How To Set Up A Successful SEND Hub In Your School

How To Set Up A Successful SEND Hub In Your School

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Are you grappling with the challenge of effectively supporting students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in your school?

In our latest episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we dive deep into the topic of creating thriving SEND support hubs within educational settings, exploring the critical components of successful SEND hubs and how to implement them in your school.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

In today's show you're going to learn what an in school SEND hub is, how it can support the students in your school, especially if your school is seeing more and more students with SEND needs and your budget for meeting those needs is tighter than ever. Let's jump into the show. 

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs, whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to this week's episode of school behaviour secrets. Whereas other educational podcasts examined school based issues with refined elegance the musical equivalent of the fine harmonies of an exquisite Mozart aria, or the rhythmic transcendence of a Bach cantata. We're more like classic death metal band Napalm Death screaming into the void as we smash out power cords on a burning guitar while our drummer inflicts permanent hearing damage on your soon to be tattered ear drums. Booya! Take that Mozart. I'm joined today by my non screaming co host Emma Shackleton. Hi,  big Napalm Death fan?

Emma Shackleton  1:33  

I'm not gonna lie. No, I'm not. They don't feature heavily on my playlist. In fact, I don't even know who they are.

Simon Currigan  1:39  

Youre probably better for it. Before we go any further, if you're finding the show helpful if you're getting value from it, before we start the show proper, please take out your podcast app and make sure you subscribe and let your friends and colleagues know about us. 

Emma Shackleton  1:54  

Yes, subscribes and personal recommendations really help to grow the show and get this information out there. When people subscribe, it prompts the algorithm to recommend us to other listeners so we can get the information out to the people who need it most.

Simon Currigan  2:10  

So Emma, I'd like to open today by asking you a quick question. 

Emma Shackleton  2:15  

Go on. 

Simon Currigan  2:16  

What's the biggest change that you've seen in education since you started teaching?

Emma Shackleton  2:22  

Crikey. That's a lot of ground to go over Simon. And I think one of the big changes that stands out for me now is how very full the school day is for pupils. It feels to me a bit like children are like a hamster on a wheel where you can't get off and more and more subjects and segments are being shoehorned in. And actually I don't really see anything being taken out. But but I'll get off my soapbox. Now. Why are you asking what's the link to today's show? 

Simon Currigan  2:53  

Well today we're looking at how more and more schools are moving towards a model of supporting their pupils, especially their SEMH pupils through an SEND hub. So I'll just explain quickly SEND, if you've not come across the term before means special educational needs and disabilities, and SEMH is pupils who have social, emotional and mental health needs. We'll be digging into exactly what an SEND hub is, how to run one successfully in your school, and what the benefits are for the pupils.

Emma Shackleton  3:25  

Before we get onto that, can I just say one thing. If you're working with pupils with SEMH needs, and you're not sure why they're behaving the way they do, we've got a download that can help. It's called the SEND handbook. And it helps you to link classroom behaviours to possible underlying causes such as trauma, ADHD, and autism. The guide also comes with loads of helpful fact sheets and strategies for you to use to support children with a whole range of needs.

Simon Currigan  3:57  

So can I throw in an interesting fact at this point?

Emma Shackleton  4:00  

Go on then. 

Simon Currigan  4:01  

It's been downloaded just under 80,000 times so far. 

Emma Shackleton  4:06  

Wow. So if you want to join the fabulous company of over 80,000 of your educator peers, go and grab a free copy today. We'll put a link in the episode description. All you've got to do is open up your podcast app, check the description and tap directly through. If you haven't done that already do it today. Even better do it now. 

Simon Currigan  4:29  

With that it's time to extend our hand close our fingers around the cold metal handle and flush the dirty dirty old toilet we call behaviour. They're not getting any better. Are they?

Emma Shackleton  4:41  

No, definitely not.

Simon Currigan  4:44  

I suppose we should start by looking at the different ways schools have supported pupils with sort of higher SEMH needs in the past before we look at this approach to SEND What do you think?

