|The SEN reforms came into force on 1 September. In the fourth issue of The SEND Practitioner, Steve Huggett suggested that “the proof of the pudding would be in the eating”. In this vein – and in the spirit of the ‘Bake Off’ – how’s the pudding?
“It isn’t fully baked yet. We’ve got a fair way to go before it rises and crusts, which largely explains the next three-year transition period and transitional arrangements. Of course, the government champions the programme for change through a period of transition because they want to enable local authorities (LAs), schools, other education providers, and key health and social care stakeholders to get their feet under the table of SEN reform and get down to the business of translating policy into effective practice.
“Remember, the level of cultural change brought about by the reforms concerns changing, influencing and persuading hearts and minds to move to a position of shared values and beliefs in what and how we are improving life outcomes for children, young people and their families with SEND. It’s essentially about getting people used to, and prepared for, the taste of the cake – and that’s going to take time. So, in short, the pudding’s going to take quite a while to rise and I can’t see that anybody’s going to be diving in with their big spoon quite yet!”
What do you hope that the SEN reforms will achieve?
“Recently I attended a ministerial meeting on the reforms, celebrating the contribution of young people, children and their families to the reform programme. I asked them a similar question, to which they replied: ‘to be heard’. A young person that I spoke with elaborated further, saying:
‘I want my voice to be heard, I want to be listened to and I want to see that it has influenced any determining outcomes for me and I want those outcomes to be delivered on. I need people, services and the delivery of those services to enable me to meet those outcomes in the next few years of my life.’
“For me, being an ex-teacher, ex-head and chief executive of nasen, there are four key elements that I would hope to see happen.”
1. I want to see a real change in ethos
“The reforms are actually about making sure that the needs of children and families are at the heart of everything that we do. We need to be able to pull a golden thread through everything that ties us and trace it back to the heart of our mission and vision. We are the public face of our education system on behalf of this entire country. We need to show that we recognise that, and that we care. And how do we do that? We need to:
- Demonstrate this shift in ethos through the language that we use and the emails and letters that we send home.
- Communicate effectively with parents to enable us to extract unique sets of information from parents and carers about their children/young people.
- Build a picture of need, so that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
2. I want to see a highly knowledgeable, skilled and sensitive workforce deliver with real heart and soul
“We have to:
- Ensure that, within the context of the SEN reforms, the re-calibration of teacher accountability for SEN support is firmly couched within Chapter Six of the new Code.
- Have teachers who are fit for purpose – who know what autism-friendly, dyslexia-friendly and speech, language and communication-effective practice look like.
- Develop a whole-workforce offer of continuing professional development (CPD), support and training that covers the transitional period of SEN reform for the next two years and beyond.
- Professionalise CPD in teaching, using accessible online learning that will enable a teacher to be mentored professionally by their SENCO within their setting.”
3. I want staff to creatively adapt our learning environments
“We need to know that the staff who we’re putting into our classrooms and learning environments are skilled enough to be truly resourceful practitioners. After all, those who provide public services are required by law (particularly disability discrimination legislation) to make reasonable adjustments for children and young people with a disability. In this vein, we must:
- Adapt and adjust to the needs of each and every child and young person – not just those of disabled youngsters, but all children who are not following a model of expectation.
- Put in place systems and processes that are flexible, highly creative in terms of their response, and can adapt to whichever pupil flows through each classroom’s door.
- Support these systems with effective communication and CPD.”
4. I want schools to have access to high-quality, well-resourced and well-funded research into interventions.
“There is a great opportunity for you, at this very point in the term, to take stock of the effectiveness of the range of interventions and packages that you are providing in your school/setting. To determine this, simply ask yourself the following key questions:
- How well are the interventions working?
- Are they delivering on exactly what they were designed to deliver?
- Are you delivering on the planned progress that you expect from those intervention packages of support?
- Are you getting the results that you should be getting?
- If your answer to the previous question is “no”, how long have you been delivering this for?
- If you know that this isn’t working, why are you continuing to use it?
