Issue five: The SEND Practitioner

The SEND Practitioner
Issue five
A Q&A with Gareth D Morewood – adapting and preparing for SEN reform
July 2014

Editorial

On Tuesday 29 July, at 15.29, with a clarion call to arms, the DfE tweeted that: “our new Code has been given the seal of approval”. One could almost hear the cheers and roars of approval break, like a wave, across the country. Finally, after many weeks of ping ponging between the Houses, this lengthy rally – of which the Commonwealth Games would most probably be proud – had reached its natural conclusion. With the Act and the new Code in place come 1 September, the proof and the pudding will take centre stage in under five weeks.

With that in mind, and with such a short time between now and September, we want to do our best to help SEND professionals prepare. We were therefore delighted when Gareth D Morewood – SENCO, author and all-round SEND guru – agreed to answer your questions. We collated your questions, put them to Gareth and he has really shed light on this complex area.

This is truly a bumper issue. However, with the changes in September being so significant, we wanted to create something that you can refer to in the coming weeks. To that end, and because there is so much useful practical information here, we have created a clickable contents list with abridged questions just below this editorial to help you navigate this tome.

We hope that you find this month’s e-zine particularly useful. If you have any queries, thoughts, comments or concerns, please do get in touch.

Kind regards,

Edward Farrow
Editor
editor@realgroup.co.uk

PS: If you do not currently subscribe to this publication, but would like to receive it in your in box every month, please do sign up. Also, if you want to receive the latest updates on SEN and The SEND Practitioner, follow us on Twitter.

In this issue
Key resources

Special discounts for our readers

A Q&A with Gareth D Morewood: Adapting and preparing for SEN reform

About the author

Key resources

Special discounts for our readers

We have also negotiated a number of discounts with Optimus Education for the following two training packs and their autumn New SEND Framework conference. Gareth is speaking at the conference and has created both training packs:

A Q&A with Gareth D Morewood
Adapting and preparing for SEN reform

What are the reforms?

“First, I think it is useful to remind ourselves why reform was considered necessary:

  • Two million children and young people identified as having a special educational need or who are disabled.
  • Life outcomes are disproportionately poor.
  • Post-16 young people with SEN are more than twice as likely to not be in education, employment or training (NEET) as those without SEN.
  • Children and young people can feel frustrated by a lack of the right help at school or from other services.
  • Children’s support needs can be identified late.
  • Parents/carers say the system is bureaucratic, bewildering and adversarial.
  • Parents/carers have had limited choices about the best schools and care.

“Few would argue that things need to change. Indeed, many would argue that the systems had become the primary focus of provision – not the child/young person themselves. There is a clear need to move away from a medicalised, process-driven model, to a system that allows for a more fluid approach that genuinely keeps the young person central to all decisions and provision. It’s about being a good advocate:

‘To be a modern SENCO many skills are needed. Most importantly, in my view, is to have a solid philosophical base from which to start your work. From there you need to be able to advocate for students and parents/carers but also mediate and listen.’

(Quoted from Gareth’s ‘The 21st-century SENCO’)

“There was a real need for change; however some of the processes supporting the trials and developments of the legislation could have been more effective. We can’t go back now, but, as SENCOs, we can have a real impact on the future through our practice.”

As a practising SENCO at a large school, how will you implement the reforms?

“Before we tackle this question, we need to recognise that the provision for young people with SEND has to be part of a whole-school approach – not, as in the worst examples, a ‘bolt-on’ or part of a medicalised model. During 2012-13, I wrote, developed and delivered over 20 national sessions for nasen’s ‘Whole School Approach to Improving Access, Participation and Achievement’ web pages. They are as current now as they were then.

“The key for SENCOs is not about implementing or doing, but about a shift in culture. No amount of intervention can make up for poor quality teaching. Indeed, the bedrock of any school is the teaching and learning. The teaching and learning should revolve around additional interventions (a graduated response) that follow from specific data that, when taken together, support a targeted approach.

“I would encourage you to:

  • Download the nasen slide pack.
  • Download and adapt this presentation and present it to your staff using INSET time to let your staff know about the key changes that they can expect to encounter.
  • Read the rest of this interview and incorporate any additional points into your presentation.
  • Stay calm – you don’t have to do everything from 1 September, there is a transition period and this will allow schools to respond in a manner that matches their particular circumstances.
  • Keep parents/carers informed, train staff and keep the young person at the heart of everything that you do.”

What key impacts will the SEN reforms have on your role and your setting?

