Mark Farthing. As our new head of operations, Mark will be overseeing and managing many different elements of the business, to ensure that we continue to provide a consistently efficient and outstanding experience for our delegates as we grow. We spoke to Mark about his professional background and the effect he hopes his new role will have on the company.

What were you doing in your previous role, before joining Real Group?

‘Before joining Real Group, I was employed as a master scheduler at a company called Cummins. I worked in a few different roles during my seven years at the company, but that was what I was doing most recently. The role involved taking orders and then planning all of the production for the plant, on the basis of what the best plan would be for the lines to actually build the product.’

What is your background in terms of previous employment and education?

‘My role at Cummins has really been the central point of my career so far – which was based in manufacturing – but my degree was actually based in psychology and music technology. There wasn’t a particularly clear path for me in those subjects at the time, so I started to build a career in management: managing people, production lines, and professional staff as well, and also planning large portfolios of work.’

What particularly attracted you to the role within Real Group?

‘I’m really passionate about managing people and helping them to develop, it’s something that I really enjoy. As well as that, the role is very local to me, and Real Group is of course based in the field of psychology, which was a real draw – it’s very exciting to be part of that world again. I didn’t think that I would get the opportunity to be part of it because I didn’t pursue any postgraduate study.’

What is the main purpose of your role?

‘My role is still very new and will develop more over time, but I will mainly be managing the team and bringing an operational standpoint to the role. So, for example, I will be looking at data analysis, process improvements, mapping out our processes in the department, looking at our budgets and hourly costs – all things that I have experience of, which are quite important for us to know. I want to make sure that people are given the opportunity to progress in the way that they would like to and that they can see a clear path to the next stage of their development. It’s important that people have a vision of how they would like to progress because I believe that is how you get bigger and grow as a business.

‘I think it’s a very exciting time to be part of a business like Real Group, as we are in a massive period of growth in which the company is becoming a real, professional entity. We have to be very careful operationally as we move from looking after hundreds of delegates, to thousands. That is what I believe my role will be based around largely – looking at whether we need to increase our resources to facilitate that kind of growth. I haven’t been here very long so I have a lot to learn, but it’s a really good challenge to have.’

What have you particularly enjoyed since joining the company?

‘So far I have really enjoyed meeting and getting to know the team. Everyone I have spoken to has been so welcoming and nice and they are all really helping me to learn – so I feel like I have hit the ground running. It’s nice to work with people who have such a historical insight into the company, are open and willing to learn, and help others to learn. Some members of the team used to do multiple roles and as the company gets bigger that isn’t really viable anymore. My role – as I see it – is to ensure staff members take ownership of what is theirs, with a broader view of the business, and that is quite a fine balance to strike with people. It’s a good challenge to have, that we are looking at growth.’

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to within your role at Real Group? Perhaps something you are planning on implementing or launching?

‘I am still very new to the role of course, but I am working on analysing course feedback at the moment which is very exciting; I really want to use that to its full potential. We know that we are already doing a great job, but it is important to calibrate yourself with that feedback constantly, so that we know how we are seen by our customers. We are making a lot of changes within the organisation and looking at those changes from an internal point of view, so we must make sure that we hear the customer’s voice and understand how they see things. We also have a lot of IT projects underway, which I am working to prioritise and make sure that we focus our efforts appropriately, as those projects affect marketing, operations, and our delegates.’

What are your interests outside of work?

‘I play saxophone in a band and we regularly play shows on weekends. I also go running every day and I play cricket as much as I can in the summer.’

The SEND reforms, the new curriculum and the Rochford Review – in issue 18 of The SEND Practitioner

In the most recent issue of The SEND Practitioner, we discuss a range of pressing SEND issues with Edward Timpson MP and Dr Adam Boddison. Brian Lamb OBE also offers his progress analysis on various topics, including education, health and care plans (EHCPs), the local offer, and strategic engagement.

We speak to Edward Timpson MP (the Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families) and Dr Adam Boddison (CEO of nasen) about what has been achieved and what has yet to be achieved since the SEND reforms published. They give us their thoughts on the advisory nature of the Rochford Review and how far they think the government will heed its advice. They also answer our readers’ questions on the Code of Practice, early identification, nominal budgets, the new national curriculum, SEND and teacher training courses, and 2017 and beyond.

Brian Lamb OBE is a renowned expert in the development of SEND legislation. His progress analysis focuses on EHCPs, how objectives are being met (such as greater parental confidence) and how local authorities are coping with the new plans. He looks at the DfE survey figures, sets out what they tell us about parental engagement with strategic planning and examines the National Autistic Society’s findings in relation to parental satisfaction when it comes to children’s SEND provision. Brian also considers the SEND reforms and how we can continue to build on the positive changes that have already begun as we move to the next stage of implementation.

