Tag Archives: the Local Offer

On art and creativity, the Royal Academy Why & How Conference & magnetic moments


Stellar Adler

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”

Stellar Adler, American actress and acting teacher, (1901 – 1992).

There are moments in my working life when I feel truly blessed and thrilled beyond words at the invitations that find their way to my inbox. There are times also, when I wonder what path I have set out on, that is so challenging, lonely at times, devoid of recognition or appreciation. But that is another matter.

An invitation from Molly Bretton, Access Manager at the Royal Academy, London, to deliver the opening keynote presentation for their second annual Why and How Conference – engaging children with SEN in creating art and cultural experiences, has been one of the greatest delights of my professional life. I have loved this event, Saturday 19th March 2016, truly, madly, deeply.
Royal Academy
Here is the Reynolds Room, the venue for my opening Reith-style lecture, and closing panel discussions. The logistics of hosting a conference taking multiple gallery rooms on a busy working Saturday seemed vast, but all was handled with ease and efficiency.

I have been impressed with every aspect of the event – the venue, unfamiliar to me (guilty confession, keen to make amends), the programme, the workshops, the food, the people. Perhaps I should say ‘the good people’, echoing Susan Potter’s closing comments. It has been a journey of discovery, with so many magnetic moments. Of which, more…

This conference invitation has also held challenges for me in several weeks of deliberations: what shall I say, what form will my presentation take, am I using visuals, can I really expect an audience to listen to me, alone, for the duration of my allotted 50 minutes delivery time? I am of a mind to think, how shall I occupy my time now the writing of this great beast of an 8,000 word lecture, is complete. Or at least, the significant part of my task is over. My bibliography is still a work in progress.

I will not revisit my lecture here, but instead, the thoughts that flood my mind are the abundance of good, joyous, uplifting conversations with strangers who have been as dear to me as the most familiar of friends. There have been so many remarkable, inspiring, ridiculously funny and moving moments, borne out of the passion, insight and hard work of so many individuals and teams, setting out to inspire and bring creativity to an audience that includes some of our most vulnerable young people in society.

In my lecture I referenced a phrase I heard once on the radio, some years ago, but never did discover its origins. So I have seized upon it, eager to popularise its use. It is ‘magnetic moments in time.’ They are the moments that create a lasting imprint on the mind, so that, long after the details and minutiae are forgotten, there is an impression there, that lingers and attaches itself, like a magnet to our heart.

There have been so many magnetic moments this day.

In the workshop, Illustrating a journey of engagement with children with SEMH, the presenters, Jhinuk Sarkar, Robin Johnson of Keddleston Schools and Matthew Johnson, Outreach Officer at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, shared some of the museum’s Inuit artefacts. Aside the very serious matter of how best to engage with young people with SEND, the workshop allowed us to explore the artefacts and create our own block prints. It was the most unexpected delight! I have to confess, though, finding the artefacts in much demand, my attention was caught by some fine bust of a gentleman on display in the Saloon.
November 2015  - February 2016 314

I suspect I shall not be in great demand for my print-making, but I am so keen to find further opportunities to explore this beautiful craft.

In the past I had some fanciful notion I would attempt to recreate the William Morris prints of animal and nature, scenes that I so love on post-cards and wrapping paper. And then, and then, create for myself prints of my own design on wrapping paper. How simple it all looks, but how complex the design and detail…

William Morris prints



Little way to go, huh?

The second workshop I attended, Understanding Creative Empowerment for Children and Young People with Learning Disabilities, with Corali and Greenside School, was also breathtakingly fantastic, unexpected, slightly surreal and almost spiritual in its beauty. Coralis use a partnership, performance-led, mixed-media methodology to provoke and discuss inventive and original ways that children and young people with LDD can be artistically and creatively empowered to engage with the arts.

Corali are the heroes of my heart. Whatever your audience, children, young people with LDD, adults, the corporate world, emotional and mental health and well-being, the potential is huge. I feel bereft already that I am missing my dancing partners, as we swirled and swooped and caressed and tip-toed on our precious object, inspired by the environment, a stretch of red velvet fabric.

What a privilege also, in a one hour workshop, to be gently encouraged to move and dance and create, and to conjure up such inventive scenes, around flowers, a bowl of fruit and a piece of red velvet. My words cannot do justice, but I was, and am, captivated. I loved the gathering around to watch the instant video playback of our shared movements, and performing as a group before a video backdrop of our earlier work.

In all the excited chatter with my fellow dancers, we decided that we each took on different persona, as we played and indulged our inner creative selves. One lady in the group was constantly tuned to practical uses of our precious red velvet; another erupting into bull-fighting drama and peek-a-boo scenarios, with another using the red velvet to soothe and caress. (I was told I was majestic, with my red velvet, so I will stay with that, thank you).

