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Role of Board Members: achieving positive outcomes for learners with SEND

Over 1 in 7 (14%) of FE learners have a special educational need. At 19, disabled young people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to not be in any form of education, employment or training (NEET). And disabled people of working age are around three times more likely not to hold any qualifications compared to non-disabled people.

Quite clearly this is unacceptable. We have a duty to prepare learners with a special educational need or a disability (SEND) for adult life and help them to achieve their potential.

What’s required is a holistic approach, one which must be driven across an entire organisation’s culture and mission, from board level through to delivery. It is absolutely essential that learners with SEND achieve positive outcomes; that provision meets their needs; and that strategic decision-making works for them.

Role of board members

Too often though, achieving positive outcomes for learners with SEND is considered an ‘add-on’ rather than integral to an organisational vision. This is where board members have a critical role to play. But do you know what an inclusive organisation looks like? Or should look like?

Effective governance sets the tone from the top. Board members need to use creativity, curiosity and challenge to ensure that the organisational strategy clearly responds to the needs of learners with SEND. This will help to build an inclusive and cohesive culture, which ensures delivery corresponds with values, and where learners with SEND are at the heart of the organisation’s mission to drive life-changing learning experiences for all.

For a whole organisational approach to be successful, all teams must work together and push towards a common vision and goal. Clear channels of communication which provide board members with accurate information on outcomes for learners with SEND are critical. This will balance strategic discussion with input from those with ‘front-line’, everyday know-how. This can ensure an inclusive culture that puts the needs of individual learners at the heart of all decision making.

For instance, provision must match the needs of each learner rather than matching learners to the provision on offer. As a board member, what assurances would you seek to ensure that this happens?

Learners’ needs at the forefront

Also fundamental is creating the right organisational atmosphere. Board members should make sure that the support that learners with SEND need are built in to the fundamental structures, policies and processes of their organisations. This could include putting learners with SEND at the heart of, not only decision-making but, strategic direction and organisational development. Strategy-led inclusive leadership recognises learners with SEND and their needs as fundamental to long-term planning. These needs must always be at the forefront of consideration, especially when responding to sector reform, institutional change or organisational stress.

Board members should also regularly review the extent to which their strategy empowers learners with SEND to achieve. Progress and success should be put at the heart of these reviews, providing thorough and inclusive oversight for their entire organisation on the destinations and outcomes of learners with SEND compared to other learners.

Such oversight requires the provision of insightful data, as well as an understanding of how to interpret and respond to information to identify areas for improvement and management attention.

But can you be sure you’re asking the right critical questions to the senior leadership team? Boards must encourage a process of continual learning and improvement across their organisations to support improved outcomes.

And improved outcomes are the cornerstone of the SEND Workforce Development Programme. Our training course for governors, board members and trustees will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on the latest sector trends and explore what’s already working in SEND provision, to improve your organisation’s current delivery. Learners with SEND deserve the right and best opportunities. It’s up to us to make sure they have the best possible chance to achieve their ambitions and to thrive in life.


Joel Featherman,

CEO of PublicCo, a consultancy co-owned by the Learning & Work Institute