Author Archives: Sam McMurray

SENAD Group Welcome New Directors

After 15 years tireless work across the SENAD Group Mark Flynn, Chief Operations Officer has retired and he left the SENAD Group on the 31st August 2022. We wish Mark a long, happy and healthy retirement and send huge thanks to him for all the fantastic work he did for the Group.

We’re pleased to welcome 2 new Directors who joined the team on Monday 5th September.

Suzanne Pennington -Director of Education

After being Head Teacher of a large Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ special school in Buckinghamshire, Suzanne relocated to Derbyshire in 2012, joining the SENAD Group as Head Teacher of Pegasus School. She then successfully commissioned and set up both Ecclesbourne Lodge and OneNineFive transitional homes on behalf of the Group as she struggled to find suitable adult provision for Pegasus School leavers. Suzanne then joined St Andrew’s School in Derby as Head Teacher; a ‘Good’ school with a residential department that was judged to be ‘Outstanding’ at the first inspection under her tenure.

Suzanne is passionate about coaching and mentoring staff to achieve the best outcomes – for themselves and for the young people with whom they work. Suzanne was a Director of the Derby Teaching School’s Alliance, working across the City to provide high quality training for staff in all school settings. The focus was ensuring equality of opportunity and inclusion for learners with additional needs.

Suzanne has worked for over 30 years in specialist settings advocating for adults and young people with SEND. She has been successful at leading schools, colleges and adult settings to become highly effective organisations, also contributing to the development of specialist educational services locally through focus groups and working parties, countrywide through DfE action groups; and internationally in Moscow and Japan.

Mark Ryder – Director of Children’s Social Care.

Mark started his career as a qualified Social Worker and was then a Care Inspector for 11 years, 7 of which with Ofsted. In 2014 he joined the SENAD Group as Head of Care at Alderwasley Hall School and was part of the team in getting the care provisions to ‘Outstanding’ at both the Lower and Upper School sites for three successive years.

Mark has since worked with a large SEN provider as their Senior Regional Operations Manager where he was the Responsible Individual for 5 children’s homes and led on compliance for a further 27 homes. He was also the National Lead Safeguarding Manager for this group and more lately, he leads the care division with a group specialising in SEN and EBD children’s homes in the Midlands area.

Mark has successfully registered a number of specialist homes and received good and outstanding Ofsted grades for newly created and developing services. He is committed to excellent outcomes for young people and is a strong advocate for them, Mark brings a wealth of experience to the role and is looking forward to meeting with and supporting both previous and new colleagues.

Awarding Staff for Excellence

In May 2021 we launched the very first SENAD Staff Awards to celebrate excellence by recognizing members of our team that have gone the extra mile to make a difference to the lives of those we educate, care and support.
Award winners were announced at the end of the year, with 153 members of staff from disciplines across the group, receiving awards for their contribution to their service. 50 of these winners went on to win the overall SENAD Group awards. Categories included Care Practitioner of the year, Domestic Champion to IT Champion, and nominations were open to all employees. Huge congratulations to all of the 2021 winners… Look out for nominations opening for the 2022 awards soon.

National Awards Winners- SENAD Community

Congratulations to our colleagues at SENAD Community who won the ‘Lord Rix Supporting Older People with Learning Disabilities Award’ at this year’s National Learning Disability Awards.
The team were awarded for their strong values, partnership working, linking to communities, supporting people to achieve their aspirations and their investment to staff teams.
Michelle Gould was shortlisted for the ‘Senior Managers Award’
Laura Ward was shortlisted for the ‘Breaking Down Barriers Award’

SENAD Group support Derby Uni students’ work on community SEND projects

Four University of Derby students who have provided community support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are the first recipients of a new prize from one of the UK’s leading providers of specialist education and care.

The Derby-based SENAD Group has sponsored the prizes of £500 each in recognition of the civic contribution made by the students.

Between them, the inaugural winners, all third-year students from the University’s BA (Hons) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities degree programme, have developed sport and physical activities, research-based therapies, methods for managing emotions and opportunities for children to interact with animals.

While studying for her degree at Derby, Samantha Hilton’s placement at The Island Project Farming and Education Centre in Derbyshire saw her deliver sessions focused on the mental health and wellbeing of children by building their rapport with the centre’s animals.