“The bottom line is this, we all need to work out how to operate effectively and efficiently, financially and staffing-wise, to deliver interventions that really work for children and young people. It’s not about spending more to deliver more; it’s about looking at the effectiveness of support by analysing the outcomes. After all, if you’re not getting good outcomes for your children and young people, then you need to question why you are doing it in the first place.”
The SEND Gateway is an online resource hub that you have established to help practitioners navigate the reforms more effectively. What future content and resources will you develop for the Gateway?
“The SEND Gateway was set up in partnership with the government to ensure that all voluntary community service (VCS) organisations who receive voluntary grants funding were pooled together as a community of providers. The range of resources, information and guidance which VCS providers produced, by way of their government-funded activity, is the basis of the content on our online portal – otherwise known as the SEND Gateway. Currently, all of the information on the Gateway is free.
“As of 3 October, we have broadened out our audience of contributors, from the original DfE-funded 76 organisations, to now include paid-for content. Following that, in the next stage before Christmas we will recruit outstanding settings, schools and colleges, to share their practical resources, information, training and events on the Gateway as contributors and publishers too. Publishing resources designed by schools and settings to support and share with schools and settings is a fantastic way to utilise the real strengths of the SEND Gateway and one that I am very excited about.
“From January through to March next year, we will open up the Gateway to the commercial world, utilising very carefully selected commercial contributors. This, in turn, will give us an income stream that we will reinvest back into the Gateway. This will enable it to become sustainable over time. However, between now and Christmas, we are focusing on specific resources that will enable settings to use and apply their own skills around SEND support requirements and the application of the graduated approach.”
Has your long-term strategy for the Gateway been affected by anxieties on the ground?
“It’s always been part of our long-term strategy. We have a standard version that’s open access and that all members of the public can view. However, if you’re a member of nasen, then you’ll be able to access the members’ area – which is very different from that which the vast majority of people are getting on the Gateway. We’ve increased our membership by just over 1,000 in ten months – a significant expansion for an organisation of our size. We now need to continue to work hard to give our members exactly what they want, via our membership offer, while also providing a free-to-access resource via the Gateway. The whole premise behind the Gateway, is that we have to bear the busy practitioner in mind. To achieve this, we worked closely with schools in focus groups as we developed it. It was their views and feedback that were critical to its success.”
A reader’s question: How accountable are LAs and their partners?
“Accountability for LAs is now on the statute book. Take the local offer for example. The local offer is the new duty placed on LAs, not on schools. Therefore, it is clearly each LA’s responsibility to ensure that the local offer is produced and available online, accessible for all parents and kept under review by ensuring that parents, carers and young people are engaged at all steps in the process. Remember, there is no such thing as a school offer and there is no such thing as a school’s local offer. There is such a thing as the school’s contribution to the local offer and that is essentially what your SEN information report is designed to do.
“There has been a real lack of clarity and some interesting interpretations of what the local offer accountabilities mean for some LAs across the country. There has also been enormous pressure placed on schools to deliver the goods when the LAs received a substantial amount of additional funding for the implementation of the new reforms – and yet we know of increasing levels of pressure placed on schools and a raised level of expectation to do much of the LA-focused work for them.
“Under the new arrangements, schools should expect a strong and healthy level of consultation and dialogue with them and their LA. Under a new duty, schools are required to cooperate with the LA in producing the local offer. However, ‘cooperate’ as a word is very much open to interpretation… what does it mean? In practical terms, it is about the connection between the local offer and the school’s contribution towards the local offer – which is, in short, the SEN information report. Also, it is about schools and other education providers feeling sufficiently well connected with their LA to provide the intelligence which should inform and influence the joint strategic needs assessments which LAs are undertaking to ensure that any gaps in provision at a local level are exposed and recognised. In this way, schools and settings can provide a sound evidence-base for informing the development of new services and provision over time.”
A reader’s question: Does the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) include an educational psychologist’s (EP’s) report and is it statutory?
