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Examining Channel 4’s Educating Cardiff through the eyes of Ian Whittaker

Just under one year ago, we were privileged to interview key members of staff from Channel 4’s Educating the East End. With this in mind, Educating Cardiff — the latest incarnation of the series — espouses a similarly pupil-centred approach to its predecessor. We were delighted, therefore, to be able to pose our readers’ questions to Ian Whittaker (assistant head teacher, SEN line manager and star of the show). The latest issue of The SEND Practitioner contains this interview and published earlier on this month.

‘We choose to work in this school because we choose to work for the underdog. It would be easy to go somewhere else, but our members of staff are profoundly committed to pupils as individuals — their life stories, their backgrounds and their families.’

Ian Whittaker

Read the 13th issue of The SEND Practitioner.

The DfE publishes its SEN statistics

on 29 September 2015, the DfE’s press office spoke to us and confirmed that ‘Children with special needs — an analysis 2015’ would still be published, but in a slightly different way: ‘to make it more user friendly and better organised’. On 4 November, the DfE remained true to their word by publishing ‘Special educational needs: an analysis and summary of data sources’.

Read their analysis.

Access the DfE’s full range of SEN statistics.

Issue 13: The SEND Practitioner

Ian Whittaker

The SEND Practitioner
Issue 13
Channel 4’s Educating Cardiff through the eyes of a teacher
October/November 2015
A Q&A with Ian Whittaker – assistant head teacher and SEN line manager


Just under one year ago, I was privileged to interview two members of staff from Channel 4’s Educating the East End. It was fascinating to delve behind the scenes of such a slickly edited BAFTA award-winning series and to find that so much of it had been fairly and truly represented. I am in awe of a school that placed itself under the unforgiving microscopic glare of the camera lens for 37 consecutive days and emerged completely validated and entirely unscathed. So, when the first episode of Educating Cardiff aired in the late summer I was delighted when Ian Whittaker – one of the stars of the show – agreed to speak to me.

In Educating Cardiff, Willows High School, in the economically deprived Tremorfa area of Cardiff, is a medium-sized secondary school that caters for pupils aged 11–16 years of age. In the last few years, its inspirational head (Mrs Joy Ballard) and members of staff have turned the school around. Since the programme aired, however, Joy has moved on and a new head has taken the helm.

This Q&A with Ian explores how the school has adjusted and continues to thrive under new leadership; the impact of national fame on the students and the school; and the disconnect between editorial representation and the school as it really is. Ian also sheds light on examination concessions; the school’s state of readiness for the Welsh reforms; and the pressure that the future funding squeeze will have on the school’s staffing levels and pastoral care.

Throughout the Q&A, Ian illuminates the school’s truly person-centred approach through conversations about four pupils who make huge strides in the show:

  • Sean (who has cerebral palsy) performs admirably in the school’s cabaret show.
  • Daniel is brought back into the fold by their refusal to exclude him.
  • Jessica becomes the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper to better socially integrate with her classmates.
  • George’s detentions and challenging behaviour are tempered by the school’s drama production and a certain teenage crush on Year 8 student Erin.

This complex and brilliantly conceived programme clearly shows the vital impact that whole-school person-centred planning has on individual pupils. It reflects a school that, as in Educating the East End, really does place its pupils at the heart of everything. That it is still succeeding is testament to teachers like Ian – whose commitment and dedication to the school and its unique ethos (the school’s motto: “Belong, Believe, Achieve”) have a huge impact on each and every pupil.

I hope that you enjoy this Q&A and, as ever, would welcome any questions or comments that you might have.

Kind regards,

Edward Farrow
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The DfE’s response to the cancellation of ‘Children with special needs: an analysis – 2015’

During the course of the day, we noticed that the DfE’s ‘Children with special needs: an analysis – 2015’ statistics release hadn’t been published. Indeed, the DfE’s message on its website contained the following message:

Statistics release cancelled

From 2015, we shall cease the publication of ‘Children with special educational needs: an analysis’ in its current format. This change will mean that SEN data and associated commentary will no longer be collated from other source data; however, we shall replace this with a document signposting users to all relevant releases, with a cover note on date of releases, to enable them to find existing data easily in a timely manner on gov.uk.’

For more detail, see http://bit.ly/1MYh3wY

As a result of this, we spoke to a DfE press officer a few moments ago. He provided us with the following statement:

‘Ultimately, the publication itself hasn’t been cancelled. We’re changing the way that it’s published to make it a bit more user friendly and better organised really. So, it will be published there in due course and it will be regularly updated rather than published annually. So, it was slightly misleading what was originally on there, so we hope that that clears it up a little bit.’

We asked for a ballpark publication date, but he was unable to provide us with a firm figure. He did, however, assure us that he will keep us posted. In turn, we will let you know as soon as we have an inkling.

Examining hearing impairment with Susan Daniels OBE

Hearing impairment with Susan Daniels

‘Deafness is not a learning disability and yet in England just 36% of deaf children achieved five good GCSEs last year, compared to 65% of hearing children.’ Susan Daniels OBE in the 12th issue of The SEND Practitioner

In line with Susan Daniel’s startling statistic, we published the 12th issue of The SEND Practitioner on the day of the GCSE results.

Read issue 12 of The SEND Practitioner.

Sign up to The SEND Practitioner.

Issue 12: The SEND Practitioner

The SEND Practitioner
Issue 12
The hearing impairment landscape in a time of seismic change
July/August 2015
A Q&A with
Susan Daniels OBE


I hope that you have had a lovely summer so far and that you are enjoying a well-earned break. Moreover, if you teach GCSE students I really hope that, today of all days, they attain the results that both you and they deserve. It’s a difficult time for pupil, parent and teacher alike, so my best wishes go out to you.