Sadly, I did not have time to attend all the workshops on offer, but with such a richness of choice, and in such a beautiful setting, how could delegates fail to be impressed?

Bringing together events like The Royal Academy’s Why and How Conference, is a challenging task. It takes great insight, courage, tenacity and flair to bring such diverse elements of a complex and ever expanding field of expertise together, in one venue. My hat goes off to Molly Bretton for a truly inspirational event.

I must also mention the precious joy of meeting colleagues I have only conversed with by phone, or have met too little – Noel Hayden, SEN Programme Manager from the Museum of London and Dermot Dolan, Training and Partnerships Manager of Whizz-Kidz. Dermot’s cheery greeting was the sweetest moment.

And then, there were the post-event discussions and far ranging chatter with Molly Bretton, Rachael Christophides, who so expertly chaired the close of day panel discussion, and Paul Anderson Morrow, artist, teacher and workshop presenter. Well, that was a world in itself. A brilliant end to a perfect day! Slight matter of my missing my last train home, aside.

chinua achebe

Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him. Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) Nigerian novelist, poet, professor and critic.










On SEND reforms, Personal Budgets and choice and control


Kind mit fußballThis past year has been a boon time for the education conference sector, with the SEND Reforms driving a seemingly endless yet necessary round of symposiums, national conferences and regional events.

I have been fortunate to be asked to speak at several regional SEN Leader conferences on the theme of Personal Budgets. It is not a favourite topic within the SEND Reforms, appearing more like the least favourite cousin who has come to stay the duration, with no end date in sight. I can quite see why it has been less favoured by the SEND pathfinders than other areas of the reforms – Education, Health and Care Plans, or Transition to Adulthood. Yet as I’ve absorbed myself in the work of the pathfinders and small scale studies, I have become more enamoured of the process and the potential it brings for many parents, carers, children and young people.

A personal budget is an amount of money identified by the local authority to deliver all or some of the provision set out in an Education, Health and Care Plan. By having a say in the way this budget is used, a parent or young person can control elements of their support.” (Draft SEN Code of Practice: Section 7.2)

Yet there are tensions within this new found freedom. It seems that in order for one group – parents and young people – to have more control, another must relinquish that control – schools, SENCos, early years settings and a host of education professionals. Already that tension presents itself in the many grumbles of discontent I’ve heard from practitioners, who see parents demanding x, y and z, as the immediate source of their problem. In a few cases, I’ve had requests for advice where parents and schools are at tribunal level over personal budgets and how money should be allocated. Ironic, when one considers that the a key argument for the SEND reforms was to avoid the adversarial nature of SEND practice and provision.

Here is a link to the full presentation for the SEN Leader Update conferences recently in London, Manchester and Birmingham (February and March 2014)-

SEND Reforms – Personal Budgets – Heather Stack March 2014

Here are some key themes from my presentation –

Key Challenges ahead

  1. Implementing the lessons (rather conservative and modest though they may be) of the SEND pathfinders
  2. Understanding local perceptions and strength of feeling towards the reforms and personal budgets
  3. Strengthening the role of key workers, advocates and independent supporters
  4. Gaining the involvement of children and young people in their EHC plans
  5. Understanding and knowing the diversity and breadth of provision from all sectors within a locality
  6. SEND providers having a realistic costing of service and provision that is shared with stakeholders

Key Opportunities ahead –

  1. An opportunity for schools, parents and young people to explore a greater breadth of provision and services than previously
  2. Incorporating the knowledge gained from One Page Profiles can give a new perspective on needs, support and provision
  3. Giving parents and young people a real say in the choices they can make about support is enpowering for all and far more likely to elicit partnership working between home and school
  4. Considering the needs of the child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rather than between the hours of 9am and 3pm, should ensure that social, leisure, sporting and creative activities become a part of the picture of a holistic support programme
  5. Enabling parents and young people to take an active part in determing support choices will take away the pressure from school SEN staff who may otherwise be imposing support interventions that are actively resisted by the child and the family
  6. An opportunity for local authorities to consider all the provision within their locality, whether from the private, public or third sector, as an asset, and not a threat
  7. A chance for specialist providers to collaborate to create flexible and timely services that are delivered at the point of need, and not when services become available.

Riding for the disabled

I will continue my theme in my next post, on the need to consider support needs 24/7 and not just 9am – 3pm. Once we liberate ourselves from the constraints of the school day, and think about what short and long term outcomes we are trying to achieve, the world really is our oyster.

For some reason, it is hard to fathom, the glorious words of Lewis Carroll’s The Lobster Quadrille come to mind.

Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle — will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?






