Director of Inclusion
Fran has been working in primary education since qualifying with a BEd Hons degree from Leicester in 1987 (Early Years specialism) and has worked across a range of city and rural primary schools in Hampshire and Devon. She has worked in senior leadership for many years and has been the headteacher of Sparkwell Primary School since 2015, developing this school from a newly opened Free School to the inclusive and successful school it is today. She has the NPQH (2012) and a Masters Degree in coaching (Marjons, 2013) and has been a SENCo for almost 20 years with a passion to ensure all children get the best education in a nurturing, inclusive environment. She is also a qualified counsellor for children and young people and uses her counselling skills to ensure families, staff and children have a voice.
Trust SEND Lead
Catherine has been a Primary School Teacher for 20 years since qualifying from Bath Spa University College with a BA Hons in Education and a PGCE specialising in General Primary. It was here that she developed her interest in supporting children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilites (SEND) and this has grown throughout her teaching career. In 2013, Catherine completed her PgCert National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination.
Catherine has taught in schools in Warwickshire and Devon and prior to taking up the role of the Link Academy Trust SEND Lead in 2023, Catherine was the Assistant Headteacher and SENDCO at Wolborough CE Nursery and Primary School for 12 years. Through this role, Catherine developed her understanding that all children are unique and the needs that they have can present in a number of ways. All behaviour is communication and it is our job as school staff to work alongside families and other professionals to work out what this communication is and how we can best support each individual child. Catherine works across all the Link schools to offer advice and support to make sure we are achieving the best for our children with SEND and all children are given the opportunities and experiences that allow them to achieve their full potential.
Inclusion & Improvement Hub Lead
Becky Humphreys has been in education since 2005 when she qualified with a BA(Hons) in Primary Education specialising in Early Years from King Alfred's College in Winchester. Many of her teaching years were spent in KS2 and she had a particular love for Years 5 and 6 and the goal of preparing them for their future education and lives moving forward. After working in schools in Leeds, Somerset and Plymouth, Becky joined Bearnes Primary School in January 2014 where she developed her passion for supporting pupils with SEND and also became a DSL. She was appointed IIH Lead in 2019 and has been completely dedicated in her focus on acquiring a deep understanding of the needs of pupils who require a different approach to learning. She has trained in a diverse range of fields including the SEND Award and the National Professional Qualification in Leading Behaviour and Culture to be able to lead this facility with confidence; in fact she is now involved on the board of a number of external organisations as a reflection of her commitment to inclusion.
Nikki qualified with a BA Hons in Fine Art Sculpture Degree in Northumbria University in 1999. In 2000, she completed her PGCE at Oxford Brookes and spent her early teaching career working at Beacon school in London before working in a broad range of classroom settings over the next 20 years. In 2008, she completed her NPQH training. Alongside her teaching practice, Nikki has trained as a therapeutic Creative Kinesiology practitioner; she has particular interest in releasing trauma. Nikki’s passion is to support children’s social, emotional and mental health as a route to impacting their learning, personal potential and wellbeing. In 2017, she began bringing to life her vision and now leads an established therapeutic hub in the Academy. Nikki has woven together her passions of Relational Practice, being in the outdoors and art to create an innovative approach to supporting SEMH. She is accredited with Wild Tribe to work safely outdoors.
Nikki works closely with Sibi, a trained counsellor and together they have written a progressive outdoor SEMH curriculum. She believes key to making change sustainable is working with the system around the child and hence the courses support families and staff to better understand and meet a child’s underlying needs. Nikki has studied Relational Practice with the IIH team, and trained with the British Association of Art Therapists Foundation level Art Therapy and Level 3 ARTiculate and this year is training in Family Constellations therapy.
Why such a provision?
The Inclusion and Improvement Hub was established in response to the fact that small schools are significantly impacted when any pupil or family that requires specialist support.
Providing support for families in need can require time and specialist knowledge which cannot always be met by existing staff. When the Link Academy Trust was inaugurated in April 2016 it was agreed that a ‘virtual’ capacity, known then as the Inclusion Hub (IH) should be established. One of our schools had always required a high level of expertise in managing vulnerable pupils and families and we wanted to harness this wealth of knowledge and skills. Staff had received an extensive range of associated training to ensure they had the ability and understanding to support pupils. It was therefore a simple decision to provide access to this proficiency for all academies within the Trust and so the IH was established. It later became known as the Improvement and Inclusion Hub (IIH) as its remit expanded.
Supporting the Trust and the IIH is Plymouth MAST, who work in partnership, providing skills that extend the self-sufficiency of the Link Academy Trust in providing for pupils with specific needs. They offer the services of Educational Psychologists and various specialist counsellors, particularly important being supervision for staff.
We are proud of the expertise we provide and the support our pupils, families and staff can access, however we will always continue to expand and develop our provision.
The Improvement and Inclusion Hub Staffing Structure
What does the IIH offer?
The IIH offers a range of support to all academies within the Link Academy Trust in order to support all children and their families who have additional needs. The IIH expertise ensures that appropriate provision is put in place rapidly.
