|How is the Department for Education (DfE) supporting change?
Many SENCOs feel that the DfE has been rather distant in the whole process. NASEN training and their accessible summary of the new Code (supported by the DfE) and the SENCO forum have been major rungs of support.
The Code recognises the underlying causes of many behavioural issues – often related to mental health. How do SENCOs feel about this shift and are they prepared?
Many are positive about this, as they feel that it will encourage them to focus on the underlying issues – such as mental health and family needs – a shift in emphasis that is only as healthy as the support services that are there to help children with mental health issues. Budgetary constraints and SENCOs with little experience of tackling emotional health needs, combined with over-stretched and under-resourced Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), mean that there is little access to immediate training and support. For example, SENCOs feel as if they know a certain amount about attachment, but only from a school’s perspective.
The Code advocates the move to a single category. Are they prepared for this change and how do they feel about it?
A majority of the SENCOs feel that those on School Action Plus (SA+) will be likely to make up the majority of the single category. They also feel rather concerned about those who are not SA+ level getting lost in the system. Yes, the new single category will force schools to look at exactly what they are going to do for the children on the SEN register and ensure that the right quality of supports and interventions are in place. However, they are also worried about what might happen when a child needs to be referred for statutory assessment. How will it be possible to demonstrate the enhanced level of provision that used to be shown by two review cycles at SA+?
The Code advocates regular meetings with parents of pupils receiving SEN support. How will this fit in with their current approach?
All of our respondents meet regularly with parents. In this regard, the only significant change is that the pupil’s teacher will also need to be present. Generally, they see this as a positive approach, as it will ensure that all parties work even closer together to meet the needs of the child.
How ready are they for the Code?
Many Local Authorities (LAs) have set up meetings with SENCOs to disseminate key information on the Code. Despite this, unanswered questions percolate around budgets and the Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). Many SENCOs are prepping up on the single category, the school offer and what the records and the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) might look like. However, in the independent sector, existing good practice is being followed, whilst a keen eye is being kept on the state sector’s pathfinder projects.
Are their schools ready?
There is real concern that many schools are too fixated on the changes to the national curriculum to give the forthcoming Code of Practice much thought. Many members of staff are not even aware of the new Code. To add to this, it hasn’t been set in stone. Acting in advance of full publication of the Code is therefore seen as premature and a bit of a catch 22. Indeed, there is a palpable sense of frustration that so much structural transformation is taking place in education simultaneously.
What are they most unsure of?
SENCOs seem concerned by the EHCPs, the short timeline and the Code’s potentially negative impact on existing levels of care.
What are they positive about?
The opportunity to create a school-specific local approach and the recognition that each child’s behaviour is a symptom of their underlying needs.
A few final thoughts
The Code has had a bumpy ride. Objections from various SEN organisations have marked its creation and many SENCOs are concerned that it is being implemented too fast at a time of major structural change. Others feel that it presents more questions than answers and are apprehensively awaiting its institution in the new school year.