“While Pathfinders attempted to trial some key elements of reform, many trials haven’t provided scalable options and few have a tangible evidence-base that supports implementation. I saw an opportunity to develop provision alongside existing systems. We moved towards a single category two years ago, supported by our well-established whole-school approach to provision.

“I want to create a sustainable provision that meets the needs of our students as early as possible. We have a trainee educational psychologist (TEP), our own speech and language therapist (SALT), a psychotherapist and (from September) a drama therapist one day per week. I don’t want to wait for a completed form or evidence a period of failure. All the roles can be supported by simply thinking and structuring differently. They don’t cost much more than TA roles (£15k for TEP; £16k for term-time SALT, etc.) and provide increased flexibility.

“Also, do bear in mind the findings of the Lancashire Judgement (1989). It ruled that it was as important to be able to speak and communicate as it was to read and write. And yet, we have amazing literacy interventions and systems of support, but very little SALT input. This will be reinforced in the new arrangements – so do consider working with your NHS Trust and clinical commissioning group (CCG) to ensure that there is more SALT input. Our evidence suggests that this approach can have a significant impact. Also, take a look at the following illuminating resources:

What challenges will you encounter and how have you/will you overcome them?

“The main challenges in any change or reform are misinformation and understanding.

  • Most importantly, keep yourself informed with as much impartial information as possible – and then consider the reality of this in light of your setting/the area your school serves.
  • Know the parameters in which you work – as mentioned later in this interview, the best thing I did as a new SENCO was to undertake legal training.
  • It’s your profession, so be accountable.
  • Find solutions, as a SENCO it’s one of your key skills, so apply it to new ways of working that not only meet your children’s needs but also provide them with the best possible outcomes.”

The Code advocates a move to a single category. Are you prepared for this change and, if so, how have you gone about preparing for this?

“In my school, we (effectively) moved towards a single category two years ago. This had little impact upon the provision and outcomes, not only due to the manner in which we work (as part of a whole-school approach), but also the fact that we expect every teacher to be responsible for all young people – irrespective of their need/starting point. Too often, School Action (SA) and School Action Plus (SAP) supported a medicalised model based upon failure – waiting to ‘evidence’ six months’ struggling before being ‘allowed’ by LA gatekeepers to provide what was blatantly needed anyway. However, different schools are in different places with regard to this.

“If your school is very focused on the SA/SAP process, then I’d suggest that you focus on a shift in culture. Most SA students should have their needs met through quality first inclusive teaching (QFIT), so there really shouldn’t be a need to ‘label’ them just because they are learning differently, at a different pace, or have specific needs that can be catered for with well-resourced and adapted teaching and learning.

“We ditched IEPs and introduced student passports five years ago. This is part of the whole-school approach that I spoke about earlier and is vital to meeting individual needs.

What do you think an education, health and care plan (EHCP) will look like?

“Many EHCPs are not legally compliant, even those showcased from Pathfinder work. I would advise you to read IPSEA’s ‘EHC plan checklist’ for the best guidance on this.

“The checklist sets out what must legally be included as a minimum in any EHCP (‘EHC plan‘) issued by a Local Authority (‘LA‘) under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (section 37) and the SEN Code of Practice. Implementation is currently intended to start from 1 September 2014. The checklist will be updated soon, as the new SEN Regulations and SEN Code of Practice received final approval on 29 July. An EHCP should always reflect the following four key statutory principles:

  1. The views, wishes and feelings of the child and his or her parent, or the young person.
  2. The importance of the child and his or her parent/carer, or the young person, participating as fully as possible in decisions relating to the exercise of the function concerned.
  3. The importance of the child and his or her parent/carer, or the young person, being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions.
  4. The need to support the child and his or her parent/carer, or the young person, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.

(Children and Families Act 2014, part 3, section 19, IPSEA additions in bold)

“Plans should be ‘clear, concise, understandable and accessible to parents, children, young people, providers and practitioners’. The law also requires needs and provision to be ‘specified’, which case law has established means no vagueness, especially in the provision sections. This was also the case with statements; however with EHCPs providing a better focus on outcomes, I hope that they will be much more effective. Regional variance may prove an issue, although with specified sections and the Act being quite specific, I am hopeful that we will not see a postcode lottery.

“Remember, any new assessment request from 1 September will be for an EHCP – so no ‘new’ statements will be processed after 31 August 2014… and Lord Nash clearly stated that any child with a statement currently should have an EHCP; thresholds shouldn’t be different.”

For children with less complex needs, SEN support will replace School Action and School Action Plus. How will you ensure a smooth transition – whereby the appropriate support is available to allow this to happen?

