Mark Twigg is a governor at a special school in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. He shares his experience of joining the board without any specific experience in SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) and the impact he’s had on the children and their experience of education.
“I’ve been a governor at two schools, one mainstream and one SEND (special educational needs and disability). There were children at the mainstream school who had SEND statements as well as wider mental health issues across the broader school population. But not all children with SEND needs are successful in getting a statement because of the funding situation.
I became the link governor for mental health and we created a mental health policy, which was my first introduction to SEND and the broader sector.
After leaving my position as a governor at the school in London, I thought about where else I could volunteer. I’m originally from Rotherham in South Yorkshire and wanted to support the community, so in 2018 I become a governor at a special school there through Governors for Schools’ flexi governance scheme.
There are lots of challenges on the board. Unlike in London, where I was a governor at a mainstream school, it’s difficult to recruit governors at all. The business community is not as big in a small town so you just don’t have the same volume of people giving up their time to get involved in school governance.
Addressing challenges and helping get children with SEN into employment
Employability is a big challenge. Around 76% for the general population are currently in employment yet this falls to around 53% of people with disabilities. Less than 10% of children and young adults in SEND education don’t go on to find employment.
That isn’t so much a reflection on the hard work taking place within the SEND sector. The teachers and support staff are incredibly hard working and committed. But it does reflect the wider societal attitudes about people with disabilities. These attitudes can prevent people with disabilities from getting opportunities to work and enjoy a greater degree of financial and social independence.
It’s up to all of us to work to find a solution to this problem. The school where I am a governor has sought to provide employment opportunities within the school, so we now have a café run by students where parents can buy drinks and food.
The next step is extending this model to the community and getting employers engaged. It’s hard, because employers have perceptions about children with severe learning difficulties, but we can overcome that through community outreach and re-educating people.
Employability among SEND adults needs to be addressed across the whole country. It’s resource intensive, but there’s support available up to a certain age – and then it’s about considering what you do when the support stops. Many people with special educational needs end up back home with parents. We have to think about the sector more widely and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to find these opportunities.
Becoming a governor at a special school without SEND experience
I get the impression that it can be difficult for SEND schools to recruit governors. There are different challenges in a special school that you don’t see in a mainstream school. I didn’t know much about special education before joining a SEND school board, but I wanted to learn more.
I’m learning about issues in the sector. Notably, the safeguarding challenges are totally different. This could potentially put people off becoming a governor.
If you are thinking about volunteering in the role, go and meet the headteacher and learn more about how the school operates, and what special requirements they have. Find out what the school needs and whether you could help.
Patience is vital as changes don’t happen overnight, but you have the opportunity to focus on areas you’re interested in and want to see change. The unique nature of the challenges makes the role interesting – it’s a learning curve.
Being a governor at a special school is challenging as the needs of the children are so much greater. But you’ll be struck by the fact that you can make a difference.”