Strategic Planning

Strategic review of support for vulnerable young people and those with SEND in Middlesbrough

“The work undertaken by Isos has really helped to shape and focus our SEND and vulnerable learners strategic delivery plan.”
— Caroline Cannon, Head of SEN & Vulnerable Learners


The brief

Middlesbrough Borough Council formed a SEND & Vulnerable Learners Commission to oversee the development of a new strategic approach to support for vulnerable young people and those with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Middlesbrough. Isos was commissioned to carry out a fast-paced, action-focused strategic review, reporting to the newly-formed Commission, in order to identify what was working well, what were the key challenges, and what should be the priorities for a new strategy for Middlesbrough.

What did we do?

Drawing on our national research on SEN and our experience of carrying out local priority reviews, we approached the project in three distinct phases.

  1. Initial scoping and analysis – we carried out an initial analysis of key strategy documents, internal data and published local-level data to benchmark Middlesbrough against other local systems. We used this data to inform the work of the Commission and to sharpen the questions we would explore during the review.

  2. In-depth evidence-gathering and consultation – we then undertook some in-depth engagements with schools, colleges and early years settings, leaders and practitioners across education, health and social care services, and young people, parents and carers. These engagements focused on understanding what was working well, what were seen as the key challenges, and what should be the key priorities of a new strategy.

  3. Testing and refining priority actions – through workshops with Commission members and key strategic partners, and drawing on our knowledge of best practice in other local systems, we developed, tested and refined an action-focused report and action plan, setting out our analysis of the key challenges, as well as the priority actions required to address them.

We wanted the review to be carried out in a spirit of genuine partnership, so that those involved felt that it had been a constructive and inclusive process. There was also a strong message from the colleagues whom we engaged that the review needed to lead to swift implementation of concrete actions. To that end, at each step in the process, we worked closely with local authority colleagues, Commission members and key partners to test our findings and shape practical solutions. We focused not only on developing a robust strategy, but also on putting in place the conditions for effective implementation.

What difference did we make?

We delivered a rapid review of current support and services for vulnerable young people and those with SEND in Middlesbrough. We did so in a spirit of genuine partnership, working with professionals and families, and drawing on their expertise and experience to develop a clear set of strategic priorities and a roadmap of practical actions. During the review, we found that was widespread commitment to working together to improve support for vulnerable young people and those with SEND, and with Commission colleagues we co-developed a collaborative, partnership-based approach to implementation that drew on the commitment and expertise of colleagues across the local system.

What did the client say about the work?

“ The work undertaken by Isos has really helped to shape and focus our SEND and vulnerable learners strategic delivery plan. Isos fully supported the Council with the development and establishment of the SEND & Vulnerable Learners Commission. This strategic group has now become the SEND & Vulnerable Learners Local Area Commission and is a genuine collaborative partnership with all key stakeholders, who fully understand and embrace the challenges identified through the work with Isos. The professional way in which Isos undertook this review and the clarity with which they presented key findings to the Commission has really supported a clear direction of travel for the future development of provision and support within Middlesbrough. These developments will shape real-life opportunities for those children and young people with SEND and who are vulnerable.”
— Caroline Cannon, Head of SEN & Vulnerable Learners