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  • Writer's pictureEllie Costello

We are two!

Today is our 1st birthday as a CIC, and next week is two years since Square Peg launched as a social enterprise. Happy Birthday to us!

So we’d like to share some of the highlights of the last two years with you. The movie is a one minute snapshot; the detail of each highlight is below. We've been busy, so this is a long post...

We still do all of this on a voluntary basis. If you feel able to support our work financially (this could be a donation, but could also be via your employer, through relevant contacts you have, or because you have experience of completing grant applications), we'd love to hear from you!

Before our launch in April 2019…

  • I had already met with Peter Kyle, my MP, in December 2018. He wrote on my behalf to Damien Hinds (then Secretary of State for Education) and submitted written Parliamentary questions asking what steps the Government is taking to support children who were struggling to attend, and what data is held on the numbers affected. The response was predictably throw-away, but Peter has continued to be a great supporter of Square Peg’s work (as someone who was also failed by the system, returning to secondary school in his 20s).

The first year, April 2019 - 20

  • we secured an opinion piece in SchoolsWeek and a news piece in TES

  • our petition against fines for non-attendance launched in May

  • the petition was noticed by Steve Broach (a barrister well-known in SEND circles and then at Monkton Chambers). In partnership with Not Fine In School, we raised £7,000 for initial legal advice with Steve and Polly Sweeney (then at Irwin Mitchell) about a legal challenge around the attendance policy and codes. We wrote to Nick Gibbs requesting a meeting and two months later received an unsigned reply (no meeting)

  • Two families went on to start a Judicial Review against the Secretary of State for Education (with the children applying for legal aid) and a pre-action letter was sent. The response was disappointing and indicated that challenging a systemic issue via JR on legal aid would be extremely difficult

  • we made some great connections, including several psychology/psychiatry academics at the universities of Oxford, Reading and Exeter. We started conversations about potential research and are now involved in three projects around anxiety and non-attendance. We also met Professor Harry Daniels who was awarded a research contract for Excluded Lives, a UK-wide, multidisciplinary research project around exclusions.

  • we drafted a short letter about the issues around non-attendance and secured signatures from the CEOs of 9 national organisations, including Young Minds, the National Autistic Society, the NEU and the British Psychological Society. Young Minds in particular has been a big supporter of Square Peg and is our asset lock as a CIC

  • we helped to make a short film for Ch4 news and were invited to a live studio interview (June 2019)

  • we also helped build a BBC story and were invited onto BBC Breakfast (September 2019). The story was also covered by many local BBC radio stations

  • I attended the inaugural conference for INSA, the international Network for School Attendance, in Oslo, where 250 delegates from 14 countries shared research and practice on this topic

  • we ran a two-week Twitter campaign around the SEND Inquiry report (to balance the lack of media coverage) which resulted in an additional 500 Twitter followers

  • our legal challenge was covered in The Observer (November)

The second year, April 2020 - 21

  • Square Peg officially became a Community Interest Company in April 2020, with Ellie and Simon officially coming on board as Directors

  • we also launched a new, more comprehensive website

  • we became active members of the National Children's Bureau's Special Educational Consortium, the Schools Wellbeing Partnership and Nasen's Whole School SEND consortium

  • we were invited to take part in eight webinars between May 2020 and March 2021, including an Emerging Minds 'return to school' webinar, a Qualified Tutor podcast, a Freedom to Learn podcast on Coersion and Consent in Schools, two Educate Ventures webinars on education reform, an Adoption & Fostering Podcast and a webinar on the barriers to school attendance for the Southend Education Psychology Reachout series (this has been viewed 1,700 times)

  • Young Minds mentioned us in an open letter to Gavin Williamson, asking for a review of attendance codes and policies

  • we launched a map campaign in September, inviting families to drop an anonymous pin on a map of the UK, to represent a child who is currently, or was, struggling to attend. A consistent 50%+ of these pins are for children who had been out of school for more than a year pre-pandemic

  • alongside the map campaign we invited parents and children to tell us their story via our 'family voices' form. We used the words of children themselves in a movie to coincide with Young Minds' #HelloYellow campaign for more investment in children's mental health

  • in November we secured a big article by Fiona Millar in the Guardian. This has been shared nearly 2,000 times, which is exceptional for an education piece. It also triggered 70 contacts to Square Peg and 270 sign ups to the Not Fine In School closed Facebook Group for parents in one day. Membership of Not Fine In Schools’ closed Facebook Group grew by 42% between January 2020 and January 2021. It flatlined during lockdown – in fact the group went from gaining 600-800 members pm to losing 90 members between mid-March and the end of June but is sadly now rising again at pre-pandemic rates. It currently stands at over 15,000

  • we had a Twitter 'spat' with Tom Bennett over a piece in The Guardian, highlighting the difficulties some SEND pupils were having returning to school, with much of their support rendered impossible by Covid guidance

  • Ellie took part in a Sinclairslaw webinar on Fabricated or Induced illness, as a parent with lived experience and on behalf of the significant numbers of NFIS parents who are also accused of FII because of their child's non-attendance

  • we delivered a training session to PGCE primary students at Warwick University, with a live Q&A session over lunch which was attended by 26 students. We hope that this will be the first of more training sessions, for trainee teachers, educational psychologists, social workers and local authority case workers

  • we have had some great meetings (and some still to come): with Kate Green (Shadow Secretary of State for Education), Natasha Devon (former DfE MH czar and LBC radio show host), Lord Jim Knight (meeting still to happen!), Dave McPartlin of Britain's Got Talent gold buzzer fame and Will Carter, a dyslexic student who was the subject of recent media attention having secured a scholarship to Berkley (California) despite starting at secondary school in England unable to read or write

We spent much of 2020 trying to capitalise on the opportunities provided by national online provision, whilst also drawing attention to the fact that 772,000 children were already at home with no education pre-pandemic. We were also deeply concerned about the increasing narrative around lost learning and the need to ‘catch up’ as we knew that these children and many more would really struggle once attendance became mandatory again. And they did. We have submitted evidence to the DfE’s Covid and Home Education consultations and run a survey to highlight the experiences of families in the two halves of the Autumn 2020 term.

The third year, April 2021 - 22

  • Our network continues to grow, with 2,300+ Twitter followers and approx. 450 connections with individuals and organisations. We believe this is quite unique, since it spans all the stakeholders in education, crosses both academia and practice and is truly multi-disciplinary

  • In October 2020 we launched School Differently in partnership with Ian Gilbert of Independent Thinking (watch this space – we have Big Plans in 2021).

  • Under Ian’s guidance we secured a book contract with Crown House. This will be a compilation of 26 chapters and 40+ contributors designed to help school leaders support their square pegs and drawing on a broad range of perspectives, from virtual headship to youthwork. It's a big piece of work which will probably be published early in 2022.

Last year we helped to bring together a group of like-minded Educational Psychologists who are due to pilot ATTEND, a screening tool for non-attendance – at the start of next term. We’re keen to expand this group, identify best practice nationally and develop an effective pathway for those children that face barriers to attendance. Alongside this, we’re also keen to build a portfolio of innovative and proven Square Peg ‘tools’ which support all square pegs in different ways. We’ve developed a bank of documentary ideas to pitch to production companies, and we continue to look for media opportunities.

I've probably missed something, but I'm guessing most of you won't have read this far anyway!

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