School improvement for SEND and inclusion video transcript

I'm Professor Deborah Robinson and I welcome you all to this professorial evening. The orchestra was such a lovely way to begin it and as I can see in the live event Q&A many people agree.
 
At the moment I work with other research colleagues in the inclusion and special educational needs and disability, or SEND research cluster, in the Institute of Education. This evening, as researchers, we've chosen to focus on a theoretical formulation we're working on for effective inclusive school leadership for SEND and inclusion, which is actually one dimension, within a larger project which we'll call here the city project and this is being enacted among schools and school leaders in an opportunities area or OA and honestly, it's something we are so proud to be involved in.
 
So as you see on the screen at the moment, I acknowledge all of the excellent researchers involved in this project, I also acknowledge professor Mel Anscow who I will mention later, and the OA Executive Board who funded this important project.
 
So, I hear you ask, well I don't actually because it's all virtual, but I'll just imagine it for now. So why is a theoretical formulation for effective inclusive school leadership so important and why does it matter right now and why have we chosen to speak of it on this September evening. So we actually have a very dramatic response to this question and we're not going to hold back and I'm sure this isn't the only dramatic moment coming up this evening.
 
So mass state education is huge and almost inevitably - it comes with complex systems of bureaucracy and regulation and hence it does have a tendency towards intransigence rather than mutability, in fact, intransigence and stability is something it probably prefers, but what it's challenged by is an increasingly diverse learner population and an increasingly complex world and we have all been experiencing that. However, we would argue that when the monolith of state education does move, its default tendency is to skew towards those who already have advantage and already have privilege, and in support of this claim, we don't have to look very far back do we to see the school playing out in the context of the current crisis, the Covid pandemic.
 
So for example, the procurement and the subsequent claim and delivery systems for the distribution of laptops and free school peaceful meal vouchers to the children who needed them was really slow and inefficient and we just weren't geared up for a crisis situation and we weren't geared up for serving the most vulnerable with resources in the quick way that they needed. In the case of laptops, only a fraction of eligible children and young people received them and you all know about, what's termed, the algorithm debacle in A-level grades where the most disadvantaged pupils seem to be disadvantaged again.
 
So public outrage in campaigning had turned some of that around but I think, we saw in the crisis of the pandemic, systemic blind spots to disadvantage which were quite unceremoniously exposed. So, when we recognize such innate skewing towards exclusion and marginalization of the most vulnerable, we recognize the need for resistant action and actually the need to exert, what we would call, an unrelenting and powerful pull of the system toward fairer distribution and opportunity - and this is where the project we're showcasing tonight comes in. So the project I'm about to showcase is an example of stakeholders coming together to exert this kind of pull on the system. With academics and researchers adding their weight to this tug of war so that the rights of children and young people with sense can be better prioritized as a forethought and not an afterthought.
 
Now to tell you a bit more about this citywide project of school improvement for inclusion focused on leadership within an opportunities area. I'll tell you the following: so in part we've been commissioned to do the evaluative work for the city project and that's really important in itself, but we have wanted to deepen our investigation beyond this, to do what as a research cluster we must do, which is to contribute theorizations to our discipline. Actually, for us, this is how we express our intellectual curiosity, and so it's about also celebrating the project on a world stage.
 
Earlier I mentioned Professor Mel Anscow who some of you will know and Mel is an advisor on equitable schooling for UNESCO and is very renowned worldwide, so we've deliberately engaged him as a co-writer writer in our outputs because we know that he's the person who can help us communicate the relevance of our work more broadly.
 
So just a bit more about the city project. It's a 30-month long project which has been delayed by COVID and as you see here it's got two key aims. They combined to ensure a change of culture, such that pupils with sins and their outcomes, become a more central focus for the leaders in the city and for their school improvement activities and I think it's really important for you to know that in the city where this project is happening there are examples of good and excellent practice but the reality is that pupils with special needs and disabilities have not been faring as well as they have in other regions of the country, so the city project was a genuine and honest expression of facing facts and striving to improve things so that pupils with SEND were present participating and progressing in the city schools.
 
So the main focus for the data collection and the inquiry we're going to talk to you about, in the slice of the research project I've just described, was a system of peer review, called the SEND peer challenge. So this is a process where expert leaders support peers. So school completes a self-evaluation template using a structure that's been endorsed by the Department for Education, so after the school has completed a self-review of their send provision, which to illustrate includes eight categories of criteria, so for example, eg: how well parents are involved in decision making.
 
Peer challenger teams then go into the school and spend time observing practice, talking to stakeholders to investigate provisional outcomes further, and for example, by observing teaching, and this results in a school report on the strengths weaknesses and recommendations for action for that individual school. Because this project has been very well funded, it also involves a continued relationship with the school by a lead challenger, who helps the school to implement the recommendations that have been made. The project does also have quite a sophisticated modus which I'll briefly illustrate. 
 
So, as you can see in this modus, the University does have a central role. The project is about forming networks and coalitions of challenge and support around SEND inclusion and its essence is collaboration. Next slide please Nik. So, as researchers, we were completing our evaluative work and we completed an analysis of the content of 24 school reports arising from 24 school challenges and we noticed interesting patterns in the qualitative data, and we were really curious about what we saw. We wondered whether the school reports were aggregating, to present a living theory among peer challengers in the city, about what leaders should do and how they should do it, in order to improve schools for inclusion and SEND, so we pursued this with a deeper levelling of inquiry.
 
What we were looking for in our extended study, was a theoretical formulation for effective inclusive leadership, that is lived by those who are working close to the action of school improvement for sending inclusion and we hope we would find some universal principles that would be of use to our local practice and our research community. 
 
