Working with Dingley's Promise to provide a groundbreaking course in Early Years Inclusive Practice

Having met Catherine McLeod MBE, Chief Executive of the children’s charity Dingley’s Promise, the Academy of Leadership & Management team was so moved by her passion and commitment to inclusion for children with SEND in the early years that we had to find a way of working together on a new and exciting project. It sounds clichéd but we were moved and incredibly impressed.

Enthused by Catherine’s commitment, drive and knowledge, we worked on the development of a new course, the Level 3 Certificate in Early Years Inclusive Practice, and gained accreditation for it from NCFE. By the end of this year, more than 100 childcare practitioners will have been through the course.

The aim of the course is to help under-fives with disabilities access mainstream educational settings, where appropriate, by training childcare practitioners in key skills in meaningful inclusion, which will support their setting to give every child the best educational start, regardless of their needs and abilities.

We were impressed by Catherine's passion

Catherine came to ALM to further develop her skills as a senior manager of people. Here, Catherine – who was awarded an MBE for her work with disabled and disadvantaged children in Sri Lanka – discusses her determination to give children every chance to succeed and live fulfilling lives.

When I arrived at Dingley’s Promise three-and-a-half years ago with a background in inclusion, I was determined to ensure that the charity contributed to the wider discussions to change needed in our society.  This still sits at the heart of my work.

The charity has been running for 35 years since its foundation at the Dingley children’s ward at Battle Hospital in Reading, Berkshire. Our name reflects our promise to the children and families that we work with and reflects the promise that we see in every child.


"We felt we needed to think bigger"

When I arrived, the charity focused on supporting children with SEND and their families through the running of specialist settings in Reading, Newbury and Wokingham. Many children would leave us to go to a specialist school and we filled a gap on their special education pathway. We were proud of our work, but felt we needed to think bigger, creating opportunities for building wider inclusion. We owed that to the children and their families to raise the bar and aim for a mainstream setting wherever possible.

Many of the families we deal with at Dingley’s Promise are concerned about the future when they first come to us, referred by a doctor, a health visitor or themselves.

Often, the families don’t have a diagnosis for their child, and are forced to wait for long periods to get the diagnosis they need. It is a very difficult time for families, and so we aim to make it as easy as possible for them to access services for their child and begin to develop a routine and meet others in the same situation as them.

We identified our inclusion statement and developed the pathway that prepares children and their families for shared provision, and possibly mainstream option. Our pathway assesses the child, the child’s needs and the capability of their local mainstream setting to open up a place for them – and offer support for them in doing that. We knew that this really offers the best start for every child, whilst facilitating a more inclusive society.

ALM, the start of an incredible partnership

It was a transformational process and as part of that change, I was determined to get the best out of the people I work with. So I signed up for the Academy of Leadership & Management’s ILM Level 7 Diploma in Leadership & Management. It was the start of an incredible partnership that would support our vision through a new and innovative approach.

Over four months, working for just an hour a day on online resources or in a practical work situation, practitioners can develop skills that will equip them to work inclusively with children with varying abilities in their own mainstream settings.

We are in no doubt, early years education has significant benefits throughout a child’s life and their lifetime outcomes. For children with SEND however, there are still enormous challenges to accessing preparatory education. Figures from the Department for Education show that children with SEND are not accessing their free early years entitlements at the same levels as their mainstream counterparts. Our own research with mainstream providers suggests that without better training and support they will not be able to offer more hours to children with SEND, and so we are committed to equipping them with the skills and confidence to run inclusive sessions.

Only 25 per cent of SEND children are accessing their entitlement. With the attainment gap between children with SEND and their counterparts still growing, our work, which includes lobbying central government, is to be part of the solution.  Mainstream providers tell us they need more specialist training to support children with SEND, so we knew training childcare practitioners is the answer to part of that problem. It’s really important to address the wider issue if we are to foster real change in our society.

We’re currently working with more than 150 families a year. The impact that the ALM training course will have on our reach is something we find really exciting. Each time we train a nursery practitioner, we’re opening doors to another family to access the help they need. By training practitioners, we have the potential to help thousands of children with SEND and their families up and down the country. We believe this opportunity is truly helping us move towards a more inclusive society.