“It is essential that schools provide, as a baseline, quality first inclusive teaching (QFIT). One of the main parts of my SENCO role is training staff and supporting their development. When staff are observed and usual appraisal processes undertaken, as part of good practice, every teacher and member of the support staff should have at least one SEND-related target strategy. Training is vital and has been such a significant element of my role over the last decade or so. You can’t change everything overnight, but starting with a clear audit of existing skills and need and delivering training to support that need is an important part of this process and makes up the whole-school approach that I have already touched on.

“You can get a practical flavour of this approach and access many of these materials in the following training pack: SEND for Classroom Teachers: Providing quality first, inclusive teaching” (enter discount code GFM25 at checkout to get 25% off).

As a SENCO, trying to put together a local offer for a school, to be ready on 1 September, what is the best way to present this and go about it (eg: grid/table, word document, different headings and essentials to include)?

“There is no duty on schools to produce a local offer or school offer, or anything of that ilk. Indeed, there are many misconceptions. For example, some LAs suggest that schools need to produce a school offer and that this is statutory – this is certainly not the case. Schools have a duty to provide SEND information on their websites and to link to the LA’s local offer. However, in all instances, the duty to produce the local offer is on the LA, not the schools.

“Recently, there has also been a subtle, yet important, change in wording. SENCOs will now need to provide information ‘from September’; therefore they shouldn’t spend all summer writing materials and updating policy documents, etc. Instead, SENCOs should:

  • Draft new parent/carer friendly documents in the new academic year.
  • Set up meetings with parents/carers to discuss/finalise – this supports co-production and allows for genuine parent/carer involvement and feedback.

“Post-meeting, the SENCO should create and distribute SEND information that includes:

  • Who to contact for more information.
  • An updated policy that reflects the new ways of working.
  • Detailed information regarding how your school/setting meets the needs of the young people who attend.
  • And any other information useful for your specific setting and/or circumstance.

Read my ‘SEND Information Template for schools’ to aid discussion/thinking regarding provision and information for parents/carers.”

What is the best way to use the legislation to each SENCO’s advantage?

“One of the most effective things I did early on as a SENCO was to volunteer for IPSEA, as part of which I received legal training. Ultimately, whatever the LAs say, the law trumps all – as a SENCO, knowing the law is one of the most powerful things you can do. Check IPSEA’s website regularly, support them and get appropriate legal training too. Also, take a look at Douglas Silas’s excellent website. Ultimately, until some case law is tested under the new arrangements, some specifics won’t become clear. However, a good understanding of the law is one of the most important things a SENCO should have, and one of the things that many SENCOs don’t possess. Remember that:

  • LAs are as responsible for EHCPs as they are for statements.
  • The most direct route to request an assessment is via a parent/carer request – you can get model letters from IPSEA’s website – I often write them for parents/carers and get them to sign.
  • There is no legal requirement for evaluated IEPs or anything like that – despite what some LAs may say. So, if an LA insists and refuses statutory assessment based upon their own requirements from a checklist; simply explain that you will clarify this point at a tribunal – it wins every time. Ultimately, I hope that the new legislation provides a good opportunity to put that myth to bed once and for all!”

What is your advice to SENCOs who are concerned about the fact that key elements of their role may be delegated to non-qualified staff under the new Code?

“Under the new arrangements, it is vital that each SENCO is a qualified teacher and has the appropriate NASCO award. Currently (although this may change after the next election), the SENCO is the only qualified member of staff in a school (with QTS) – even head teachers can come from different backgrounds. A lot of work will need to be done to ensure that the SENCO role is protected; although I fear that misconceptions at SLT level allow for arrangements that are not compliant.

“Most of all, keep a positive, solution-focused outlook!”

What is your practical advice to SENCOs who are worried that the reforms will mean that they won’t be able to have a closer look at some children with early difficulties?

“Early identification and support are critically important. As it stands, schools have a wealth of information and data on individual progress and attainment, etc. as well as records on attendance, engagements and rewards. During the initial stages of the old system, information of this quality simply wasn’t available. Now, schools are so data-rich that this data should be used. This, coupled with each teacher’s responsibility for all children, provides a renewed focus on the need to foster a genuinely inclusive approach.

“You can find out more about the real value and impact of inclusive education in the following online article that I wrote for the Alliance for Inclusive Education.”

What is your main message for SENCOs, as they anticipate the changes in September?

