Our Chair and Founder, Sarah Driver delivered a keynote speech on SEND and leadership to over 200 delegates at the Whole School SEND Strategy Summit…

Sarah Driver, chair of DYT, delivered a keynote speech last Wednesday to over 200 delegates on sustainable and effective leadership in SEND provision.

Utilising expertise as a leader in Education and her personal experience as a parent of a child with dyslexia, Sarah’s speech addressed the need to implement sustainable change in the way we teach those with SEND – focusing on empowering those at the top to lead, and include SEND within the broader education agenda. The speech outlined issues facing all schools, and stressed the need to ensure accountability and responsibility from our education leaders. Following this, Sarah outlined the clear steps to effect sustainable change and merit the needs of those with SEND – ending with a call to action for everyone involved in education and SEND:

“lead the way, share your practice, continue to champion SEND and you will see the benefits across your school in countless ways”.

View the presentation here.

Read Press coverage of the speech.

View a summary of the speech.

Below is a full transcript of Sarah’s Speech:

So, a quick background as to why I’m standing here today talking to experts in the SEND and education world – what have I got to add? 

A solicitor by training, primarily I’m here as the Founder and Chair of the Driver Youth Trust – a charity that is dedicated to ensuring those who struggle with literacy are still able to access education. At DYT:

  • We bridge the gap between literacy and SEND.
  • We work on policy to put SEND on the agenda,
  • We collaborate with partners across the field

I’m conscious of time so, bearing in mind that this is a day about SEND and MATs, I think there are two core areas I’ve worked in that are relevant to today’s agenda.

1: I’ve worked on and developed our flagship programme, Drive for Literacy, over the past 7 years working with Ark in their schools.  In a nutshell, DfL addresses school capacity and teacher capability from a whole school approach, with a focus on leadership and systems. We’re now rolling this out across the country. DfL embodies all the principles I discuss today.

Working with Ark, I’ve had a lot of experience of SEND in a MAT model- what works, what doesn’t.

2: I’ve been a Chair of Governors in a large school in Hastings that was in special measures.  Again with Ark, I’ve seen SEND and MATs in action – this time looking at issues of capacity when schools are a distance away and when you’re looking at primary and secondary provision together in an area.

Also I’m a parent of 3 children who struggle with literacy, my youngest fundamentally so.  He’s going to Manchester University to ‘read’ Economics and Politics – and he can’t read and write 

 and I’m going to talk briefly about… SEND provision.

This is an issue facing all schools – although I’m aware I may be preaching to the converted, it is important we understand how to effect sustainable change in the way we teach with those with SEND – We know the answers are out there, we know they’re not even rocket science – what we need to do is look at how we make changes in a sustainable way.

Throughout will be looking at the particular opportunities and also the challenges that face MATs.

When I’m talking about MATs, what I say applies equally to policy makers in government and to LAs – take these actions on board and the outcomes for those with SEND will improve dramatically.


  • Poor results – I am the first to acknowledge that results are not the be all and end all but it provides stark reading when we see how poorly those with an SEND do in our system

Key Stage 2 for all pupils was 53% while for SEND pupils it was just 14% in 2016.

  • We have low aspirations – for pupils with SEND

EPI have found: That even the higher-attaining pupils with SEND fall behind as they progress through school.

  • Insufficient or inappropriate staff training – at DYT we see schools where there’s no training on SEND or, when there is, it’s generic and not adapted to the actual needs of the staff or pupils in the school.

Training teachers at the end of a long day on the theories of reading isn’t as powerful as getting the Science faculty to understand what skills they are expecting of a learner with reading and writing difficulties and then giving them specific strategies to use in their classrooms

  • Fragmented provision – too often we see those with an SEND being taken out of class, often their favourite subjects, to be given ad hoc interventions, 20 minutes here and there that are always the first to fall by the wayside when there’s pressure on staffing – sticking plaster. Graduated approach not implemented.                                                                                           
  • Lack of joined up thinking – here I’m talking about a lack of strategic thinking, based on an evidence based approach that looks at professional expertise in a school, looks at the data, (not just pupil’s results), looks at scientific evidence and takes into account stakeholders views – parents, learners and other professional bodies. 

All of this leads to two primary outcomes:  

Lost children who lose months if not years of their education

And, Frazzled staff – Teachers in England are working longer hours than in most other countries. Full time teachers over 48 hours per week – the third highest out of OECD, 19 % longer than the average elsewhere. 

So …How to effect sustainable change in the way we teach with those with SEND?

Thought long and hard about articulating this and, having worked for a long time now within the system, working with head teachers, teachers, TAs, governors, trustees – I’ve looked at structures, processes and attitudes –  I think it comes down one thing. 

If we get this right at a policy level, at an LA level, at a MAT level, at a Head Teacher or Principal level  – then at a learner level, we will have made all the difference in the world – and we will see that group of learners who have consistently failed to achieve, making real progress.

We need to get …

 leaders to see the merit of addressing the needs of those with SEND – and it’s important to remember that 9 out of 10 pupils with SEND are sitting in mainstream classrooms across the country.

Everything stems from the 2 elements in this concept – leadership and seeing merit 

Leadership –this is key and in this category I extend it beyond Trustees and Head Teachers to the Senior Leadership Team, Teachers within teams and Governors.

Without this leadership, we see a fragmented approach within schools, where those with SEND are dependent on the chance of having a teacher or TA with knowledge and skills.

