We suggest that real progress in meeting the individual learning needs of children and young people requires a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of the challenge we are facing. Far from being the kind of “tame” problem that can be solved by strict adherence to a set of (nationally determined) processes and procedures, the challenge is complex, multi-faceted and richly interconnected. It is as much about cultural and behavioural transformation as it is about technical innovation and process solutions. Furthermore, increased funding alone will not, of itself, provide the solution – welcome though it would undoubtedly be. To achieve fundamental, system-wide, organisation and cultural change, we need to engage, energise, mobilise and sustain collective accountability and support across a wide range of stakeholders, cutting through their individual service pressures, priorities, accountabilities and professional cultures.

We believe that achieving such systemic collective accountability is fundamentally a challenge of leadership which coalesces around shared values and a collective moral purpose that places the needs of our children and young people with additional needs and learning disabilities (and their families) before services, structures, processes and systems. In short, being genuinely child- centred rather than service-centric in our approach.


In contrast to equality, that is a state of being equal in rights, status and opportunity, the construct of equity assumes the provision of differentiated levels of support – based upon specific needs – to achieve greater fairness in treatment and outcomes. In other words, if equality is the end, equity is the means to achieve that end.

The concept of tailoring support to individual need is at the heart of long-standing debates about how society should distribute increasingly scarce resources and support, particularly from our public services for education, social care and health. It comes into sharp relief within the context of personalisation or, as it is known in many other countries, self-direction. While some characterise personalisation as an essential feature of citizenship and, consequently a core value in the relationship between the citizen and the State, for others it is a model for delivering services and, potentially, a way to save public money.

In reality, the dichotomy is less meaningful than it might appear. In these materials, there are many examples where placing trust in families to decide how best to use the resources available to them to ease the pressures they face and give their children opportunities for friendship and fun, has, at the same time, proved by far the most cost-effective option. This requires a shift in power from the State to the family or individual, challenging the status quo and its long developed industry of national and local infrastructure, systems processes and accountability.


It takes positive and sometimes courageous leadership to challenge conventional wisdom, to break away from traditional or default responses to seemingly intractable problems and work with others to fashion new approaches. Real change requires those in leadership positions to pay curious attention to what is happening – to question why things cannot be allowed to continue as they are and to examine what might be maintaining the status quo.

The question we wish to pose is: if, instead of focusing primarily on compliance with the Code of Practice, local areas felt (and were held) truly accountable for their collective contribution to improving lives and life chances of children and young people with SEND:

  • What would they do differently?
  • What is actually stopping them from doing so?
  • What action can they take – where should they start?


The Staff College already uses this thinking to shape its work with senior public sector leaders nationally, regionally and within local areas. We invite and encourage others to do likewise. To help us in this task we have brought together some thoughts, ideas and examples of practice which have informed our thinking and may serve to stimulate discussion and prompt reflection.

These materials are organised around 5 key themes which we suggest might be helpful in framing strategic and practical discussions aimed at transforming our current public provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities:

  1. The politics of equity
  2. Changing the narrative
  3. Personalisation and self-direction
  4. Intentional leadership
  5. Seeking transformation: principles of large-scale social change


We offer these as prompts to thinking, provocations to practice and to generate discussion and dialogue about how we can, together, help to improve the lived experience of some of our most vulnerable and marginalised learners. We hope they prove to be helpful.

Roger Bushell (Lead author, The Staff College)