To complement our core special educational needs and disability (SEND) modelling service, we can provide additional strategic advice and support. In this post Chris Owen, our education and children’s services associate, describes how a facilitated workshop with your SEND strategic leaders can help to clarify your priorities and prepare the ground for strategic planning informed by our modelling.

Your local authority has signed an agreement with Mastodon C to build a deeper understanding about local children and young people with SEND from your data. That’s great!!

Many of the challenges identified from SEND data are complex and any changes to policy or practice require a significant lead-in time. 

What happens if you find your local authority has other more pressing corporate priorities and pressures? Is there a risk that your excellent report is bumped down agendas because the evidence from the data is not properly understood by your leaders? As a result the timescales for actions slip and, before you know it, you have missed this year’s round of financial decision-making! 

What if we rewind, and build in early work to ensure strategic decision-makers are on-board?

With the current demands on SEND budgets, difficult choices have to be made, due to pressures including the ever-growing number of children with EHC plans and the numbers requiring provision aged 19 to 25. As a Director of Children’s Services I would want early notice and evidence of pressing difficulties, so that I can be on the front-foot with other Directors and our Members. This will enable me to have more confident conversations, backed up by data, when  working to build links with the other corporate priorities.

Once you have signed your agreement with Mastodon C and held a ‘kick-off’ session, we recommend that your data manager / school place manager / SEND lead use the time to make sure strategic leaders know what is underway and why, while your data is being reviewed and validated and then the numbers crunched. 

Also, we recommend that you organise a facilitated workshop for decision-makers and strategic leaders. Over a couple of hours we can work with you so the different types of SEND data visualisations are shared with leaders and typical challenges considered. In this way, leaders will be familiar with the Mastodon C data visualisations and the topic of timescales and potential challenges can be covered. As a result, your SEND team can plan actions to fit with timings of relevant Council and NHS decision-making. 

Let us illustrate what we mean with some of our typical visualisations:

1: The ‘flows’ of pupils in and out of educational establishments

The transitions charts included as part of Mastodon C’s standard modelling outputs let you see movements within your SEND system. As illustrated in chart 1 and chart 2 below, the colours of the horizontal flow lines relate to the type of school or college the child moves to from one year to the next, and the vertical bars show the number of children in each type of school or college in a particular year. Most of these movements are at planned transfer times: years 6 to 7; years 11 to 12 etc. 

Charts 1 and 2 help you to see how many children are moving straight from maintained mainstream schools and academies (MM/MA) into independent/non-maintained special schools (INMSS), as well as to local maintained special schools and academies (MS/SA). If you compare the two charts you can see that there is a trend of increasing numbers of pupils moving into maintained special schools and, even more so, into independent/non-maintained special schools between 2017-18 (chart 1) and 2018-19 (chart 2).

Chart 1: Children moving between settings between 2017 and 2018 (based on illustrative EHCP data)


Chart 2: Children moving between settings between 2018 and 2019 (based on illustrative EHCP data)


Confronted with such evidence you are likely to want to consider current and future strategies. Helpful questions you might want to ask yourselves include:

  • Should our mainstream headteachers be challenged to retain more children with an EHC plan? Is there enough support in place?
  • Are we making the most of the skills in local special schools or specialist units, to equip teachers in all local mainstream schools?
  • Is this an established trend? Might we need to consider expanding one or more local special schools

2: Projections of the numbers of children and young people with EHC plans into the future

Your area probably reflects the current national trend for increasing numbers of children with an EHC plan (11 per cent per year across England, according to the latest DfE data). Mastodon C’s SEND model takes into account local factors, such as the most recent population trends and realistic assumptions of changes to the numbers with an EHC plan aged 19 to 25, as well as your historic data. As a result we provide you with a future estimate of numbers, plus upper and lower bounds based on statistical probability, as illustrated in chart 3. The upper and lower bounds are important, as well as the main trend line: the future reality is likely to lie somewhere between them, not just at or below the solid line (which it is tempting to assume). Through the workshop you can begin the important preparatory work of early strategic discussion and thinking about consequences and options for actions over time.

Chart 3: Projected total SEND population (based on illustrative EHCP data)

It is helpful to view total population trends alongside a chart of trend by SEND need (chart 4), (these do not include upper and lower bands for clarity of presentation).

Chart 4: SEND population by primary need (based on illustrative EHCP data)

Once your local data has been crunched you will be able to see in detail the numbers of children, with what need, are changing most. You will probably have anecdotal information that you will want to draw on. These charts and the local information can be discussed, informed by evidence of established national trends such as increasing numbers of children with autism. To open up this awareness with leaders at an early stage before you receive the local visualisations is really helpful. Leaders can start to identify relevant links with other priorities, strategies (for example an adults with autism strategy), or service pressures (such as long waiting times for neuro-developmental assessments). 

All this prepares the ground, sets up early hypotheses and can guide further preliminary actions. Then, when you receive our analysis of your data, your strategic leaders will be primed to review your key visualisations and be ready to work with you to address the challenges.

Strategic advice and stakeholder engagement support are offered as additional services to complement our core modelling support subscription, tailored to your needs. Please get in touch if you like to find out more about how we can help.

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