On new ventures, SEND reforms, social enterprise & The Local Offer


TLO-logo (2)News Update: Launch date of The Local Offer – http://www.thelocaloffer.co.uk – Tuesday 22nd April.

I am tottering on a precipice of discovery, just weeks away from the launch of The Local Offer, a social enterpise and national web-based brokerage service on behalf of children and young people (0 – 25 years) with special educational needs and/or disability.

It is a demanding and challenging time, not least in that this new venture draws on great reserves of courage and confidence, reserves that I admit have been depleted somewhat over the challening past year.

As luck would have it, I am called in for my second post-cancer treatment check up with my oncologist, just a few days before the anticipated launch date of The Local Offer. I have decided that if I were to wait for a perfect moment, or a perfect year, or the very best of health, or the best of finances, to create something new, I might wait for ever…

What has given me courage and fortitude, these past few weeks and months, has been the great enthusiasm with which my social enterprise has been greeted, and the instant and unflinching trust of several national organizations who have already committed to coming on board, ahead of the site and service launch. Very brave and bold of them, and I am indebted to their vision and faith.

My especial thanks to Riding for the Disabled and Service Children’s Support Network, who, in the very early days of publicity about The Local Offer, have bowled me over with their enthusiasm and vision for the future

Links to both organizations are here – http://www.rda.org.uk/

Riding for the Disabled


girl and father

Now, with a strong team of support, there is much to do to ensure the success and long term sustainability of this venture, not just to those willing to come on board prior to the launch of The Local Offer, but for all those parents and carers out there, who struggle to find and gain the services and support they so badly need. Schools too, can often have a narrowly defined view of what services (typically those retained by Local Authorities) should take a dominant role in service delivery, in meeting the identified needs of a child through a Single Plan, or Statement of SEN, or an Education, Health and Care Plan. Sometimes, with the best of wills, there are not enough hours in the day to research every provider in a locality, and not enough incentives to change the direction of service acquisition..

As the SEND reforms take hold and begin to shape our landscape, I have a vision that that provision for all CYP on a single plan or with a EHC Plan, will take into account the needs of the child within the family or home context that arise during a 24 hour day, 7 day week, 52 week year. That would truly transform special educational needs provision.

Providers of education, health and social care services within the following categories are invited to subscribe to The Local Offer to showcase the great diversity and excellence of provision across the 9 regions of England and throughout the 152 Local Authority districts –

  1. Consultancy services
  2. Practitioners
  3. Community and Voluntary sector
  4. Representation & Advocacy

Early Bird discounts on subscriptions are available until Friday, 18th April.

If you have any queries about The Local Offer, as a provider, commissioner, school, parent or carer, please do not hesitate to contact me – heather@hmstack.com

Swimming for the disabled


Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,

Whispering, ‘it will be happier.’

Alfred Tennyson




On The Local Offer, optimism and building a road-map for the future


Isabel - portrait0001I have been truly blessed to meet some remarkable young people in my work as an independent education consultant. Sadly, not just some, but all of the young people I have been fortunate to become acquainted with experience special educational needs, to varying degrees.

For some, their difficulties may be transitory, context specific, single-issue areas of need, but for many, their difficulties are legion, they are not easily dispelled, and the discontent, anxiety and unease spills over into family life, into the day to day life of school, intofriendships and relationships.

Bridge to TerabithiaThe young artist whose portrait is displayed above, Imogen (not her real name), has suffered long term the debilitating effects of so many interwoven, complex needs – obsessive compulsive disorder, trichotilomania, friendship difficulties and delays in acquiring reading and literacy skills.

Her rich and inventive fantasy life could rival that of the characters in The Bridge to Terabithia. Her drawings, I have felt, are in some way a compensation for the paucity of friendship and beauty in her life.

My role as a consultant is necessarily that of one dispensing advice, in good faith that SEND Services and professionals are available and have capacity to respond to the needs identified. It is always a challenge considering recommendations against the reality of the context – being fully aware that the service needed to deliver the intervention, assessment or support, are running to capacity, or have a waiting list that would make you weep, or no longer offer that provision for that age range.

On many occasions, I have spent time sourcing the relevant support, before commiting to a course of action in pupil advice. It is a courtesy to client schools to make recommendations that are immediately ‘do-able’ and at the least, it offers encourgement to parents that certain steps can be taken in a timely manner, to address the special needs that present.

My next big venture, which will be an on-going project over several years, is to build up a Road Map of SEND Provision (England) showcasing and detailing all the service provision that exists within a locality.

I will be seeking the active engagement of providers across the public, private and third sector in Education, Health and Social Care, across all the Local Authority regions in England.

The service will operate as a web platform and social enterprise. The site is currently under construction – exciting times!


