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This underlines the need for a planned approach to communications to ensure that you are regularly communicating to parents and stakeholders in a way that is clear (jargon free) and transparent.

Here are ten steps that should be considered in your own SEND communication plan.


1. Embed communications delivery in operational plans

Include communications in the development of SEND operational policy and strategy. Mutually agree your vision and purpose for SEND services which will feed into the narrative that is conveyed to parents and stakeholders.

  • Top tip: Ensure that you have the correct communication resources by establishing a productive ‘business partner’ arrangement with a nominated representative in Corporate Communications which includes regular attendance at meetings with access to your Sharepoint or Microsoft Teams portal. If this is not possible, talk to your Corporate Communications team about bringing in additional resources. The more embedded communications is in operational delivery the more effective you will be.


2. Create a cohesive brand identity

A strong SEND brand goes a long way to creating trust in the service and should ideally include a core narrative, which can be used repeatedly across all your marketing and PR activity. The narrative needs to have an honest and open style, it should acknowledge past and current challenges, contain apologies if relevant and outline future ambitions for the service.

Ideally each version should have a life span of a single school term so that it remains relevant.

  • Top tip: Think of your core narrative as an organic, ‘live’ document – ensure it has evidence-based statements you can contextualise for different stakeholder comms, and check-in with ops colleagues to ensure these are regularly updated. (*see ‘data’ below)


3. Teamwork

Shape the narrative collectively by creating a sense of shared responsibility between the communications and operations teams. Stakeholder messaging (internal and external) will be more cohesive and media lines for response and rebuttal around key issues can be prepped and signed off in advance - especial useful for responding promptly to adverse coverage.

  • Top tip: Don’t neglect internal communications - ideally everyone in the organisation should feel that have a stake in what is communicated externally. This is crucial if, like many councils, you’re seeking to disseminate a new, more positive SEND story about the service.

Make full use of staff briefings, newsletters etc. to ensure all SEND partnership staff are aware of and understand, improvements in SEND services. Share the SEND strategy widely so that all stakeholders are aware of the vision and direction of improvements.


4. Champion accessibility

Accessible communications for any part of the business is a ‘must’, but for SEND it is non-negotiable. As well as your website and any printed material, your tone and style should be plain-English – and this is another plus for close collaboration with operational colleagues; work with them to demystify the speciality area they know so well. This will help you craft a clearer, more persuasive narrative regardless of your audience’s level of knowledge.

  • Top tip: It’s not always possible to avoid anacronyms, but regardless of the audience, make sure they’re explained each time – simplify the messages whilst maintaining the key facts and avoid over-using technical or specialised language.


5. Demystify the data

The fact is data doesn't have the same value to everyone. Ops colleagues probably don’t value email click-through rates and the communications team may not immediately grasp the nuances of % improvements against operational KPIs.

Mutual agreement of the most relevant metrics for external stakeholders will result in a clearer core narrative, with progress against objectives evidenced wherever relevant.

  • Top tip: Avoid silo working by having a dedicated person who can act as the ‘live data bridge’ between operations and comms.


6. Personalise wherever possible

Building trusted relationships is a cornerstone of effective SEND communications; publishing an open letter on your website is a useful way of reaching a wide audience, but your relationship will be stronger if you can personalise your comms. Maximise every opportunity to gather people’s contact details, along with the correct permissions - and invest in email marketing software to increase the relevance of and credibility of your interactions.

  • Top tip: Keep your email contact data set as clean as possible, this is your ‘currency’ – it’s best practice to appoint a dedicated data manager in the team to keep on top of permissions and to track and report on engagement rates and click-throughs.

    If you’ve got external contractors working with you, ensure that they have a council email address – this avoids their emails going into council colleagues’ ‘spam’ boxes and means they can access collaboration software such as SharePoint.


7. Maximise your reach

When you’re creating your communications plan, remember to include your partners’ and stakeholders’ own networks. Their newsletters, bulletins, websites, and social media channels all need content – and if your messages are relevant to their target audience, it’s likely they will publish it.

  • Top: Include a distinct call-to-action and use marketing URLs to track engagement and see which third party channels are the most effective at driving traffic to your content.


8. Make the most of positive media opportunities

Ensure management cascade and share information so that the communications team can actively control the news agenda; this is particularly important for reputation management as it will ensure your communication person is aware of key issues (good or bad) that may impact on reputation

  • Top tip: An online forward planning grid is a useful tool for identifying pro-active pr opportunities and plotting key messages against the relevant target audiences.


9. Don’t ignore social media

Families are particularly likely to turn to social media to air any dissatisfaction with SEND support. Quality content across your online channels is vital for building trust in the service. Track public sentiment and use the feedback to guide your content strategy and build a positive reputation online.

  • Top tip: Invest in a media monitoring tool to help the digital team manage misinformation and identify content that could potentially harm the council’s brand.


10. Co-production and partnership working

Engage schools and settings in the SEND improvement journey and involve them in creating regular and effective communications for parents and carers. Make it clear you’re interested in co-creating solutions.

  • Top tip: It’s worth holding facilitated strategy workshops with internal and external stakeholder groups. Get their ideas, input, and feedback. Carry out qualitative temperature checks to monitor if they feel their voice is being heard and listened to.



Caroline is a freelancer communicator who specialises in health and education. She has worked across local government and the third sector. 


If you are interested in hiring specialist communication resources to develop and deliver your SEND communication plan, contact Simon@westcocommunications.com



SEND and EHC (Education, Health and Care Plans) is a major reputation hotspot for virtually all unitary and county councils given rising demand for services and high expectations from parents.


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