Dr Matthew Rayner was a senior leader at Stephen Hawking School in London for over twenty years, including being headteacher from 2007 to the end of 2019. It is an outstanding school for children aged 2 to 11 years of age with profound and multiple learning difficulties and complex needs.

Mastodon C talked to Matthew about the strategic planning of places for children with an EHC plan, especially those whose needs are met through being placed at a special school. He summarised his views on place planning:

“As a headteacher this matters to me: I need to know that I have the resources to meet the needs of all of my pupils from one year to another. Show me the evidence and involve me in the decisions.”

To find out more about how Mastodon C can help you with strategic place planning which brings your headteachers on-board, drop us a line at theteam@mastodonc.com.


MC: Why does school place planning matter to a special school head?

MR: Each child who attends our school brings with them a top-up payment, so the numbers at school directly affect the level of staffing we can budget for. The number of staff and their skills are our main resource for meeting the learning and support needs of the children.

Most of our pupils started with us during the early years and continue through to year 6.

MC: What other planning and preparation worked for you at Stephen Hawking School?

MR: I found it very helpful to meet periodically with a set of local health practitioners who were working with babies and infants with complex needs. These meetings gave us early intelligence about actual numbers of children likely to be coming our way and their particular needs, so provision we might need to start planning for.

MC: As a headteacher, what is the value of your local authority making strategic plans for specialist places for three to seven years in the future?

My experience has been that actual, year-on-year numbers of children placed at my school can vary by a factor of three or four between different years: as few as four children in a year or as many as 20. Well-informed decisions based on good future population estimates are really important, so there is underlying planning for a realistic number of places at school. We don’t want to be in a position where we are letting experienced and capable staff go one year, to then need to recruit similar new staff a year later, who we usually have to up-skill once appointed to the roles.

MC: Do you think heads should be involved in this strategic planning?

MR: Yes, put the information ‘out there’ and talk with us about likely implications. The more upfront the LA is the better. What is really important is to share the evidence and be prepared to have it questioned. It can result in better decisions at the end of the day. Particularly if they allow enough time for us to be able to implement any changes. Better quality data should result in stronger, more reliable predictions.

MC: What pressures do you face as a headteacher that local authorities should take into account during their planning?

MR: Understanding the amount of time we need as a headteacher to carry out changes. For example, if there is a need to reduce staff levels, as is happening in primary schools where numbers of children joining in reception are going down, we need time to be able to consult and report to our governors and, sometimes, go through certain LA procedures too. Make plans well in advance, please! In my school the capacity of certain health teams is also important to be able to properly support certain numbers of children and this also has to be negotiated and planned in advance.

It would be helpful to be able to consider different scenarios for my school too, rather than be presented with: “it’s this number for the next two years”.


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