Issue 18 also contains some valuable insights from a survey of hundreds of delegates who have successfully completed our Certificate in Psychometric Testing, Assessment and Access Arrangements (CPT3A). We ask them about their experience of our specialist assessor course and feature two interviews with previous CPT3A delegates on the positive impact that it’s had on their careers.

Read issue 18 of The SEND Practitioner.

Our MA with MU: New modules in the pipeline as delegates learn to lead

Two new 30-credit modules are in the pipeline for our jointly developed Leading Inclusive Education MA with Middlesex University (MU). Learning Differences and Communities and Culture will launch in 2017, and will complement the 60-credit Leading Inclusive Practice module that delegates started in October 2016.

These two modules are aimed at teachers who are, or aspire to be, leaders of inclusive practice in educational settings. As such, they will be of interest to senior leaders, inclusion managers, heads of year and pastoral leads, and will build on the core learning that delegates encounter in Leading Inclusive Practice. Each module contains thematic strands, each strand contains learning experiences, and each learning experience is made up of a range of activities.

NB: While both modules are aimed at teachers who work in SEND, Learning Differences may not be appropriate for fully-qualified SENCOs – as they may encounter content that they have previously covered.

Learning Differences

This module will enable delegates to get to grips with a broad range of learning needs – including SEND, EAL, gifted and talented, and pupils with literacy difficulties. It will allow them to focus on needs that are useful to their practice and setting. Delegates will understand how contemporary thought, guidance, legislation and research in this area apply in their setting. They will evaluate, understand and apply their learning, and will think about how best to lead staff to make a difference to children and young people with learning differences.

In the first strand, delegates will understand learning differences and inclusion. The second strand will encourage them to review their provision for a particular area of learning difference. While the third and final strand will enable them to apply their learning to lead change in their setting.

Find out more about Learning Differences.

Communities and Culture

This module will allow delegates to develop their understanding of the impact of culture and community on pupils and their families, and the implications of these for education settings. They will encounter a range of cultures and communities that are relevant to them and will get to grips with vital issues around community, culture, identity and multiculturalism. They will learn about the community-based resources that can support their practice and will think about how best to lead staff and evolve a cohesive approach for a diverse pupil population.

In the first strand, delegates will examine community and culture. In the second strand, they will look at understanding practice. In the third strand, they will be able to apply their learning by developing an action plan for change in their setting.

Find out more about Communities and Culture.

A look at the two new MA in Leading Inclusive Education modules


Following the successful launch of the Leading Inclusive Education MA, Maddie Ralph explores the forthcoming Learning Differences and Communities and Culture modules.

Learning Differences

This module will enable delegates to get to grips with a broad range of learning needs – including SEND, EAL, gifted and talented, and pupils with literacy difficulties. It enables them to focus on needs that are useful to their practice and setting. Delegates will understand how contemporary thought, guidance, legislation and research in this area apply in their setting. They will evaluate, understand and apply their learning, and will think about how best to lead staff to make a difference to children and young people with learning differences.

Strand one of this module concentrates on understanding learning differences and inclusion. As well as refreshing their understanding of learning theories and typical cognitive development, delegates will explore different perceptions of learning differences and inclusion, and models of disability, and consider some controversial issues around difference. This will enable them to build a picture of various learning differences and the provision currently made for them in their setting. They will also be able to learn about the national picture, (re learning differences and inclusion) and reflect on responsibility, accountability and leadership.

Strand two will enable delegates to review provision for an area of learning difference, by first revisiting the waves of intervention model of support for children and young people with learning differences. They will go on to learn about the graduated approach to SEN support, how this is applied to other groups, and consider how well their setting implements this. Delegates will work with their colleagues to select an area of learning difference where practice could be improved. They will research it, make provision for it in their setting, share their findings and obtain feedback.

In the third and final strand, delegates will build on their learning by developing an action plan for change in their setting. They will reflect on their learning and progress as a leader of inclusive practice, and will look at the next professional development steps that they need to take.

Communities and Culture

This module will allow delegates to develop their understanding of the impact of culture and community on pupils and their families, and the implications of these for education settings. They will encounter a range of cultures and communities that are relevant to them and will get to grips with vital issues around community, culture, identity and multiculturalism. They will learn about the community-based resources that can support their practice, and will think about how best to lead staff and evolve a cohesive approach for a diverse pupil population.

Strand one is based around delegates’ understanding of communities and culture. They will explore their own culture and that of their setting, they will consider a range of perceptions of the concept of community and will reflect on education settings as communities. They will not only consider how identity is defined and shaped, but will also explore issues surrounding community cohesion, examine culture and cultural diversity, and investigate the relationship between diversity and inclusion in communities.

