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Small changes can have a powerful impact on learners with SEND, finds ETF report

Listening to and sharing stories of young people with SEND, their families and professionals working in the SEND system can have a powerful impact, according to a new report from the Education and Training Foundation (ETF).

The report, entitled ‘Small powerful everyday things: conversations of humanity in the SEND system’, highlights the challenges experienced by young people and their families in navigating the SEND system, and demonstrates that positive change can happen through the actions of professionals working in the FE and Training sector.

Stories from 12 learners, parents and professionals at Petroc College in Devon, and Trinity College, in the West Midlands, are featured in the report. Their stories paint a picture of the challenges faced by families of young people with SEND including the struggle of sourcing the right support, the difficulties experienced by young people in some educational settings, as well as the impact on wellbeing and family life.

The report also features the experiences of staff working in the colleges and highlights the ‘small powerful changes’ that can have a beneficial impact on young people and staff.

By encouraging learners, parents, and staff to share stories of their experiences, the report identifies key areas of learning, including:

  • Being more self-reflective: staff said that by telling their story and taking a step back, they were able to refocus on what mattered most in their jobs to support learners;
  • Changes to practice: by listening deeply staff improved ways of working with parents and learners, leading to more learner centred learning pathways;
  • Improving organisational culture and staff wellbeing: staff found that storytelling activities helped staff build positive relationships and foster a kinder, more humane culture at work;
  • Helping to find voices: by telling their stories, participants said they felt re-energised and empowered, and even able to help others.

The report provides practical suggestions for those working in the sector. It recommends a ‘trauma-informed approach’, using the technique of storytelling as a way of keeping focus on our humanity rather than processes. It also offers ideas and tips for embedding story-based activities to help bring about improvements in practice.

Teresa Carroll, National Head of Inclusion at the ETF, commented:

“This report demonstrates the commitment and professionalism of staff to improve their practice and embed improvements to help learners with SEND.

“This report highlights the power of listening to and sharing stories and paints a picture of the positive impact FE professionals can have on supporting young people with SEND. It offers a blueprint for a broader vision for system change which could positively impact learners with SEND and professionals, and is very timely given the recent publication of the SEND Green Paper.”

The ETF report can be viewed on the ETF website –

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