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OWN Trust Development Session 18.10.23

By Jan Neish, Governance and Compliance Manager, OWN Trust

OWN Trust was fortunate enough to secure Mary Abeyasekera as the speaker for our development session on Wednesday evening, 18 October, which we held at Delta Hotel at Lynch Wood. The topic was SEND Ordinary Available Provision and the room was filled with our trustees and local governors, trust associates, and governors from the local schools we work with as part of the Schools Partnership Programme. 
Mary spoke passionately about her own schooldays and SEN; about the support from her parents and grandparents, and her grandfather who read with her every night as she memorised the story, allowing her to function in school and disguise the fact she couldn’t really read; about kicking off in class if there was the chance she would be asked to read out loud or read from an unfamiliar book; of being expelled from primary schools (five of them!) and of the teacher who told her to ‘put that chair down and park your bum on it’ and then set about working out how to get Mary the support she needed. 

As I listened to Mary’s story from that point, it reminded me of the Arabian Nights tales where the djinn, finally released from centuries-long confinement in the bottle, explodes onto the page like a whirlwind: school, university, teaching, headship, national leader of SEND, Ofsted inspector (where they called her “the baby HMI” because she was so much younger than most), Director for SEND for Meridian Trust. And that’s just some of it! Mary has an adult diagnosis of ADHD – she calls it her superpower - and maybe that explains the pace and passion of her life and career after being released from her bottle. 
Mary took us through the Code of Practice, the unhelpfulness of labels, definitions, responsibilities, reasonable adjustments, and “best endeavours” where her insights on what this means for children, were so valuable. After all, that is what it’s all about. Schools are data-rich environments nowadays and we are expected to benchmark against this metric or that metric, but we were reminded that some children will never reach ‘expected standards’ in attainment, and how can you measure progress for a child for whom just getting through the front door and sitting in the foyer for an hour is a huge step forward?   
When we got to the Q&A session, it was pretty quiet as everyone was sitting there thinking “Wow!” but it was rewarding to see the Q&A evolve into groups talking about what these ideas mean for our schools, our children, and ‘we do this, what do you do’… You could almost hear the neurones firing.  
A huge thank you to Mary, and a huge thank you to all those who attended. I hope they found it worth turning out on a wet Wednesday evening in October. I know I did.