NNoSS Conference2024: The latest conversations around SEND

26th April 2024

Yesterday marked the fourth annual conference for the National Network of Special Schools  (NNoSS) for School Business Professionals.

Powered by Schools North East, NNoSS is a collaborative network of School Business Professionals. Through collaborative initiatives, the NNoSS community strives to ensure their settings are well resourced for each unique learner. Together they’re a loud and powerful voice, challenging decisions and influencing decision-makers for the greater good of the entire specialist sector.

The NNoSS Annual Conference is the only conference of its kind too, which makes days like yesterday even more special! It truly was amazing to welcome delegates from all over the country, and host what (as expected) turned out to be an incredible day filled with learning, networking, and connecting.

As the conference takes place just once per year, it was only right we lined up the most influential speakers; leaders and experts in their respective fields that could equip attendees with the information, motivation, and clarity needed to continue being the best SBPs they can be – despite the ever-changing and challenging landscape they work within.

Kev House, Art of Brilliance

To start the day, Kev House from Art of Brilliance took to the main stage to give the audience a huge morale boost, talking us through, yes, the art of being brilliant. It was a fantastic way to begin the conference; Kev’s energy was infectious and he had the audience giggling, pondering, and reflecting on the power of their mood in both personal and professional environments. Key takeaway: Everyday is a special pants day!

John Roberts, Interactive Funding Session

With the crowd energised and ready to feel like they could take on the world, it was time to tackle a more challenging subject. Yes, you guessed it: funding for special education.

We were delighted to be joined by John Roberts (Deputy Editor for Tes, our conference media partner) who led discussions on funding and other challenges SBPs felt desperately needed to be addressed, and how.

Funding (unsurprisingly) took precedence throughout the entire session, with one audience member describing the current situation as “challenging, complex, and uncertain.” In regards to unfunded support staff pay awards, members came together to express frustrations and concerns that redundancies, recruitment and retention, and lack of morale are all repercussions of continuing to ignore the situation.

It was interesting to hear of other challenges, too. Via Slido, the audience were asked to submit what they felt were the three main issues in desperate need of attention, and the word cloud below reveals the most popular answers.

Funding and Financial Management across the Specialist Sector, David Withey, CEO, ESFA & Tom Goldman, Deputy Director, Funding Policy Unit, DfE

The funding situation for special schools remains a contentious issue, with ongoing debates surrounding resource allocation and support. So, we wanted to ensure that delegates had the matter addressed by not one, but two leaders within the sector.

David Withey (CEO of ESFA) started by praising the incredible work of all staff working in the specialist sector, which was amazing to hear. He acknowledged that we all have a shared goal: “to create a really inclusive system that enables children and young people to fulfil their full potential.” And of course, funding is a huge part of making that a success.

In his speech, Tom Goldman (Deputy Director, Funding Policy Unit, DfE) discussed high needs funding, the role of local authorities, and teacher pay award.

During the highly-anticipated Q&A session, the audience inquired about the possibility of transitioning away from a place-based funding system, expressing concern that the current £10,000 figure wasn’t meeting needs.

In response, Tom revealed that the government is actively exploring options to revise the funding approach for special schools. Which was music to our ears!

In fact, it was said the government could take the “radical step” of replacing the system of place funding for special schools. Echoing the thoughts of many, Tom also admitted that it was “odd”  for the current £10,000 rate to have remained stagnant  for over a decade.

He said the situation was complicated, as increasing the place funding would mean that the amount of top-up funding special schools received beyond the £10,000 would need to come down… While it wasn’t a direct answer to the issue, it was comforting to feel better understood by a department official.

When asked about the overall funding system, Tom mentioned that propositions have been presented to the DfE to move away from place-based funding for special schools. Instead, the proposal involves funding them through the National Funding Formula initially, with the possibility of building up the amounts they receive.

Pauline Aitchison, NNoSS Lead, said: “Thanks so much to Tom Goldman and David Withey for taking the time to listen to our members’ concerns today.

“Budget constraints and competing priorities are resulting in a crumbling system that NNoSS and Schools North East have been advocating to change for quite some time now. We need adequate funding to ensure that special schools can provide high-quality education and support to all students with disabilities and special educational needs, promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities for every learner.

“We look forward to continuing the dialogue with Tom and David beyond the conference”

A brilliant conference that covered the most important angles

Overall, the day was a resounding success and we want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who joined us, including delegates, speakers, and sponsors, with special thanks to our main event sponsors, The Edwin Group.

As always, it was fantastic to see such a diverse, dedicated – and downright lovely – group of SBPs coming together to share insights, exchange ideas, and collaborate for the good of the sector. It really is one of our favourite events in the calendar!

Together, we’ve explored new perspectives, gained valuable knowledge, and built connections that will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our overall mission.

Here’s to the NNoSS Conference 2025…


If you’re a School Business Professional working in the specialist sector, join NNoSS today and take advantage of a collaborative network – with 300+ members – that connects and upskills colleagues and influences decision makers. Get your voice heard.