McCartney E, Forbes J, McKean C, Laing K, Cockerill M & Law J (2020) Variation in headteachers' approaches to meeting the needs of primary school children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in one English Local Authority: a systems approach. Unpublished manuscript.
Recent large-scale research in England has reported lack of equity in the school services and support received by children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), even in schools in similar demographic areas. How headteachers organise support for pupils with SLCN is considered important in determining their school experiences, but there is little research related to SLCN. The present study analysed the views of eight headteachers to illustrate variation across school systems as reported by heads.
The aim was to illustrate and exemplify the wide range of headteachers' views and variation across school systems, and their impact for pupils.
Methods & Procedures
The study analysed data from face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with eight volunteer headteachers in a large-scale qualitative study of co-working and services for primary school pupils with SLCN, the Language for All project, in one English local authority. Responses were analysed using a four-level systems model, considering each head's views of the SEND policy environment; whether SLCN was considered when setting school goals and prioritising functions; staff recruitment and staff skills relating to SLCN, and the processes whereby curriculum adaptations were planned and delivered. Following close reading, discussion and review of headteachers’ transcribed interviews, the research team classified statements under the systems components, with dissonance sought in line with the study's aim of identifying variation. Responses from four headteachers who reported fundamentally different views were selected for discussion, illustrated by quotations.
Outcomes & Results
Despite coming under the same authority and policy directives, the systems analysis showed considerable variation. For example, Headteachers One and Two differed markedly on their schools' reported goals/functions and structures, with resulting difference in educational processes. Headteachers Three and Four illustrated large differences in processes, particularly how language-learning activities were planned and delivered. There was variation around how heads managed SEND funds; whether SLCN was formally recognised as a school priority; the recruitment and training of staff with expertise in SLCN and their recognition at management level; and in the resulting experiences for children, including reliance on outside professionals. All heads recognised the need to support SLCN, and were spending time and effort to secure adequate provision. Nonetheless, the variation shown risked inequality.
Conclusions & Implications
The systems analysis proved useful analysis and clarification of school organisation that contributes to variation in child experiences. Headteachers were powerful influences on school systems, with further understandings of their views, roles and actions is needed.