|What does your organisation do and how do you do it?
“We were set up – along with two other SEN trusts – by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the DfE) in 2007 as a partnership of all the major voluntary sector organisations that are concerned with the education of children and young people with autism. Our overriding focus is on workforce development, training and materials. Our core offer is to provide really effective training to a broad range of staff in educational settings. What makes us special is that we deliver the largest national autism education training programme; we are a unique partnership between voluntary and public sector organisations; and we focus on practical training which provides helpful strategies and approaches.”
On 11 June, the latest version of the Code of Practice was placed before Parliament. It’s been pointed out that SEND used to be ‘someone’s job’, whereas now it would appear to be ‘everyone’s job’. What impact will this shift have on those who have autism and those who work with, and care for, them?
“Many of the things that have been said about the new legislation and Code were said about the old one. For years, people have been saying that SEN is everybody’s job – quite rightly I think. Your question is a key question and goes to the heart of effective provision. But just because it’s not a new issue, doesn’t mean that the challenge has been cracked. There is still a lot to do to make SEN everybody’s job and, as far as the new legislation goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It’s what we do about it – rather than what we say about it – that will be critical.”
Will the Code shed light on the grey area, that some SENCOs feel muddies the water, regarding the support that parents and young people should expect from their school/setting?
“There are limits to what you can do in a 250-270 page document. Because there is a real trade-off – include everything and the document will be so long that it will be unusable; keep it too short and it will be too bare. Also, it doesn’t matter how much guidance you give people. If they don’t have the skills and wherewithal to address needs then, despite their good intentions, they are not going to be able to do so. Generally, the Code has the right mix between general advice and advice on specific needs. On balance, the drafters have tried their best. They have accommodated as much as I would have expected them to do and there have been noticeable changes between the first and second drafts that they have consulted on.”
The Code should include clear guidance on the minimum standards expected of schools on record keeping for pupils with SEN. Has necessary provision been made for this?
“The new Code has tried to tackle the perceived limitations of the previous Individual Education Plans (IEPs). So, the new Code has a greater focus on provision management and mapping. This reflects a whole-class, whole-school approach to provision, in contrast to the one-off IEPs, which were difficult to manage when there were large numbers of them. Also, there was a danger that the approaches used were solely linked to particular pupils and did not necessarily lead to permanent change in school provision. Whether there is sufficient clarity on the expectations of schools in the absence of IEPs is an open question. It might be unrealistic to expect the Code to fill that gap in sufficient detail on its own. The National Strategies used to provide that kind of detailed guidance, but that kind of central advice from government is now unfashionable.”
The National Autistic Society (NAS) stated that redress and accountability for parents and young people who want to challenge Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) is lacking. Do you feel that this has been tackled in the new Code?
“The government’s position is that the redress that is available under the new legislation is at least as good (if not better) than that which existed previously. The new legislation preserves the rights of the old framework and extends them – particularly in regard to post-16 provision.”
Is the Act undermined by its failure to provide a joined-up system for appealing decisions on EHCPs?
“Yes, I agree with that point, but the same problem also existed with the old framework – particularly in areas where it is unclear whether health or education should make provision. Having said that, it is important to remember that the new SEN system that we have – in terms of its assessment process and rights of appeal – is pretty transparent compared to many other areas of public provision.”
A lot of change is taking place at the same time. What are you doing to help stakeholders (particularly SENCOs) adapt to these challenges?
“Since 2011, we have been running a major national programme. Of which, the most significant feature is a training programme with three levels of training.
- Level 1 is a one-and-a-half hour course for all educational staff in a setting – be they teachers, caretakers, dinner ladies, etc.
- Level 2 is a day course for professionals who are in daily contact with young people with autism – teachers, teaching assistants, etc.
- Level 3 is a two-day course that is focused on leaders – heads, middle managers and SENCOs.
“They’re all good programmes in their own right. However, Level 3 is particularly useful for SENCOs, as it looks at strategy, whole-school approaches and evaluation, and also includes a strong focus on autism standards – which schools can use to evaluate their provision and prioritise areas of improvement. We’ve been running this since 2011 and deliver it across the country from 11 hubs. To date, we’ve trained more than 30,000 people. By April next year, we expect to tip the 40,000 mark.”
What is your abiding message for SENCOs, as they anticipate the September changes?
“The key principles of practice haven’t change overnight, but it is worth looking at what the new framework provides to see exactly how it might help SENCOs make the kind of progress that they would be looking at anyway. This could improve the provision that they offer and the kind of support that they receive. For example, the ‘local offer’ has great potential to act as a framework for local improvement and a dialogue with stakeholders – ultimately, enabling SENCOs to have an overview of what is available and put real input into its development. In short, I feel that the new legislation has a lot of potential and that the principles of good practice are maintained and developed by the new legislation even if they are not revolutionised by it.”
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