Strand two will lead delegates to a deeper understanding of practice in relation to communities and culture. Through researching diversity, social capital and what it means to be British, they will develop their knowledge of how education settings (particularly their own), can support individual identities and promote a universal sense of belonging. By understanding the role of supplementary schools, and the kind of education that will equip children to participate and achieve (both in school and beyond), delegates will be in a good position to apply their knowledge in the final strand.

In the third and final strand, delegates will focus on leading change in their setting. To conclude their learning, they will work with colleagues to develop an action plan for change in their setting. In common with the previous module, they will reflect on their learning and progress as a leader of inclusive practice and will look at the next professional development steps that they need to take.

To find out more about this programme, take a look at Middlesex University’s website.

A Q&A with Jalak Patel – our new senior educational psychologist


We recently welcomed Jalak Patel to Real Group. As an educational psychologist (EP), she has wide-ranging experience of working with young people in both the UK and Hong Kong. We spoke with Jalak about her time in Hong Kong, what led her to her new role and how SEND challenges differ between the two landscapes.

As an EP, what are your areas of interest?

‘Recently I’ve spent a lot of time working with children and young people who experience social cognition challenges (which might be known as social thinking challenges). These individuals find it difficult to understand that other people’s perspectives may differ from their own, and this disparity can have a huge impact on their social lives, their academic lives and their academic work. I am interested in helping this group achieve their individual social goals. These goals may include the ability to share space, work effectively with others and be more effective in reading the social environment around them, learning how to work as a member of a team, or developing and maintaining relationships with others.’

You have broad international experience as an EP (having worked in both Hong Kong and the UK). Can you tell me about your recent time in Hong Kong? What took you there and what did you do there?

‘I worked in Hong Kong for four-and-a-half years and in Coventry for eight years before that – so two very different places. Throughout my career, I’ve always been interested in how different cultural backgrounds and experiences impact on how we think, feel or behave, and how that might then influence a student’s emotional well-being or their academic progress. So, for me, the opportunity to live and work in a completely different culture was just thrilling really.

‘In Hong Kong, I worked as an EP for the English School Foundation, which is a foundation of 22 settings covering pre-school children up to secondary level. During this time, I was also the foundation’s advisor for SEN training and development. In this role, I worked with schools to find out what their development needs were, wrote and delivered training based on these needs, supported others to do the same, and then worked with different settings to embed their new learning and skills. What was particularly interesting about the position was that my work was not just limited to the English School Foundation’s pool of international schools. We were keen to broaden our remit to support and influence the practice of other schools within South East Asia. In this way, through inter-school discussions and conferences, we shared good practice.

‘Of course, living in Hong Kong was such an amazing experience: the food is delicious and I’ve developed quite a taste for dim sum. And at the weekend, there’s so much to do too: you can go hiking or you can go to the beach – so life was really good fun there. I had so many opportunities to travel and feel really lucky to have travelled to every South East Asian country on my list.’

Before this, you were in the UK. In the world of SEND, what are the similarities and differences between the two landscapes?

‘I think both the UK and Hong Kong have an increasing understanding of the importance of ensuring that the needs of all students are met (whether they have SEND or not). In the UK, we have a long-held understanding that we have a part to play in this, and I did wonder before I went whether it would be the same. I’d say that in Hong Kong, there is also an understanding that we need to meet the needs of all students, and educators are becoming even more interested in how this can be done, especially when thinking about meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.

‘In Hong Kong, there is often a high expectation for children and young people to succeed academically.  However, there is also a growing awareness of the links between these expectations and increased levels of stress, (or decreased levels of emotional well-being). This is in line with the UK’s recognition of the importance of mental health challenges and how these can impact on students. The raft of new legislation that’s come out and the kind of discussions that are taking place, are illustrative of how much the UK has developed in this area in just the few years that I worked abroad.

‘Differences: I suppose that the main difference would be in terms of behaviour. In the international school context, we saw a lot less of what might be termed in the UK as challenging behaviour. People in South East Asia tend to have a real respect for education and they very much expect their children to do well – sometimes to their detriment. They can be a little bit pushy or work their children very hard. In general, however, children and young people have a healthy respect for education and want to do well. So, if they are exhibiting challenging behaviour, it’s not from a desire to get out of the classroom, or to cause problems. More so, it’s because they are genuinely experiencing difficulties stemming from other challenge areas – such as, say, social cognition challenges, or mental health issues.

‘I suppose that one of the other big differences is that the curriculum that we worked towards in our particular schools was very concept-based, rather than skills-based. So, children and young people were really expected to think in an abstract way. In this context, some children with SEND faced challenges because they found flexible thinking difficult, or weren’t able to access a language-heavy curriculum. In contrast, the curriculum in the UK is a lot more skills-based, so it’s much easier to differentiate. But just to clarify, not all curricula in Hong Kong or South East Asia is concept-based, that was just the case in the foundation that I worked for.’

At the time of the interview, you have only recently touched down in London. What drew you to this role?