Seeing merit in addressing SEND – Sadly, whilst I’ve tried in the past to argue this on moral grounds – it’s the right thing to do and on educational grounds – we’re about giving every child a good education and because good practice benefits all learners, I’ve found 2 main ‘hook’s to engage leaders to address the needs of those with SEND


  • results will improve
  • you will do better in your Ofsted 

But we need some ‘sticks’…

HOW to effect sustainable change in the way we teach with those with SEND?

How does doing this translate into practicalities?

Here I’m referring to putting into place strategic systems, which as MATs there is the opportunity of economies of scale, of the ability to put in systems and training across the board, which can be harder for stand-alone schools. However, for MATs with schools around the country, it can be challenging as I saw with Ark in Hastings.

  • Decide to make SEND a priority – see the merit in addressing it and make it part of your ethos, approach and systems.

Convey this expectation to your leaders in schools, Head Teachers, Principals, SLT, teachers in teams and Governors.

In my experience in a large school in special measures, this was hard to do with many competing priorities, but it needs to be done.  In a practical way this would ensure that

  • we don’t see TAs getting pulled in to do cover, invigilate etc, so that interventions then not delivered with fidelity and
  • we don’t see it’s always being left to the last minute to assess for assessments (when it’s too late),

Ensure accountability – this is where the ‘sticks’ come in …. 

  • Ensure a Trustee has responsibility for SEND – within the Code of Practice it is a requirement to have a governor with responsibility for SEND. There is no mention of Trustees!  In my experience if you don’t have a Trustee actually responsible for overseeing those learners with SEND, they are once again invisible. If MATs, some of them the size of LAs, have no strategic oversight of SEND – what does that say about how much we value these learners?

At DYT we’re working on developing the SEND review to include a section for Trustees and governors.

  • Ring fencing SEND funding –we’ve argued long and hard for this to become law. Even if the government won’t listen to us, doesn’t mean MATs shouldn’t – it’s good practice and will make a massive difference to outcomes. The system is complicated and I was always told as a governor “it goes on staffing’.  That’s not good enough. We place enormous emphasis on disadvantaged pupils and Pupil Premium, rightly so – and we should do the same for those with SEND. As we said in our latest research report, Through the Looking Glass, there is no greater disadvantage than being ignored, and pupils with SEND are being ignored. 

MATs should ‘ring fence’ their SEND funding and require schools to be accountable and show how they are spending the funds and produce evidence of the impact this funding is having.

  • Monitoring / OFSTED level

The Ofsted framework says –

Inspectors will pay particular attention to the outcomes for the following groups:

  • Disabled children and learners and those who have special educational needs

But the document itself isn’t very concrete on the precise criteria of what good/outstanding looks like as far as I can see and inspectors are not trained to know what good looks like.

For MATs – it means collecting data on those with an SEND, ensuring you have specialists on your team when doing monitoring inspections who know what good practice looks like and it means asking the right questions.  It’s about making the school accountable.   

  • Carry out an Audit of SEND provision across the MAT – like Whole School Send Review
  • Look at workforce development in a targeted and appropriate way – which is an area of opportunity for MATs who can implement strategies across their networks


  • there’s a dearth of well-trained SENCOs out there, they need training beyond the mandatory course, which takes time, and
  • they need admin support so they can focus on the strategy
  • they need to be on your SLT
  • They need to go to at least 1 governor’s meeting a year to present a report about their work

Teaching Staff – think …faculty training, think…. teaching secondary teachers how to teach learners to read. We want teachers with the skills in teaching their subjects in a way that’s creative, accessible and responsive to the needs of every child who walks through their door.

Look beyond this to career pathways for staff from

  • NQT to SENCO to Director of Inclusion in a large MAT and
  • pathways for teachers – those who want to stay in the classroom but want to further their SEND knowledge – at DfL we’re looking at training faculty leaders in the sciences and social sciences

and give awards and recognition for this training

Specialists– here is where MATs really can make a difference employing specialist teachers and other professionals to use across the network – it’s a model we have at Drive for Literacy.

  • Specialist Teachers who get to know staff and schools, who can work to the needs of the school, supporting the SENCO, who can carry out assessments for access arrangements – probably one of the most significant actions that improves outcomes if, and it’s a big if, it’s put in place in time, as early as year 7.
  • Other Professionals SALTs, EPs, OTs – schools in MATs have the ability to jointly commission these specialists and, as we’ve seen in schools, such as Priestnall in Stockport, these specialists can then be ‘sold’ to other schools in the area spreading expertise and providing financial income.

6          Governors – Interestingly the NGA don’t train SEND governors unless they’re in a Special School.  Remember 9 out of 10 … Have a SEND governor and train them.  There’s free resources to support you on our DYT website. 

7          Parents – engage with parents – we’ve put resources on for parents on questions they can ask schools.  As schools, look at these and be prepared to answer them.

8          Create ‘carrot’s’ for good practice – awards that recognize the great work that often goes unnoticed.

Finally, here’s my call to action:

  • Show off and lead the way, because too few are.
  • Share your practice with others, including organisations like DYT, so we can benchmark and learn from one another.
  • Continue to champion SEND, not just because it’s right, but because it will better show off your expertise.
  • Create new opportunities to collaborate and lead in an area where others are turning a blind eye.

It’s not rocket science; we can make systematic changes in the way we teach pupils with SEND in our schools

It just takes Leaders to decide to have the will to do so … if they do, they will see the benefits across their school in countless ways – not just results and better Ofsted outcomes, but in their staff, with all their pupils.