Samantha developed a more ‘hands-on approach’ and taught herself Makaton sign language which she could incorporate in sessions through a ‘Simon Says’ game, based around welfare needs of the animals at the centre.

She said: “This prize has enabled me to realise and value my own work and achievements in such a hard year for all, especially children and young people with SEND. My degree provided a placement which incorporates animal-assisted interaction, and the changes I saw within the children has inspired me to further my education on therapy which incorporates animals.”

Amelia Goodhew created a physical activity programme with targets designed to meet social, emotional and sensory needs. The SHINE programme, which operates in the Coventry and Warwickshire area, has progressed to delivering one-to-one sessions to 23 children aged between three and 13 years old. The sessions are delivered at home, schools and other locations in the community.

Amelia, who worked as a teaching assistant before enrolling on the degree course at Derby, said: “Winning the SENAD prize award means the world to me, as it has aided me in showing my value as a SEND professional. The award has also helped us to access more funding and open our community SHINE project to more participants across Rugby, as well as continuing to support participants in Coventry and Warwickshire.”

She will soon begin a new role as SEND lead for the Coventry-based Positive Impact Group, working to deliver alternative provision for children.

Leila Holman researched the value of resonance boards, which use sound to assist sensory learning, in the Derby school at which she worked as a teaching assistant. She put together a training programme which enabled staff to use the boards for creative sessions, focused on increasing non-verbal communication. As a result, the boards are now used across her school and have helped to enhance children’s communication skills.

She said: “It means so much that my contribution to the SEND community has been noticed not just by myself, but by others, which has given me a real confidence boost and inspired me to keep going and keep pushing myself to be the best practitioner I can be.

“It has given me a real lift in such a difficult time and showed me that it is always worth carrying on, being myself and doing what I believe in.”

Emily Humphries has been volunteering to help children with SEND since she was 12 years old, which has led to a career in a primary school, while continuing to volunteer in the Scouting movement, as well as working for the Staffordshire-based charity Ourspace.

Her interest in how one of the schools she volunteered with managed behaviour and taught self-regulation led to the development of her own practice of one-to-one support. This allowed flexibility for children to manage their own emotions, and to ensure there is always a calming environment after a child has experienced a distressing situation.

Emily said: “SEND has always been a huge factor in my surrounding life and it’s amazing to be recognised for my continuous work within the SEND community. It has brought so much pride and determination going forward and this achievement will stand out as I progress throughout my career into SEND teaching.”

Brian Jones, SENAD Group Executive Chairman and University of Derby honorand, said: “Supporting the SEND experts of the future is hugely important to us at the SENAD Group, as we continue to develop best practice to ensure that all children and young people with special education needs and disabilities’ are given every opportunity to maximise their potential. I would like to congratulate the four University of Derby students who have been awarded a SENAD Group sponsored prize, their ingenuity, hard work and dedication to the projects they have worked on is outstanding.”

Trevor Cotterill, Programme Leader for Education Studies and SEND at the University of Derby, said: “We are delighted that The SENAD Group has so kindly sponsored these new prizes for our students. They shine a light on the brilliant work being done to support children with special educational needs by our students in their workplaces and local communities.

“As an applied university, we take huge pride in knowing that our students are using their knowledge, understanding and skills to provide practical solutions which bring real and lasting benefits to children’s lives.”

In addition to the prizes, SENAD has also pledged a £3,000 scholarship to one student enrolling in this year’s post graduate School Direct with Qualified Teacher PGCE, with SEND pathway, following their transition from a University of Derby undergraduate programme.

The amazing benefits of a school dog (or how to get through those ruff days)

There’s absolutely no data on the number of dogs currently working in schools across the United Kingdom. There are also no scientific conclusions on the impact of having dogs in schools. There. I’ve said it. There’s nothing out there for me to base the truth of this blog on…so why am I writing it?

Because having a school dog has made a huge difference at our school.

Did you, for example, realise that having a school dog could improve the reading skills of young people? Or raise their self-esteem? Or help them to make friends?

As a headteacher, having a full-time school dog has quite literally been a revelation. It wasn’t an easy decision to make initially. I am naturally quite a risk-averse leader who bases most of my important decisions on a thorough, careful scrutiny of all the evidence I can get my hands on.

I always try hard to read evidence which both supports my instinct but, also take into account information that is counter to my instinct before I come to a decision. Clearly, this need for evidence proved problematic in the preparation for the decision to have a school dog as there’s simply nothing concrete out there.