Emma Shackleton  4:55  

Yeah, so thinking about why are schools looking at different way of supporting those pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs? And I guess comparing it to what we did before?

Simon Currigan  5:08  


Emma Shackleton  5:08  

What would you say is the problem with the current model that we've got? 

Simon Currigan  5:12  

I don't think there's technically a problem with the model. But what's happened is circumstances have changed. And I think the sand has shifted beneath school's feet. So the key thing here is just the numbers and the quantities of SEND, pupils coming through the gates. And I don't know whether that's a specifically COVID related thing. Certainly over the years, we've seen increasing numbers of children with SEMH needs and other needs. But there seems to have been something happening in the last couple of years, where we're seeing not just more children with needs, but also way more complex needs. So in the past, what schools would do is often they would find the funding to get a teaching assistant or some extra body in the classroom who would sit and support those children. But now, the numbers just make that unsustainable, it's too expensive to put bodies on all these children to support them and help them integrate during the day, which means that's just not sustainable. And schools are having to be creative and find new ways of meeting just the quantity.

Emma Shackleton  6:15  

Yeah, so lots of the schools that we work with in person in our day to day work, are either considering this approach or already starting to make moves towards this, and they're making their own little SEND hub type provision. So within their mainstream setting, they are creating little breakout spaces or little hubs for children with those needs to work with. Is that the kind of thing you mean, Simon? 

Simon Currigan  6:45  

Yeah, absolutely. And perhaps we should sort of describe what an SEND hub kind of looks like, if you're a camera on the wall. When you think about the provision that you're seeing in schools Emma, what would that look like to a visitor or someone watching or being introduced to the idea of a hub for the first time? 

Emma Shackleton  7:02  

Yeah, so it does vary from school to school, because obviously, it depends on the physical space that they are able to use for this sort of work. But I've seen things like smaller classrooms, or what used to be used as an intervention space where children would go throughout the day, maybe there'd be a phonics group running in there, and then the children would go back to class, and then maybe there'd be a mass group, and then the children would go back to class. Instead of that schools are repurposing that area, and making like a little mini classroom, where they're selecting children from different classes, sometimes even mixed age group children, and they're bringing them together either for the whole day, or often for parts of the day, such as the morning. So the space is important that they allocate, and obviously they're stuck with the physical constraints of the building. But the types of provision I'm seeing is where they are paring back what goes into that room, and thinking really carefully about the needs of those pupils, and the needs are going to be different from child to child. And from group to group. 

Simon Currigan  8:12  

When we're thinking about in terms of staffing, what staffing levels and ratios are you seeing because in the past, these children would often have been supported, maybe not all day through, but a significant proportion of the day through key teaching assistant or a key worker who would support them and in the mainstream classroom. So what sort of staffing ratios are you seeing?

Emma Shackleton  8:33  

Yeah, you're right. So whereas previously, schools might have allocated a one to one support to a child and try to get them to work in the classroom, as you identified at the start, we're finding that schools have got so many of those pupils now that are not coping with the mainstream, whole class provision that they can't possibly afford, or actually recruit and find enough people to have one adult per one child. So yeah, you're right, grouping the children in this way. So I've seen groups where there might be five or six pupils in this little mini provision with maybe two adults. So you can see the ratio there changes and the adults are able to work with more of those children for some of the time.

Simon Currigan  9:19  

I'm when I'm thinking about the SEND hubs that I've seen as well, the schools are making a significant effort to set up the environment so it's inclusive, so it's not overwhelming with lots of displays, displays are kind of pared back to support the children with their sensory needs. There might be quiet areas, obviously, it's going to depend on the physical space that the school has got, but there might be quiet areas or tents that they can go to from when they feel overwhelmed. The environment is often it often looks a little bit sparse, but that's intentional. So the kids don't walk in there and they feel like oh my goodness, it's completely overwhelming. Yeah, so we're talking about kind of like a high level of staffing but not to the extent that you would see if the children are in mainstream because we can group kids together in terms of their needs, we can support them with learning activities with a lower number of adults, and actually I think the benefit of that is, when you have a child working one to one with a TA in a classroom, you get this kind of learned helplessness that I can't do anything without an adult strapped to my side. And actually, when you look at how special schools work, you look at how places like PRU's work that have a small group with a good adult pupil ratio, actually, but not one to one, what those children do learn is some independence. 

