School-Community Partnerships Could Coproduce Better Outcomes for SEND Children

Children’s Quarter is promoting the case for formalising and supporting the school-community partnerships that some of our members – both schools and community groups – have been coproducing for years.  What we mean by a school-community partnership is an arrangement between one or more schools and one or more community groups to collaborate to support and improve educational outcomes for children, particularly children with special educational needs and disabilities. 

Listening to families and to teachers, we’ve found that the key value a community-based service provides to SEND children and young people is ‘belonging’.  Most of the services we looked at provide inclusive play and youth services.  Some provide arts, drama, sports and specialist learning, eg code club.  For older children, more specialist community services can have additional benefits, but being welcome, ‘belonging’ and identity remain important at all ages.

‘Belonging’ is particularly important during transitions – when a disabled or vulnerable child is moving between schools, health or care services.  SEND children typically face more frequent transitions, of longer duration and with, typically, more upsetting effect than those faced by other children.   The very children that you would want to have the most certain and joined-up education and care, in practice, receive the most disjointed and uncertain services.  In these circumstances, community-run clubs, associations and groups offer a precious thread of continuity and personalisation.

Above is a presentation on the subject which is based on the presentation CQ gave to Birmingham City Council’s Assistant Director responsible for services to SEND children in May 2021.  At that meeting, we received her backing and – we believed – that of the City Council for a funded pilot of 6 school-community partnerships in Birmingham that would be evaluated.  With the intention of learning drawn from the pilots informing a city-wide initiative to coproduce better education for our disabled and vulnerable children.

As you’ll see from the presentation, Ofsted reports on Birmingham’s failing SEND services and, in October 2021, the appointment of a DfE Commissioner by central government to run SEND services in the city, seem to have paralysed decision making.  Instead of piloting action, Birmingham City Council has appointed yet more consultants to carry out yet more consultations with parents.  The Council’s inward focus; its preference for endless consultation over action in partnership; the familiar pattern of leadership failure drifts on… and stifles positive proposals for learning from school-community partnerships to be mainstreamed.

We know School-Community Partnerships produce better outcomes for SEND children.  Our members – and the children and families they serve – have experience of it.  We have to keep on trying to get the authorities to understand what’s on offer – and in that regard we are now meeting with the DfE SEND Commissioner for Birmingham.  In the meantime, schools and community groups keep on working together, albeit without the resources they should have.  And without the evaluation and commitment from the top that would enable an improvement in outcomes for the least well-served children across the city.

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