Applications for support and funding are a regular requirement across the Trust, but not always in schools, therefore IIH experts regularly completing these applications ensure they are professionally prepared and highly successful in achieving the appropriate outcomes and funding. A major focus of the IIH is therefore the one-to-one support academies require to achieve external support and funding when this is appropriate, i.e. writing EHC plans, signposting to external expertise, advising and linking our schools with Plymouth MAST provision.
After an initial evaluation of the work of the IIH, it was clear that many of the pupils served by the IIH were in receipt of Pupil Premium, government funding and so more recently the work of the IIH has been expanded to focus on pupil premium children, their provision and progress.
Becky Humphreys visits academies that need support to observe and conference with the Academy Head from which the correct provision is explored and agreed, for which Becky then makes the arrangements. Her knowledge of what is available through our staff, partners and external providers is extensive and this allows the Academy Heads to focus on leading their schools. Liaison with parents at this point makes certain there is clear understanding and agreement on next steps and future provision.
Becky has knowledge of and access to a range of therapies as she manages the full programme of intervention CPD available to staff across the Link Academy Trust, enabling staff within our schools to deliver provision that includes: Lego therapy, Grieving in Puddles, Managing Anger & Rage, Precision teaching, SEMH courses for children, Mindfulness, Draw & Talk to name just a few. Personnel from local schools are also offered places on these courses.
Becky also runs highly successful SENDCo networking and conference sessions which provide the opportunity for all personnel to be fully updated on latest research and thinking as well as changes in legislation and practice.
Nikki Racey has proven expertise in delivering programmes which are provided away from the school site, often using woodland facilities at Link Academy sites. Nikki invites families and school staff to be involved in the work to ensure the approach becomes an integrated part of the child’s provision. Progressive programmes offer support for a broad range of SEMH needs and varying levels of emotional development. KS1 courses aim to explore the felt sense of big emotions, the children develop helpful language and begin to identify the emotions they are experiencing. Parents are offered useful tips and techniques which may help affect positive change. As the children mature, they can understand the purpose of each emotion and feel more empowered at managing their own overwhelming big feelings such as anger, grief, and anxiety. The children learn how to self-regulate and calm the impact of trauma and stress on the nervous system. Nikki maintains close liaison with the child and the team around the family to embed change.
The Link Academy is also fully aware that staff working with children and families who have additional needs often require access to supervision to maintain their own well-being. Becky champions this and guarantees that any member of staff that needs this has immediate access and this is arranged with the support of our HR Lead, Sue Howard.
The IIH provision has expanded to include Pupil Premium support across the Trust, as a clear overlap was recognised. The IIH team support Academy Heads with strategy writing, monitoring, advice and bespoke programmes.
Provision for children that are gifted and talented is also a focus of the IIH and offers a provision for pupils to ignite their particular interests and abilities in order to fulfil their potential and recognise their special talents.
What is overall impact and is it worth it?
The Link Academy Trust considers the IIH has significantly and positively impacted on all Academies across the Trust over the last 5 years. It is able to rapidly step in, with the highest level of expertise, not otherwise available in a small school setting, to resolve issues for vulnerable children . Academy Heads are then totally confident to be inclusive as they have instant access to an expert.
Our schools have accepted some children that other schools have struggled to provide for because the IIH are there to support them. The ability to provide really well for all our pupils is of paramount importance and the IIH has been recognised as a facility that ensures we can do just that.
The IIH is funded by income generation from courses that are provided to local schools and grants achieved by our Income Generation Lead, alongside a percentage of the Pupil Premium funding received from Government into each of our academies. It is a highly successful and vital part of the Link Academy Trust which provides bespoke support where it is needed.
The following case studies illustrate better than any words what has been achieved by our IIH Team.
“I just wanted to send a thank you, not only for creating a safe and calm environment for our child to be himself but for me too, it’s like a few hours respite in so many ways, and I’m learning forest skills too which as mum of a Bear Grylls wannabe is much needed!! I even lit a fire today...well sort of until it went out and he showed how it’s really done!
Week 3 and just wow, to see him engaging and functioning in the way we know he can is just amazing, it’s been easily forgotten how capable he is throughout all the difficulties we’ve had. Chatting with the boys, being interested in what they are doing and sharing his space with them...wow!
A big thank you to S too, what a kind, warm and unintrusive presence she has. To see him engage, chat, ask and answer a question or two and allow her to help him with his fire, all with someone he’s only just met is just amazing, and awesome clothing too...how could he possibly resist connecting with someone in almost as much camo as himself, and a pocket of fire starting tricks too!!!
Both exhausted but truly grateful for this opportunity which has come along for us at just the perfect time.
Looking forward to next week, Many thanks x "
What will the future bring?
The IIH is such a cornerstone of the Link Academy Trust that we will only see it expand further to continue to support Academy Heads to ensure their schools are totally inclusive. We are proud of the diversity of our pupils and we ensure we cater as well as we possibly can for their varied needs. It is something we are all very proud of.