  • “Don’t panic and spend all summer preparing in a panic. Remember, the wording clearly states that it is ‘from September’, which means that you don’t have to have everything in place on 1 September.
  • Consider carefully what your setting offers and how that may need to evolve/change.
  • Always try and match the provision to your circumstance.
  • Ensure that you have support from appropriate networks – an excellent one that all SENCOs should join is the SENCO forum. It’s free to join and you simply need to email Terry Waller to do so.
  • Sign up to a high-quality SEND event – such as The New SEND Framework: Legal Obligations and Practical Solutions on Tuesday 11 November 2014, which I will be speaking at” (enter discount code SENDPrac at checkout to get 20% off).
How would you advise SENCOs to adapt to this new landscape?

“Ultimately, the new systems will take time to settle and develop – which is why the transition period runs up until April 2018. However, during this period, there will be a mismatch of old and new statements and EHCPs; while some areas/LAs/schools will be well informed and others will not. Taking all of this on board, you will need to listen, read and ensure that you are as informed as you can be. The top places to find information/materials and support are:

If you could give, say, a step process for each and every SENCO to prepare between now and September, what would it be?

“First, read my ‘Whole-School Action Plan’. Then, look at all of your key stakeholders using the Assess-Plan-Do-Review model from the draft Code in the pull-out box below.

Develop a clear, whole-school plan to support specific need and develop provision in light of the new arrangements
Students – introduce student passports for all students with a statement of SEN (or EHCP):

•    Assess – gauge the effectiveness of IEPs or other systems.
•    Plan – trial your student passport with a small number of parents/carers.
•    Do – implement for a cohort, e.g. for students with statements.
•    Review – ask all stakeholders after half-term use, what impact has it had on students/carers.

Parents/carersread and use ‘Understanding parental confidence in an inclusive high school: a pilot survey’ to analyse parent/carer confidence and develop an action plan:

•    Assess – use the ‘Morewood-Bond’ confidence measure noted above.
•    Plan – choose two or three areas for improvement.
•    Do – use resources to develop communications and add discussion groups/feedback opportunities.
•    Review – use the confidence measure again.

Staffuse the adapted ‘Whole School SEND Audit’ and deliver training to the needs of support staff:

•    Assess – use the audit referred to above.
•    Plan – choose two or three areas of need.
•    Do – use the training resources available to plan and deliver training.
•    Review – use the audit again to evidence impact.

“Finally, ask yourself the following key questions:

  • Does the inclusive curriculum offer match your students’ needs? Make sure that you have discussions with your head teacher and governors to identify the best curriculum offer for your students – and always keep your students at the heart of the decision-making process.
  • Are you being realistic about the things that you can/cannot do?
  • Are you keeping parents/staff/carers informed of the changes that are taking place? Communicate change to all parties and bring them with you. Adapt this useful presentation for INSET and present it at the start of your term.
  • Have you checked all of the facts and balanced what you can/cannot do carefully?

A few final thoughts

“As with any change, a lot of potential issues may arise. However, with change comes great opportunity. There is an awful lot of information and support out there, so embrace it and you will find that being a SENCO doesn’t need to be a lonely job. In fact, it is one of the most rewarding jobs. So, I wish you all the best of luck and urge you to remember that:

‘An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.’ (Anon.)

“Finally, of all the themes that you can focus on, preparing for adulthood is perhaps the most important. Whatever you do, don’t let any transition arrangements create a generation gap in provision. If what you do now works well, keep doing it, for it will still work well this September.”

About the author

Gareth D Morewood is director of curriculum support (SENCO) at Priestnall School, Stockport. This large comprehensive secondary school in the north-west of England was awarded an ‘outstanding’ judgment by Ofsted in June 2011. Prior to that whole-school judgment, SEND provision had regularly been judged as outstanding (2004, 2008 and 2011). He has worked voluntarily supporting parents and carers with SEND legislation and in preparing cases for SENDIST, and is vice chair of the advisory group for the DfE-hosted SENCO Forum.

In July 2012, Gareth was appointed an honorary research fellow in education at the University of Manchester and continues to develop research-based support and intervention systems as part of a whole-school approach – while maintaining a focus on the wider inclusive agenda. Gareth is a specialist leader of education and regularly supports other schools in developing their SEND provision. He is associate editor of the Good Autism Practice Journal and speaks, guides and consults across the country.

From September, Gareth takes up the post of independent chair of the Essex LA SEND Innovations Project; supporting bids for resources in the form of funding and additional expertise in order to promote and support innovation around SEND strategy, practice and performance in Essex.

Take a look at Gareth’s website for a wealth of additional information and resources – www.gdmorewood.com

If you have any questions about the prospective Code of Practice, or there is anything that you would like us to feature in future issues, please do get in touch.