Emma Shackleton  10:38  

Absolutely, I think we've got to give a bit of a shout out here to the adults who are working in those provisions as well, because it is a tough job to meet the needs of those children, especially where their needs might be different. And you're absolutely right, the environment does tend to be more successful where it is pared back, some of the best small group provision like this, I've seen they've had really good cupboards, they've got a lot of resources, and they've got a lot of practical equipment that the children will need and will enjoy. But they are able to pack things away and maybe just bring out one type of equipment at a time. I think primary classrooms often are full of stuff. And that is just so overwhelming for a lot of children, particularly those with sensory needs. Of course, there's a lot of people all squashed into a small space with a lot of stuff. Whereas where you can make a little hub or a little hive, or they've got all sorts of nice names, haven't they nests and this kind of thing where you can make that kind of provision. Hopefully, you've got some control over the environment to try and pare it back a little bit.

Simon Currigan  11:50  

And when we think about the child's experience of being an hub, I think one of the key things here is unless there is very high level of need. The aim isn't for the child to be there, all of the time, the aim is for the child to be there for a proportion of their school day. So it might look like they come in in the morning. And then they go to the hub for a welcome and a personal check in a mainstream teacher can't give them in a  class of 30, gets them settled. And then they might do some pre tutoring explaining what activities are going to happen in the mainstream classroom. And they prepare them for the activity, they might even start an activity that the other children are doing, but leave it half completed. And then they go back with a child to the classroom, the child then feels confident because they know what the work is they've had someone talk it through individually, then it might be they finish the activity with the other children and go to the carpet or have the kind of plenary talk with the teacher with everyone else. So it might look like a foot in mainstream, in the mainstream classroom and a foot in the hub going backwards and forwards as necessary. The thing, the key thing is here, when they're in the SEND hub, there needs to be lots of pre tutoring and lots of explicit learning about the skills they need to be successful in the mainstream classroom. So we are setting them up for success and independence rather than this is somewhere they're going because they just can't cope in the mainstream classroom, this is actually building them up. So they have the skills they need to thrive in the mainstream classroom. What's your opinion on that, Emma?

Emma Shackleton  13:22  

I totally agree. I think sometimes these types of hubs are set up almost in desperation, because the children are showing us through their behaviour that they can't cope in the mainstream setting. So our instinct is to pull them out of that setting, and put them in a different place, you know, a little area like we've talked about, but it's really, really important to keep the connection with their peers in their class, to keep the connection with their teacher. Because what's really difficult I think for the teacher is they are still responsible for this pupil, it's entirely the buck stops with them, they are responsible for the pupils learning, they should be planning what the child is doing, even if somebody else is delivering that work as well. And the longer the child is out of class, the harder it is, I think, for the teacher to maintain that connection with them. So it should very much be needs led, but always with the aim of how much can they do in class? How can we get them to integrate into their class? And as you've rightly said, Simon, they're not going to just be able to magically do that. They are going to need teaching the skills gap. What is it about the mainstream environment that they're not able to cope with? And how can we change what that environment looks like and make the child part way and then how can we build their skills so that they are able to cope for more of the time?

Simon Currigan  14:55  

I think what you're implying here as well when we touch on this sort of subject is actually, you need real careful assessment of what those skills gaps are what those needs are. So when they're in the hub, the priority is on those specific needs. They might be academic as well as social and emotional or whatever the predominant need is, but it looks like a planned, structured, consistent thing, not just a room that the kids go to because they can't cope in the mainstream classroom. It's very, very proactive. It's all about the communication between the teacher and the adults in the hub. And ideally, I know when Ofsted look at this, there needs to be a qualified teacher, if not in the hub all of the time, then taking a really significant role in how those children's needs are being met. And that obviously, there's a communication issue between the adults in the hub and the adults in the classroom. So you need to think about how the information about how the child is doing assessments, what activities need to be done in the hub in the classroom, how that kind of division of labour is going to be split, that requires systems otherwise, that communication just falls apart. And then that's to the detriment of the child.