In our work, we identified the following formulation for effective leadership of school improvement for inclusion and it was active and relevant, both in the literature and in the sites that were close to the action that we studied. So this formulation we term the integrated model. So here the integrated model of inclusive leadership is characterized by the overall layering of the integration of three well-known leadership approaches which will have a kind of social constructionist theory at heart.
 
So the first is transformational leadership or "T.L" and this is an approach that positions the school leader as a leader of coalitions. So the role of the leader is culture change and it's about getting people to coalesce around a set of shared values, which in this case, would be inclusion and equity, and then directing action for school improvement around those aims and it's based on a whole school vision a mission and a sense of shared commitment.
 
So the second element in this integrated model is distributed leadership or DL. So this is a position that we find is about positioning a school leader as a leader of leaders so power and hence responsibility is distributed. Responsibility is distributed but actually, so is accountability, so DL is the approach that might be most directly linked to the idea that all teachers are teachers of SEND so, therefore we don't pass off responsibilities for working with those pupils, and that parents and pupils are partners and actually these ideas are really prevalent in England's policy.
 
So the third is instructional leadership and we see this as an idea that the leader is a leader of learning and the emphasis in this approach this model is on pedagogy learning and curriculum and, actually for example, it's the instructional presentation of the school's commitment to inclusion. So the first time in the literature that we saw these ideas integrated into a whole, is in the supporting inclusive leadership project from the European Union and the work of the authors displayed. But what we found was that though not named or explicitly formulated as such, the integrated model is almost rampant in the literature and in descriptions and studies of inclusive schools and leadership and there is evidence that when combined, these leadership approaches are associated with positive pupil outcomes, including achievement and belonging.
 
So, did this formulation emerge in the work of local peer challengers working in the context of the city project? To find out we used qualitative content analysis as the basis for our investigation. It was a good fit, though time-consuming, it has served our purposes well and the sample that we use, the sample of text for the QCA, the qualitative content analysis, is shown here and it included 24 school reports for the 24 schools who had experienced this peer challenge as part of the project.
 
So, in the process, these are the three frameworks we started with, these are frameworks that schools use to self-evaluate and you can see they come from the EU from the US and from England. The third framework was the framework used in the city project, and it's important to note as you'll see shortly. Next slide please Nik. So, here we show that we used a pretty traditional approach to QCA, where it started with an inductive phase, which led to a coding agenda, which was then used deductively to analyze the content of the whole sample and, in the spirit of trustworthiness and transparency, which is part of the ethical spirit of any researcher, and in context of limited time, we present the next two slides, for your later review.
 
So here transparency for you in terms of our content categories for the QC, enumerations proportion calculations and interpretations and here to show the final reduction of the QCA to six dominant themes and these are what combine to illustrate the living theory of leadership for inclusion across the sites studied. Now to our research conclusions about theoretical formulations for effective inclusive leadership in two parts. 
 
So here is part A of our conclusion. We found that the integrated model is indeed prevalent in close to the action frameworks for leader school self-evaluation for SEND and inclusion but, with the assumption, that there's also going to be effective operational leadership and management of systems that support the distribution of responsibility, accountability, information sharing. But it's really important for us to prepare, to tell you what part B conclusion was, so we can't use enumerations, the enumerations we developed in our work to test null hypotheses in QCA, but we can look for patterns of prevalence and interpret from there so you'll remember that evaluation framework three was the one used in the city project so you would expect there to be some harmony in the content of the school reports and that evaluation framework.
 
You would expect to see some thematic similarity and some proportional similarity in the content and presence of these themes and that was actually clearly evident. These two things were closest in relationship but there were also some interesting differences which has allowed us to make our emerging theory of effective leadership for inclusion much more nuanced.
 
So let's have a look at this. The content proportions in the school reports emphasize distributive leadership indeed, so peer reviewers are emphasizing, but they emphasized it much less than they did in framework than it was in framework three. The reports emphasized transformational leadership but emphasized it much less than in framework three and the reports emphasized the importance of a well-structured leadership team, that managed things well, much more than in framework three. So you can see that peer challenges on the ground were choosing to emphasize things that went beyond the strictures of the original evaluation template and this is what we found particularly interesting.
 
So conclusion part two. The integrated model was present in the living theory of effective leadership among this group of local actors. They were using an integrated model, but they were placing emphasis on the role and responsibility of school leaders, rather than the responsibility for distributed ownership across the school community, and if you remember, this does make sense, because the ecology of the city project and its aims, also held that emphasis. So, as you remember, in a context where there are examples of good practice and excellence, the city project was about challenging and supporting leaders in taking responsibility for the inclusion of pupils with SEND and giving their outcomes much more attention. It's no surprise that the school reports emphasize the responsibilities of leaders within an integrated model.
 
So our conclusion is, is that the integrated model as a formulation for effective leadership for inclusive practice is alive, in local sites, but it's best understood ecologically. By which we mean, that as a formulation, it has universal principles that are relevant to all and many, but these principles are subject to local interpretation. Now, just to say, we were joyful about this. So researchers are human aren't they and we get excited and happy when we see positive things unfolded; this gave us hope. What we came to feel was admiration for this challenged community.
 
They were working on this project in a way that applied a kind of consensus, a collective consensus, and it is an indication of how place-based collaborative, and non-rivalrous activity, can add power to the tug of war against exclusion. Next slide, please. So here are the names of all the researchers involved.
 
Please do get in touch with any or all of us if you want to discuss our work or better still collaborate with us. Thanks so much for listening. 

School improvement for SEND and inclusion video

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