‘Well, Real actually came out to Hong Kong. Jen [Wills] flew over, and delivered the Certificate of Competence in Educational Testing (CCET) to a number of staff within our foundation. We contacted Real because we’d heard about them and their reputation. During that time, I held a dual role, one part of which involved advising the foundation on SEN training and development. Following the course, I spoke to staff to find out what they thought about CCET: they were struck by the clarity and rigour of the training, and could clearly see how this was going to help them and how they could move forward. The knock-on effect was that I was very impressed with the quality of the course and Real’s reputation. After conversations with EP friends back in the UK, I became more aware of the organisation’s positive reputation, the forward-thinking nature of the company, and its willingness to embrace new ideas and thinking.

‘I felt that I’d learnt a lot from working in Hong Kong, and wanted to make sure that my wealth of international experience would benefit and complement any organisation that I worked with in the UK. I got the sense that Real would be willing to harness some of that, and bring that on board with what they were doing. So, all in all, it seemed like a good fit!’

As you start your role with us, what areas are you particularly looking forward to working in?

‘I’m keen to get involved in delivering some of Real Training’s courses, as training is something I really enjoy doing. I’m eager to share some of the ideas and approaches that I’ve come across whilst working in Hong Kong, some of which aren’t really being used in the UK. I’ve been quite heavily involved in the training, implementation, and evaluation of certain approaches, and have delivered good outcomes for students. I would like to develop that further here. And of course, I am looking forward to getting to know everybody at Real too!’

Finally, in the coming months, you will tutor on some of our courses (e.g.: the Certificate of Competence in Educational Testing). With this in mind, why is assessment and educational testing training so important to education professionals and young people with SEND?

‘First and foremost, there are a lot of reports that are written and sent about different individuals, and it’s really important that we are able to fully understand them. There are many different tests available, and they are standardised in different ways, so it’s vital to be able to read a report, understand it, and know what that test was specifically focused on. This will allow us to know what those outcomes mean for a young person – in terms of next steps and how best to support them. To put that another way: you have to know where you are, to know where you need to go! Education professionals are willing to do the hard work and they want the right thing for their students, but aren’t always certain what information they need and/or how to use what they do know. So, coming on these kinds of training courses and gaining that knowledge, experience and understanding, is vital, because it provides certainty and enables us to be sure that everything we are doing is right for each individual student.’

Jalak will be working with both Real Psychology and Real Training in her role.

Middlesex University launches MA in Leading Inclusive Education with Real Training

In September of last year, we were delighted to launch a brand-new MA in Leading Inclusive Education, jointly developed by Real Training and Middlesex University.

One of the most significant challenges that education professionals encounter, is the long overdue need for developing and supporting inclusive education practice in order to meet the needs of all learners. To cover this broad and ever-changing subject, our multifaceted course consists of a selection of modules that delegates can choose from. Among these are modules focusing on subjects such as gender and sexuality, communities and culture, and migration and language acquisition.

The MA in Leading Inclusive Education is a distance-learning package that is delivered entirely online. Using our state-of-the-art online learning platform, Campus Online, delegates are able to access the course from anywhere in the world. We’ve combined our extensive knowledge and expertise in delivering online courses with the physical resources of a major London university to produce a truly unique learning experience.

Ron Sergejev is the course leader for the MA in Leading Inclusive Education. Ron’s years of experience in the education sector, have given him great insight into the difficulties caused by the lack of training in inclusive education.

When asked what he believes makes our course unique, Ron had the following to say:

‘The modules that comprise this MA, cater for many professional requirements within education. Whether a student is aiming to become a head of department, or even head teacher, or solely seeks to gain a greater understanding of learning, social, and emotional difficulties, they will find that the course is thorough, and covers a great many aspects of inclusive practice.

‘This course is designed around sound learning principles, is practice-based, and can be done from anywhere in the world. The modules are designed to be part of the whole Masters programme, but they can also stand alone to enable education professionals to upskill in specific areas, without completing a full Masters.’

For more information, or to book a place, visit Middlesex University’s MA in Leading Inclusive Education web page.

Real Group welcomes new head of marketing and sales

We are delighted that Stuart Curry has recently joined the company as Real Group’s head of marketing and sales.

Prior to this, Stuart worked across a variety of sectors, including not-for-profit, consumer and business publishing, membership bodies, and finance. He is based at our Greenwich office and will support the marketing and sales team, while working closely with all departments and directors to continue Real Group’s financial growth. He will also assist with the development of new business propositions and areas of activity.

Stuart emphasised how much he has relished working with the team and learning about the positive aspects of our work:

‘I am really enjoying working with an incredibly dedicated and committed small team and getting to learn about the fantastic, valuable work that the company does in the sector – helping to change lives.’

He looks forward to working with Real Group to expand and meet the many challenges facing education professionals and their pupils.