The school had had a dog before, for a couple of days a week which had proved popular with our students. But the feeling among the Well-being Team in our school was that there was a lot more we could do… if only we had our own full-time dog.

They really believed that anything was paws-ible

So, two years ago we took a leap of faith and employed Bramble, our school dog – a black, 2-year-old Cockapoo (in case you’re wondering, she’s paid in affection, walks and treats!).

Here she is in one of her favourite places – in my office on my chair!

“Dogs are a powerfully cost-effective way of helping children feel more secure at school and a low-tech approach to reducing anxiety”.  Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice Chancellor University of Buckingham).

I couldn’t agree more.

Before we welcomed Bramble into our school, all parents and carers were asked for their consent (or not) for their child to be allowed access to her. We have always been very clear that she is not an Assistance Dog and she is not a Pets As Therapy Dog (in other words, she’s not formally trained to any nationally recognised standard). She is, quite simply, our school dog and part of our Well-being Team, joining our Well-being Officers and our Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist.

How did we choose her?

Of course, when we chose her, there were certain things we needed, like she had to:

  • Be non-allergenic for people with allergies
  • Have a great temperament and a friendly demeanour
  • Be a breed recognised as one that makes a good therapy dog and a good companion.

But other than this, we were open to any breed.

How does she help?

Since her arrival at our school, we have used Bramble in a wide range of activities and the results are remarkable – with some even we didn’t expect. Just a few of the ways she’s helped our students:

To improve the reading confidence of our students

Students who have found it challenging to read aloud in front of peers have been supported to read to Bramble outside of their classroom instead. Her non-threatening, friendly response has led to many students being able to transfer their growing reading confidence into their classroom over time.

To reduce anxiety

We’ve found that students who felt unable to speak directly to a member of staff about their concerns have been able to talk to Bramble about what’s on their mind. They’ve told her of their fears with a member of our team in the room, and we’ve been able to respond to their issues directly as a result.

To improve the ability to think of others

We’ve been able to develop empathy skills in our students using Bramble. We’ve supported students to follow care routines and guidelines for her, teaching them to put her needs before their own.

We’ve taught them about the need to use a calm and quiet voice and small movements in order to get a positive response from Bramble. This has then allowed our team to generalise the need to, and importance of, thinking of others as well as ourselves, along with considering how our reactions make others feel.

To provide companionship and a friendly welcome to school

Bramble has been cited by parents and carers more times than I can count as the reason my child could make it into school. In my previous blog Why school refusal shouldn’t be seen as school rejection I spoke about the overwhelming levels of anxiety that some young people feel about school.

The offer of time with our school dog has on many occasions been the vital initial stage in getting a young person over our threshold and enabling them to take that first, tentative step towards getting back into school and fulfilling their potential.

My theory (totally unscientifically backed of course!) is that Bramble provides our students with an endlessly non-judgemental response to everything they do and say. She allows our students to be themselves without comment or judgement and, through her, they grow in confidence with their peers.

But it’s not just about what our school dog offers our students. Just like every headteacher in the country, I am also always looking for ways to improve the well-being of our most valuable resource…our staff. The impact that our school dog has on the well-being of our staff can’t be underestimated either.

She welcomes the staff in a morning as they come in and the unbridled joy she brings on cold, wet, dark mornings over here in the Peak District is often infectious. Our days generally begin with a smile when she’s on site and when days begin with a smile, they tend to be more productive than when they don’t wouldn’t you agree?

But what about those staff who don’t like dogs?

We are very clear with our staff about the locations in which they can expect to encounter Bramble. This allows all staff who aren’t keen on dogs to move around the site confidently. In fact, at least two of our staff who weren’t keen on dogs before they worked with Bramble have now changed their mind about dogs.

And how do I know that she’s having a positive impact? It’s on the faces of the staff and students who spend time with her and in the feedback I get from the parents and carers of our students.

And now for the science bit…

The positive impact of Bramble in all aspects of our school life has been dramatic and while I have no scientific evidence to support this hypothesis (other than she receives more Christmas cards than I do!) – I couldn’t be more certain of its truth…

If you want to learn more about the positive impact that a school dog can have for young people with High Functioning Autism, come and see us. But be sure to call in advance because Bramble’s diary gets pretty full, pretty quickly!