With the GCSE results in mind, and in light of this issue’s interview with the longstanding and highly regarded chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, my thoughts remain with deaf children. For, as Susan points out in her opening answer: “Deafness is not a learning disability and yet in England just 36% of deaf children achieved five good GCSEs last year, compared to 65% of hearing children.” Clearly, at a time of real change in the education sector, these figures are particularly troubling. And it is perhaps this uncertainty that drove a record number of you to get in touch with me when you heard that I would be speaking with Susan.

Susan has been kind enough to answer as many questions as possible and I really appreciate the time that she has put into this issue and the time that you have taken to send in your questions. I hope that you find it as useful as I have and would welcome any comments, queries or suggestions.

Finally, before I go, I would very much like to feature your views in our autumn issue. You can find out more about what I am looking for in the pull-out box below and you will be entered into a prize draw too. So, if you have the time and/or inclination to send me 100 words on your most pressing concern/s as a SEND practitioner, please do, it would be good to hear from you.

Kind regards,

Edward Farrow
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Our SEND Programme delegates graduate at Middlesex University

It was lovely and rewarding to witness a small proportion of our dedicated delegates receive their PGCerts and MEds at Middlesex University this morning. To see their months and years of hard work come to fruition on their day of graduation means a great deal to all of us at Real Training. Congratulations to all of our hard-working graduates today, it’s been a pleasure to have studied with you.

Find out more about our Master of Education (MEd) and the SEND Programme.

The SEN reforms and The SEND Practitioner: a health check with Brian Lamb OBE, Channel 4’s Educating the East End and Mark Blois

Edward Farrow

We were really pleased to welcome Brian Lamb back to The SEND Practitioner well over a year since he first graced the pages of our inaugural issue. Since then, the SEN reforms have made some qualified progress. However, on balance, the sheer scale of the cultural change that is afoot reflects on a timescale more rooted in years than months. And it is against this background that a health check of the state of the current reforms reveals both positives and negatives.

More specifically, as Mark Blois pointed out in the ninth issue, Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and personal budgets continue to cause concern for some of our readership, against a broader palette of ongoing tweaks, adaptions and reinventions that many schools will need to make over the coming years.

However, what is interesting, and what comes across in Brian’s analysis, is that ‘many’ does not mean ‘all’. In that, I mean that there are some schools who have not been troubled by the reforms at all. One such school was Frederick Bremer – the brilliant institution at the heart of Channel 4’s Educating the East End.

When we interviewed Emma Hillman (deputy head) and Francesca Richards (SENCO) towards the end of last year, I asked them whether their person-centred approach had enabled them to navigate the SEN reforms more easily. Because of their inclusive person-centred practice, they both responded with a resounding ‘yes’. Francesca Richards stated that:

‘Yes, it’s been pretty smooth for us. This is because a lot of our SEN practices were already person-centred. For example, our annual statement reviews already constructed a person-centred approach that puts the child and the child’s voice at the heart of the process, alongside rigorous support systems that foster this child-centred approach. So, the practice that we have put in place has allowed us to adapt to the changes quite easily.’ Francesca Richards in the eighth issue of The SEND Practitioner

Of course, no school is the same. However, the type of whole-school person-centred approach that an inner-city school like Frederick Bremer follows has reaped extraordinary dividends — echoed by the words of Brian Lamb in our latest issue:

‘At root, it’s about adopting a quality first teaching approach. Get that in place and you will get parents onside to help your whole-school approach really take off. It’s a big investment upfront, but very big rewards will follow if you get it right.’ Brian Lamb in the 11th issue of The SEND Practitioner

The challenges are huge; the rewards are great; and, over the coming months, we hope that The SEND Practitioner will help you on your way.

Read issue 11 of The SEND Practitioner.

Sign up to The SEND Practitioner.

The SEN-reform health check with Brian Lamb OBE

‘If you stick with the values behind the Code of Practice – with its real focus on outcomes (not provision) and on parental and young people’s involvement – you will see real, improved outcomes. … Let these positive outcomes determine your path and your provision will follow.’ Brian Lamb in the 11th issue of The SEND Practitioner

We published the 11th issue of The SEND Practitioner with Brian Lamb yesterday – nine months to the day from when the SEN reforms kicked into play.

Read issue 11 of The SEND Practitioner.

Sign up to The SEND Practitioner.

Issue 11: The SEND Practitioner

The SEND Practitioner
Issue 11
The SEN reforms
May/June 2015
A health check and Q&A with
Brian Lamb OBE


Nine months ago, to the day, the SEN reforms kicked-off. During this time, the sheer scale of the cultural change demanded by the legislation means that a lot of dust has still to settle. The fact that this is the case has worried some practitioners and parents. More particularly, issues around the content of the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and personal budgets continue to be raised.

As it stands, the Act and the regulations pose more questions than answers and, in the wake of this uncertainty, we thought that Brian Lamb would be the best Q&A port of call to help steady our readers’ anxieties. Brian, author of the widely respected Lamb Inquiry: Special educational needs and parental confidence, is an eminent expert in this field and took part in the inaugural issue of The SEND Practitioner. It’s wonderful to have him back and to take comfort in the certain cogency of his analysis.

I do hope that you find this issue useful and want to thank those of you who contacted me directly with questions for Brian.

As ever, if you have any queries, thoughts or suggestions, please do get in touch.

Kind regards,

Edward Farrow

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