Emma Shackleton  16:12  

I'm glad you mentioned Ofsted Simon and have you come across schools who have been worried or reluctant to set up this sort of hub provision because they are concerned about Ofsted? What Ofsted will think of it and what Ofsted will make of it? Have you come across schools who have been, you know, a bit wary of going down this route?

Simon Currigan  16:32  

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it comes down to does this look like an intentional planned intervention that's there to support the children? Is there a golden thread between what's happening in the hub, what's happening in the mainstream classroom and the child's or IEP's or whatever you call them in your school? Have there been assessments done on the child's needs? Have those needs then been translated into very specific targets on their IEP? And then do those targets translate into themselves activities in the hub, which are skilling those students up to then be independent and survive and thrive in the mainstream unit? And this is a golden thread between the curriculum in the mainstream classroom, the activities and the interventions going on in the hub, and there are ups, then I think you've got something that holds water that looks like it's supportive, and it looks like high quality work that's been done with the children. If you're a school where you've got a hUb, and there's a couple of TAs in there, and there's 6,7,8 kids, and they're playing all day, then I would be very concerned, if I was the teacher, it's the support around this and the planning and the assessment and making sure that everything's joined up, that turns into a high quality intervention. 

Emma Shackleton  17:50  

Absolutely. And I think, where I've found schools struggling with this, it's where they have, really through all good intention and not wanting to exclude a child, for example, they've set up this provision, and they've put in there, all of the most needy, difficult, complex children, they've brought them out of class. And on the one hand, it looks like it's working, because in the mainstream classes, the children might be progressing because their learning isn't being disrupted anymore. But actually, the dynamics of the children that have been putting to the hub mean that it's just unworkable, you've got too many children in there too complex needs staff that aren't skilled or equipped or trained well enough to cope with those children. And it's really tough for those staff because they get left out on a limb. And what are they supposed to do, if they haven't had the training? It's really tough. And that isn't going to work. And and as you mentioned, earlier Simon, some of those children get so institutionalised by being in that small group setting by maybe being allowed to do what they want and having little adult direction. The gap then, between what they're doing now and coming back into the mainstream setting grows, which is actually absolutely the opposite of what we're trying to do here. So it is a real delicate balance, and it needs a lot of careful thinking. And it must be a whole school approach. You need your SEND coordinator, you need your SLT, you need your teachers, your TAs, everybody sitting down and working out how this is going to work out best and continually reflecting on that process as well, to make sure that this is the best for all of the children and all of the adults actually as well.

Simon Currigan  19:39  

Yeah, for me, one of the things that marks out high quality from low quality provision here is has the school thought through what the referral process is for accessing the hub. What is the bar does the child need something like an ehcp or a kind of pre ehcp level of assessment and support or is it around exclusion? Or is it around behaviour incidents in school? Is it about having a graduated approach where other things have been tried systematically in the classroom first before, saying this child needs support in the hub? Because if we're not careful, what can happen is that teaching staff start to abdicate responsibility for teaching pupils with SEMH needs, and the reaction becomes Oh we're having a behaviour difficulty, our first reaction is going to be, he needs to go in the hub or she needs to go in the hub when actually some lower level works and good, consistent whole class strategies. Some individualised support from the teachers or any of the adults in the room may have been enough, because this is an expensive intervention. It's a significant intervention in terms of time and money and support. So we need to think about who actually qualifies for that support and who doesn't. And it needs to be kind of written down somewhere in a policy or it needs to be something formal, not done on an ad hoc basis. And that way everyone knows where they stand. And it ensures that classroom practitioners are doing the right things in the classroom, before we kind of hit DEFCON five, and we say, oh, no, is it DEFCON one? I cant remember which was the most serious in wargames? Before we hit DEFCON one. And it's kind of like, oh, no, this child needs to go in the hub because we can't manage their needs in the classroom. No, actually, there are things we need to be doing systematically. And well, first, before we even have that discussion, and that needs to be written down, it needs to be high quality provision, with a referral process with a golden thread not the cupboard the kids are sent to because their behaviour is difficult in class.