About me:

I am Sara Forsyth, the Headteacher of Alderwasley Hall School and Sixth Form and I have almost 25 years’ experience in SEND, in particular working with young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Alderwasley Hall School and Sixth Form is an exceptional independent SEN school for young people with ASD and associated needs in Derbyshire.

Why school refusal shouldn’t be seen as school rejection

Written by Sara Forsyth, Headteacher of Alderwasley Hall School and Sixth Form

I read a news article last week on the BBC about a Derbyshire family who were being threatened with a fine for their son’s non-school attendance. The boy, a 15-year old student, has been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. This condition is often referred to as School Phobia or, I would argue, less helpfully – School Refusal. It’s generally diagnosed by a Child Psychiatrist but remains largely misunderstood by many schools who often don’t have the resources or capacity to explore the underlying reasons for a persistent non-attender in any real depth.

The article reminded me of the absolutely crucial need for young people to receive the right educational setting to meet their needs. And getting the right school as early in a child’s educational career as we can, is always a positive investment for the future.

School refusal: My experience as a Headteacher

As the Headteacher of an independent SEN school for young people with High Functioning Autism and associated anxiety, I am inundated with enquiries from parents who have a depressingly similar story: their child is currently out of school, spending long hours withdrawing from social contact outside of the home and this has been the case for often 12 months or more. Their child is usually keen to learn and clearly has the capacity to do so but becomes emotionally distressed at the thought of attending school.  The experience that their child has had in school has left them feeling that there is no school placement for them and this can be a mindset that is incredibly hard to change.

Our experience is that it can often take weeks of patient, carefully planned, phased visits. We will start with a video of the school, viewed where they feel safe (in their own home). This then leads on to the child actually walking onto the school site. The visits will usually involve time with our school therapy dog (here’s Bramble in our grounds) and the length of time spent on site will gradually increase over time. Visits to actual classrooms are often the very last element of the plan before a child might begin to accept that they have a future within an educational setting. And that this marks the start of their new journey.

For the placement to have any chance of success there are some essentials that our experience tells us need to be implemented from day one:

1: The environment needs to be right

This means as a minimum having an environment with low noise levels and low levels of disruption and room to move around.

2: The group needs to be right

This means having small groups with high staffing ratios.  The team working with the child may include specialised therapy team members (we employ Speech & Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, a Psychotherapist and a Clinical Psychologist). It also means having an appropriate peer group. Children with Social Anxiety Disorder need to be surrounded by peers with similar abilities and needs so that they feel like they fit in. They already feel isolated from education so making them feel that they belong somewhere is key to a successful placement.

3: The Curriculum needs to be right

It’s crucial to have the right curriculum in place – one that offers a flexible, student-centred programme of study with an appropriate level of academic challenge that builds on success to improve self-esteem.  These students often have a perception that they have failed at school and having a curriculum that both challenges them but offers success is vital to being able to change their perception.

In the BBC article, a solicitor commented that they are working with 20 families of vulnerable children with school attendance issues, who feel that they have no option other than to take legal action.

If the evidence I have just from the enquiries I receive reflects the national picture, then I suspect the figure across the UK is significantly higher ­-­ and is increasing year on year.

[NFIS Facebook Group stats from September 2019]

So often I find myself sat in an Educational Tribunal Hearing (usually after two or three postponements, but that’s a whole other story!) listening to a desperate parent pleading for a chance to be believed that all their child needs is the right school and they will flourish.

With the right school, they know that their child will fulfil their huge potential. They know that if placed in the right school their child will eventually contribute to society in a way that, if they’re left in an inappropriate placement they most certainly won’t.  They know that if placed in the right school, they will avoid the deterioration in their mental health that will almost inevitably happen if they remain where they currently are.

To be clear, these parents are not saying that the school their child has been in is a bad school; it’s just not the right school for their child.

The mental health charity Mind has called for school refusal to be given more recognition in education. I’d argue that, until this happens and sufferers receive the appropriate placement to meet their complex needs, the numbers of young people out of school through anxiety about attending will only continue to rise.

To learn more about the importance of the right mental health provision in a school like ours, click here:

To read the full BBC article click here:

About Me

I am the Headteacher of Alderwasley Hall School and Sixth Form and I have almost 25 years’ experience in SEND, in particular working with young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Alderwasley Hall School and Sixth Form is an exceptional independent SEN school for young people with ASD and associated needs in Derbyshire.