“The EP report is still a statutory requirement within the planning process. EPs play a central part in helping providers to deal with the SEN requirements of their learners, by identifying the type of support required and assisting teachers in delivering it. But a shortage of EPs to work in schools, colleges and nurseries could scupper the reforms. The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) has claimed that there is already a shortfall in the number of trainee psychologists coming through the system. In order to help schools, colleges and other providers meet the increased responsibilities resulting from the change in the law, extra funding is being provided to increase the number of training places to 132 for each of the next two years.
“More particularly, we really need to think about ‘the team around the child’ model. The child and family are best placed to identify who they want from their circle to contribute to their review. It’s critical that we listen to young people and their families. Only through them, can we fulfil the requirement to build a really accurate picture of need that will determine their long-term outcomes during the planning process.”
A reader’s question: A number of our readers said that LAs have given them high needs funding on their base budget to meet the needs of children with SEN. However, neither our readers nor their schools could find the funding and appear to have lost money on the overall budget. Do LAs have a duty to be transparent about the value of the money and where it has gone?
“For some schools, it can feel as if there is a lack of transparency around funding for SEN. However, the notional SEN budget isn’t ring-fenced, which means that some schools might use that budget in a variety of different ways and not necessarily exclusively for SEN provision.
If you require further information from your LA:
- Contact your LA, who will be working with the schools forum of head teachers to develop a local funding formula using the same elements that will be used in allocating money for individual non-academy schools.
- Identify your head teacher representative.
- When you have determined this, it is down to your school’s senior leaders to make those connections with your local schools forum representatives.
- Every SENCO should establish what their base budget is, for they are responsible for costing and coordinating the provision on behalf of the whole-school.
“On the other hand, schools also need to get their stalls in order and demonstrate that they are spending the core SEN budget efficiently and effectively:
- Are their provisions accurately costed and well-described?
- Can they tell you exactly what they are offering to every single child and young person in their school?
- Has your school spent their entire budget according to their universal offer, their targeted offer and any specialist provision that they may be providing.
- Where, in your school, is the tipping point between “we can’t provide any more because we’ve reached our limit” and “this is how we demonstrate how we’ve used our budget by costing out the provision against the accurately recorded cohort of needs across the school?
“If you can identify clear answers to these questions, then you should be confident that you are providing the best quality provision you can to each and every pupil in your school. LAs should be able to recognise where schools cannot do anymore and will require top-up element 3 funding to meet some pupils’ needs.”
What’s your main message to practitioners over the coming year?
“Keep calm and don’t panic. If you’re confident that you’re providing good quality provision for all children in your setting, then the new SEN requirements should not be a great challenge for you. Whatever you do, make sure that you use this year as an opportunity to review and reflect on your good, and maybe not so good, practices. Take stock and remember that you’ve only got this year to do that, so make sure that you do it well! We also know that the government expects all children who are currently recorded on School Action (SA) or School Action Plus (SA+) to have been adopted into the new SEN support arrangements by the end of the spring term ideally, but certainly by the end of this academic year.”
Review, reflect and be ready
“Taking all of this on board, during the coming year, you need to review, reflect and be ready. You will be able to do this if you:
- Assess your provision and cost it accurately.
- Link your statutory requirements for providing online SEN information reports to your local offer.
- Scrutinise your SEN policy and make sure that it is co-produced with parents, families, carers and pupils and engage them in the whole process to get them on board.
- Visit nasen’s SEND Gateway and read the following document: ‘GUIDANCE FOR SCHOOLS: STARTING YOUR REVIEW OF YOUR SEN POLICY FOR SEPTEMBER 2014’. Go to the second page of this document and pop the suggested statement of review into your policy. This will cover you and buy you the time to review your policy properly. For ease of reference, you will also find the statement in the pull-out box directly below.
- Remember, it’s not just about the policy, it’s about the process. Engage and invest in the review process in a co-produced way and your policy, and its quality, will improve.
- Review your SEN register – alongside this you will also need to think about the management of pupils – from SA/SA+ to SEN Support.
“Through all of this, nasen will be here to hold your hand. Use nasen membership and the resources on our Gateway to successfully navigate the coming year. If you can’t find something that you need, come and ask us for it. If we haven’t got it, then we will generate it for you!”