I say exciting times, but it is a long and challenging road, not least that the ideas contained in my head, the vision and ideal, must translate also to reality, to what can be achieved over a reasonable period of time. I am impatient to have more than just a holding page to my site, as at present, but all takes time. Several months of hard work and concerted effort have taken me so far and the journey has only just begun.

I am striving to build a Road Map for the future – and I need your support.

I’ve created a brief survey, courtesy of the genius that is Survey Monkey, to gather thoughts on the pragmatics of The Local Offer. I would be thrilled for a moment of your time and response –


I will keep you posted on progress as I move towards the launch of The Local Offer for the start of the new financial year, April 2014.

TLO-logo (2)

If you or children in your care have been affected by the difficulties Imogen has faced, here are some useful links –







With regards to you all, always, and in fond memory of some remarkable young people who have blessed my life by their presence.

The Local Offer – What does that mean for young people with LDD?


Young person in needAt a training event in 2011 for the National Connexions Network, I talked about the ‘Local Offer’ and what that might mean to those adults working with young people with LDD. This post continues to feature as highly viewed in my wordpress stats and I thought it might be helpful to re-visit it and add further reflection and detail.

The post continues thus –

In a group activity I’d devised, there were excellent responses from the 25 delegates attending, to the question:

What does the local offer mean to you? How does it translate to reality in your locality?

It was clear from the responses given, despite a theoretical excellence, that many energetic, committed and talented people, are still waiting to be guided into a greater understanding of the ‘local offer’. It remains as out of reach as the stars in the night sky.

I began my post-event note making, writing up flip chart notes and all that goes hand in hand with such events. I deviated, and before long, my thoughts, harboured in some safe place, had come to light. Here are those thoughts, which I do hope may make some difference to the actions that others take, as they play their role in the local offer, or advise others how to do the same.

My passion is about bringing real choice to the education market-place for all young people. This involves educating all people, parents included, at the earliest possible stage in a young person’s life, about all the choices of curriculum, of education, of placement, of support, that are available in a locality, in a region.

Sometimes, those choices, real and accessible though they may be, do not fit adult expectations of what SEN support should be about, and so they are excluded from the agenda.

Many years ago, iin my local authority, it was not uncommon to be aware of rich and varied timetables and schedules of activity for children and young people with, or without, a Statement of SEN. The young person might attend weekly Riding for the Disabled classes, or special swimming classes, or have sports activities geared around their needs, or have village and woodland walks and explorations, or shopping expeditions to try out core skills with key support staff. 

This quite flexible and innovative approach to a broad and relevant curriculum has gone out of the window as schools, driven by league tables and external pressures, are ever more focused on an increasingly narrow curriculum, one that frequently combines additional work in English & Maths as a sole focus of SEN support.

Riding for the disabled

Here are some useful links – http://www.rda.org.uk/


Swimming for the disabled

The child who leaves primary education with barely functional skills in literacy and numeracy, is highly unlikely to make up that deficit on entering mainstream secondary education. Placement issues have long been taken from the agenda but need to be brought back to the table, not just at key transition times, but throughout a young person’s life. Curriculum matters and breadth and diversity of curriculum needs to be at the forefront of planning and thought.

A change of placement, considering all educational settings that the locality or region has to offer, should not necessarily, as is so often the case, mean a change for the duration of the young person’s life. Much that it is hard for any parent to see their child move schools without their peers, sometimes a change is necessary to ensure that good quality education, curriculum and support is available and in place. 

There is a need always to consider – What are the life chances and opportunities an educational setting can offer to the children and young people it serves?   What are the choices available, the local offer, to that young person at this particular stage in their life?

The local offer begins essentially with our choice of curriculum, our choice of school and our choice of support and professional expertise. Knowing what is available in an area – thorugh a brokerage system or other – and what is attached to that provision, should be part of key information about SEN and/or disability (SEND) that is provided to all parents and carers of children with SEND.

It should never be the case that parents have to battle and agitate and fight to get what provision they believe should be their child’s right.

It should never be the case that parents are forced to become their own best counsel, up-grading their knowledge and skills to understand their child’s needs so that they may determine what is in their best interest – yet that is frequently the case.

Beyond school are the choices young people make and are encouraged and supported to make, about how they use their own time and how they develop their own personal and social skills. Understanding a young person’s education, employment or training needs is also about understanding that young person’s current lifestyle and lifestyle choices.

The local offer will mean many different things to many people, and will be greatly influenced by our environment, by what is the context and wealth or dearth of opportunity, within the local area. It will also be influenced heavily by the decisions and actions those adults take, who have a responsibility for delivering education, health and social care services.

The widest possible choices and opportunities should exist for all young people, regardless of special educational need or disability. How we project that widest possible choice is down to each of us, as we carry out our daily duties in the field of special educational need and learning difficulties and/or disability.


My regards to you all.