Emma Shackleton  21:39  

Yeah, and I'm just picking up on what you said there about the referral criteria and the entry into the hub, I think there are some difficult decisions to be made sometimes, because let's say a school agrees that they can facilitate this kind of provision for five pupils. But then actually, when they look at the children who might qualify and who need this extra small group intervention, there might be 10, or 15, or 20 of those. And of course, putting 5,10,15,20 children with high needs into a group is not going to work. So sometimes it's very much about timings, can we think really carefully about the dynamics of the children within the group so that they can be successful? What's the exit criteria for this group? How do we get children back out of here and into mainstream so that somebody else can have a turn, it is a really, really complicated process, I think the dynamics and the entry and exit criteria are crucial. And I also think that routines within the group are crucial to so this is where you should be seeing your absolute best practice, which hopefully is reflected across the school as well. But in here, it's more important than ever. So are we using visual timetables? Are we over communicating to the children? What is happening now? What is happening next? Are we thinking about cognitive overload? How are we giving instructions, what access if we got to outdoor space and movement breaks, really, really drilling down and making this kind of your best practice, which then hopefully can permeate across the whole school as well. And that's the dream, isn't it, that you've got whole school provision, really high quality. And then you've also got SEND Hub provision of really high quality. So the children who are going between the two are getting that consistency of approach. They know every teacher is going to talk to me in this way, every classroom is going to have a visual timetable. So they can feel consistency and security and safety. And then they've got the best chance of being able to access the learning. 

Simon Currigan  23:56  

Yeah, youve got to plan it right. Youve got to staff it right. You got to make sure those staff have the training. And then really, the benefits when you get this right are you have a calmer learning environment for the students within the hub because they aren't being overwhelmed by social anxiety or sensory input. That means they can focus, they get the right level of support, so they aren't having learned dependence, but they're getting perhaps a higher adult pupil ratio, which helps them learn those skills, they need to be in the mainstream classroom or overcome academic barriers. They're having the pre tutoring, they need to be successful. And they can access specific teaching methods that might be difficult to implement in the classroom with, you know, a lower number of adults, when you put that together, and you're meeting the kids in an affordable way, which is important because we have to live in the real world here. You can't spend money twice, three times four times. Budgets are limited. And when you look at budgets actually we need to think about in the UK. Over the last few years we've had things like National Insurance rises which is a tax on income, which hasn't really been funded in schools. You know, you've got these increased pressures of additional pupils with SEND needs, and really SEND funding hasn't changed to accommodate that. When budgets are tight, this can be a way of providing excellent provision in a sustainable way, which leads to success for the kids success for the adults as well.

Emma Shackleton  25:23  

And that's our overview or guide to thinking about how to set up a really successful SEND hub in your school.

Simon Currigan  25:32  

They can work well for pupils with SEMH needs done right. Remember, the aim is to help them succeed independently within school rather than creating that dependence that learned helplessness.

Emma Shackleton  25:44  

And they've got to be planned and structured and have a very clear entry and exit criteria to be effective. And by the way, don't forget to give our podcast a rating and review. Whether you're using Apple podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, or whatever. Every review tells your podcast provider to recommend us to other listeners so that they can find the show and start getting the help they need to support the children in their classrooms too. 

Leaving a review will make you feel like Little Jack Horner putting his thumb into some sweet Christmas pie and pulling out a plum. Be a winner. Be like Jack. leave a review for School Behaviour Secrets.

And you might be relieved to hear that, that's all we've got time for today. Thanks so much for listening. Have a brilliant week, and we'll see you next time on school behaviour secrets.

Simon Currigan  26:35  

Take care

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)