Although we are only at the start of the SEND reform journey, I feel like I have been walking the path for many years. During my time as CEO of nasen I worked closely with the Department for Education (DfE) from 2011 when they published the Green Paper: Support and Aspiration. Four years on and we have left the station and are travelling towards our destination. In this blog post, I will give you my thoughts on the early stages of this journey and what the next steps are for schools.
The Children and Families Act (2014) informed a number of significant changes to support children and young people in all aspects of their lives. The most comprehensive element of this Act was part 3, which reformed the legislation for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The publication of the final SEND Code of Practice in January 2015 gave all those working with and caring for children and young people aged 0-25, statutory guidance to support the implementation of the SEND reforms.
The reform journey will be a long and challenging one. Transitional arrangements until March 2018 are in place to ensure that all aspects of the legislation are implemented with the best outcomes for children, young people and their families.
After one year and one term into that journey, I am beginning to see changes taking place but maybe not as quickly as I might have hoped. Local authorities are challenged by the sheer scale of their responsibilities at a time of reduced staffing and specialist services. Health and Care services are also stretched and not always able to offer the services they should provide. Early Years settings, schools and post-16 institutions have begun to embed change, but without the support of education, health and care services, are finding it increasingly difficult to support all of the children and young people with SEND.
The SEND Code of Practice 2015 states very clearly that the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEND is high quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils. In many schools this has meant a significant culture shift in the role of the teacher in offering teaching and learning opportunities for all pupils including those identified as SEN Support and who require additional and different approaches offered through a much more personalised approach.
Schools have also been challenged by the transfer process for all those pupils who had a statement and now need to have this transferred to an Education, Health and Care Plan. I am observing a great deal of inconsistency and disparity across English local authorities, some expecting schools to take on duties that are not their responsibility, often with no additional funding or staffing. Schools have got to get better at saying no. The legislation and the SEND Code of Practice are very clear about who must undertake key duties. Although schools must co-operate with the local authority, it is the local authority who must ensure that all children and young people identified with SEND in their local area have their needs met.
One of the main challenges for schools presented by the Code of Practice was the requirement to re-designate all those pupils who were school action and school action plus to a single category, SEN Support. This has led to a 2.5% reduction in the number of pupils now recorded as requiring SEN Support (DfE: Statistical First Release – Special educational needs in England: January 2015). The reasons for this could be many, but I am hopeful that it is due to increased awareness by teachers, who are able to identify and intervene as early as possible.
SENCOs I have worked with in the last year have used this reform to assess all of their SEND pupils and to be very clear about the difference between underachievement and SEND. I believe there were too many pupils on School Action who were underachieving and not SEND and with more focused, differentiated teaching are now making progress.
The introduction of the single category of SEN Support means that every teacher must take responsibility for the teaching and learning of every pupil. It is not someone else’s responsibility. Schools must recognise the importance of high quality professional development for all staff to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to meet the challenging complex needs that are now being identified within our school population.
In practice this is challenging both in terms of time and resources but a well trained and experienced team will offer outstanding teaching to all pupils and will have long term effect on pupil and school performance.
SEND – Next steps for your school!
- Understand the role and responsibilities of the SENCO and ensure that they are given sufficient time including admin support to carry out their role effectively
- Review your SEN Information Report, ensuring that parents, pupils and stakeholders are involved and make it easily accessible on your school website.
- Ensure that all staff are aware of who their SEND pupils are, what interventions are in place and what additional support is available.
- Undertake an audit of the skills and expertise within your team and an audit of the needs of the pupils. This will enable you to effectively deploy the support staff and will highlight any professional development needs across the school workforce.
- Ensure that there is a very clear time-table for all of the transfer and annual reviews and all staff and parents are aware of these dates. Create a time-frame for reports and evidence to be completed so everything is ready for the transfer and review meetings.
- Continue to develop good relationships with parents especially of new children and young people coming into your school for the first time. For those parents of pupil’s on SEN Support ensure that there are three pupil progress meetings per year planned and teachers are given time to organise and undertake these.
- Ensure that sufficient funding from the school budget is available to support SEND across your school. Review your whole-school provision map to determine the effectiveness of the spend to date. Determine what additional funding is being allocated for SEND pupils and monitor how this is being used and the impact it is having on pupil progress.
- Provide a SEND update report to the Governing Body on a regular basis.
- Continue to work with your local authority but be clear about duties and responsibilities – say NO if you think you are being asked to undertake tasks that you are not accountable for.
- Continue to develop good relationships with external professionals – know who to contact. Think outside the box and begin to develop your own team of experts in school, share expertise across schools and link with your local special school to establish a comprehensive team that you can seek support and advice from.
Remember – we have completed less than a third of the journey. Schools need to embed the changes slowly, take everyone with them and ensure positive outcomes for children, young people and their families.
Lorraine Petersen OBE is a former teacher and head teacher with over 25 years’ experience in education, and many years’ experience of working with pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in both mainstream and specialist settings. Lorraine is the former CEO of nasen and now runs Lorraine Petersen Educational Consultancy, which is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of children and young people with severe, profound and complex learning difficulties.
You can hear more from Lorraine in her PD videos on Oxford Owl for School. Also on Oxford Owl, find a School Improvement Pathway written by Lorraine on Outstanding SEND and Inclusion Practice to guide you step-by-step through implementing the new SEND Code of Practice in England.