Each year, NASS sponsors a number of its special school leaders to take part in the School Improvement Partner (SIP) training programme with The Mulberry Bush.

Applications for this year’s programme are currently open and to be considered for one of the seven NASS-sponsored places, please complete the application form and contact before 1st March.

This week, we had a quick chat with one of our NASS SIPs to find out more about her experience on the SIP training programme and the lasting benefits she has gained from it.




Elizabeth Farnden is Headteacher at Forest Bridge School, a Special Free School for children and young people with a primary diagnosis of autism.

Elizabeth was part of the first cohort of NASS-sponsored places on the SIP training programme in 2021-2022. In 2023 she also became Chair of Trustees for National Association of Special Schools (NASS).

Here's what she had to say...

What made you want to be a School Improvement Partner?

I was really interested in bringing more variety to my role after being a Headteacher for 7 years. I had already been doing some SIP work with a few schools and liked the idea of developing my knowledge and skills in how to best support other settings.

What was the SIP training programme like?

The three course leaders (Andy Lole, Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Dominic Salles) always made sure the programme was sufficiently challenging enough for the Heads and CEOs sitting in front of them. Throughout, their humour and combined expertise, made it particularly enjoyable and interesting. There was a real focus on a personalised approach to our group’s learning.

Additionally, the atmosphere felt almost like a retreat – offering a real space for reflection combined with deliciously healthy food!

What did you find the most valuable part of the SIP training programme?

I found engaging in 2 days of SIP support work during the course proved immensely valuable. This experience was an excellent practical exercise that allowed us to reflect with one of the course leaders and build our own distinct style and effectiveness.

Also, you can't underestimate the value of being in a room with other special school heads.

How do you think the training has helped you in your role as Headteacher at Forest Bridge?

It has been particularly useful to bring back the tools from specific topics covered during the course and SIP network meetings to help implement improvement work.

What is the most rewarding part of being a SIP?

It is rewarding to be able to use my experience and knowledge to support another school to improve, or particularly support Heads to not feel so alone and isolated in the work they do.

As a NASS SIP, you are able to offer three days of support free of charge to NASS members. With this time, what could you help schools achieve?

In three days - it is important to have a clear focus, this might be:

  • Supporting the school with change management or rapid improvement plans.
  • Supporting the establishment of systems and procedures to help improve consistency of provision.
  • Provide external validation/scrutiny of their self-evaluation.
  • Providing leadership training for senior or middle leadership teams bespoke to the school.
What would you say to leaders thinking of applying for SIP Training?

I can't recommend it enough.   If you are at a point of being able to spend some time away from your own setting to help improve pupil outcomes beyond your own setting – this training is a great place to start.