Dr Halit Hulusi

To kick off SPCF’s new series featuring key actors parents and carers of children with SEND regularly interact with, we interviewed Dr Halit Hulusi, Head of SEND for Staffordshire County Council. Dr Hulusi oversees the Local Authority’s SEND strategy, in close collaboration with district teams and schools. Here, he shares an update on his work on initiatives like the Enhanced Assess Plan Do Review Pathway and increasing special school provision. He highlights the importance of parent feedback and the challenges posed by insufficient national guidance and funding. Alongside his team, Dr Hulusi aims to support parents better by improving availability and responsiveness of the system, and collaboration with the Parent Carer Forum. He meets regularly with the Parent Carer Forum to hear their views and ensure that the PCF is fully included in what the decision-making that happens in the local authority.

What’s your role? 

As Head of SEND for Staffordshire County Council, I am responsible for the overarching SEND strategy for the county.  I work closely with the 8 SEND District Teams, their SEND Family Practitioner Leads and the SEND Key Workers. 

I am currently working on several big projects designed to improve outcomes for children with SEND. These include,

  • The Enhanced Assess Plan Do Review Pathway designed to provide schools with additional support and resources to meet children’s needs much earlier,
  • The Strategy for Special Provision that is increasing the number of special school places across the whole county, and
  • Staffordshire Enhanced District Inclusion Support, the development of 8 outreach teams for each district to support all schools meet the needs of children in their local mainstream school. 

What does an average day-to-day look like?

I start work around 7.30am.  My first task is to respond to my emails.  I then attend multiple meetings across the day where I catch up with colleagues that are delivering on the strategy.  I also spend a lot of time catching up with colleagues in the 8 district teams. 

I have meetings with schools to ensure they have the resources they need to meet the needs of their pupils.  Several days a week, I chair panel meetings. During these important meetings, we consider school placement decisions. Some days I will be out and about, visiting mainstream and special schools.  These visits are often about exploring how we can improve their provision for children with SEND.

What is your favourite part of your job? 

When we get an email from a parent thanking us for sorting out what was thought to be an unsolvable situation – we are getting more and more of these emails, and we keep them in a special folder to remind us why we do what we do.

I have been an Educational Psychologist for 25 years and have had the privilege of working with thousands of families in that time. I have learnt that every family and every child’s experience is different and I/we need to listen to these families without judgement and always with compassion and empathy.

What are the biggest challenges?

The single biggest challenge is the lack of national guidance and support from central government to Local Authorities. Despite a huge increase in SEND needs, SEND budgets from the government has decreased. 

In Staffordshire, we have some amazing mainstream schools (and national leading special schools) who do a stunning work to include children with SEND needs. However, compared with other Local Authorities, Staffordshire has one of the lowest percentages of children with Educational Health and Care Plans being educated in mainstream school.  This is a big challenge and something we can do something about.  A big proportion of our work is designed to support all our mainstream schools to ensure that, where possible, children can go to their local mainstream school with their friends.

How do you overcome them?

We are putting lots of pressure on the Department of Education and Members of Parliament to sort out the national SEND system.  I speak at lots of national conferences and I am very clear about my views on this!  Locally, we are doing lots of work to support our mainstream schools so they have the resources and support to ensure that local with SEND children are supported in their local schools.  Our Enhanced Assessed Plan Do Review Pathway is putting £10million pounds over 5 years into this effort. All these resources will be made available to mainstream schools in Staffordshire to help them include children with SEND.

How can you and your team help parents and carers of children with SEND? 

There is no doubt that we need to do better when it comes to working with our families.  This was something that Ofsted made very clear to us in 2022 during the OFSTED inspection of Staffordshire SEND services.  We are working with the 8 SEND District Teams to ensure that we are more available to our families, respond to their emails and phone calls and most of all, really listen to what they are telling us.  

I have seen a huge change in our relationship with the Parent Carer Forum (PCF) in the last 2 years. The PCF have a huge role to play in all the ongoing improvements to our work and they have shaped the three big projects I spoke about earlier. Our relationship with the PCF is professional, open and challenging.  I really value their views and perspectives and encourage them to challenge me and our teams.  They never hold back and for that I am very grateful.  Our relationship with the PCF is something that Ofsted and the Department of Education have noted as being very productive.

What is one Council service that helps parents and carers of children with SEND which you wish was better known?

Staffordshire has a team call ASSIST.  This is an amazing team that supports adults with hearing/deaf and visual difficulties navigate the day-to-day challenges of living life in the world.  I am amazed every day at the great work that they do.  This ranges from helping someone arrange a funeral, to sitting with them at the hospital whilst they receive a serious medical diagnosis, to helping someone in a university lecture access learning that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. 

Answers were slightly edited for clarity