The SEND Practitioner
Issue 3
May 2014

Issue three: The SEND Practitioner

 

The SEND Practitioner
Issue three
A Q&A with the DfE’s Stephen Kingdom
May 2014

 

Editorial

As part of our ongoing commitment to SEND practitioners, we wanted to put your questions on the forthcoming SEN reforms directly to the government. We asked you to let us know the key questions that you would like to ask and received a great response. We collated the questions and posed them to Stephen Kingdom – the civil servant behind the new Code of Practice and the Children and Families Act 2014.

As ever, thank you for your interest and thank you for taking the time to send us your questions. We hope that you find this issue useful and would welcome any comments or suggestions that you might have.

Kind regards,

Edward Farrow
Editor
editor@realgroup.co.uk

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In this issue: 

Asking the government your questions about SEN reform

Our ‘Publications and resources’ are now accessible online

Asking the government your questions about SEN reform
Our SENCOs are concerned that children on the old School Action and Action Plus might get lost in the system. Under the new Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), how do we prevent this from happening? 

“If schools know who their children with SEN are; know how they’re doing; know what support they’ve put in place to support those children; and know what impact that support is having; then they are doing all of the things that the new Code is expecting them to do. So, that support is still there and, where needed, schools will still have access to external agencies. The other thing that the Code emphasises is the importance of engaging and consulting with parents, so that parents understand their child’s needs and what support the school is putting in place.”

The new EHCP system places education first. Does that mean that educationalists, teachers and SENCOs will need to lead the way forward? Would it also become the teacher’s responsibility to contact outside agencies to coordinate and deliver the plan?

“The arrangements require local authorities and clinical commissioning groups in the health service to have agreed arrangements for how they work together and the joint commissioning of services. It should therefore be much clearer for schools and others about how agencies work together and how they access that additional support. The Children and Families Act doesn’t place new responsibilities on schools in terms of engaging with other agencies. Rather, it should make those arrangements for agencies working together much more transparent and much clearer.”

Some of our SENCOs are wondering, if the primary need was social care, would it actually be the social care part of the local authority (LA) that would then take the lead in the plan, or will it always be the LA’s SEN department taking the lead because of their responsibility for organising it?

“I think that different LAs may have different arrangements. It is important to say that the criteria for getting an EHCP are the same as the criteria for getting a statement. This means that the front door – the key point of contact – is education, and therefore often the SENCO – as it’s an educational need that triggers an EHCP. However, you would bring in other services, if it is clear that other services are required. So, if the social care need is the greatest part, then the LA might put more of that coordination into the social care element. But, ultimately, that is a decision for LAs.”

Some of our SENCOs are worried that more EP time will be taken to fulfil the EHCP assessments and to cover the wider age range. What can you say to assure them that there is enough EP time available in their schools?

“Again, this is an issue for LAs. They do have the statutory responsibility to carry out the assessments and to get the professional advice that’s needed to do that – say using EPs. Of course, with the up-to-25 age range extension, EP support may be needed over a larger age range. But, LAs will still have to put in place the support to support children. The local offer will set out what those services are with greater transparency and the government has agreed to put arrangements in place that support EP training to ensure that the flow of new EPs into the profession continues. We were aware of the concerns that the LAs might pull away from this type of funding so, prior to the Act but after the green paper, we took steps to secure the training of EPs.”

While all schools have a SENCO with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), many tell us that lots of non-qualified staff do much of the day-to-day role. Is it acceptable for the SENCO to delegate so much of the role under the new Code?

“Well, the SENCO has clear responsibilities under the Code, but it really depends on what you mean by ‘delegating the role’. Admin work is not the best use of a SENCO’s time, so delegating that sort of work is a good thing. However, SENCOs certainly shouldn’t delegate their expertise.”

Will the DfE give guidance on which criteria should be used by LAs to determine the level of notional SEN budgets for individual schools?

“The funding system changed last year, a change which was separate to the Children and Families Act 2014. We will continue to review how it’s operating as the Act is implemented. However, it is each LA’s duty to make sure that this happens. This is a local issue, whereby the LAs decide the budget and determine how that funding works for schools within the high needs funding national framework.”

Will it be the same mechanism used for academies and, to ensure parity, will the government be putting national criteria in place?

“We’re not working on national criteria at this stage. But, yes, an individual LA should be making those decisions on an institution-consistent basis across maintained schools and academies. Of course, that’s one reason for the changes to the funding system. We want a funding system that is consistent across mainstream schools and academies.”

Do all of these legislative changes apply to British services and independent schools overseas? If there are differences, can you shed light on the particulars?

“The legislation doesn’t apply to schools overseas, but Service Children Education (SCE) seeks to replicate the kind of arrangements that we have in this country. Colleagues of mine have been talking to them about that and taking them through the changes. The Code does include information about service children, particularly when service children are moving between areas and it’s about how LAs should support them in doing that.”

If teachers are now completely responsible for SEN in the classroom, does it make TAs redundant, or is there still a role for them in schools?

“No, there is very much a role for them in schools. However, their role is to support the teacher in supporting the child. By that, I am not saying that the child with the greatest needs in the class should be the responsibility of the adult in the class with the least professional experience. That responsibility is with the classroom teacher. But, we know that the best practice is when the teacher and the TA work as a team. There will still be a key role for TAs, but it’s about how they work in a way that supports the education and development of the child.”

How will the government make sure that teachers will be trained to meet the needs of SEN students by September 2014? Also, how confident are you that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) will be able to meet the needs of SEN students?

“This isn’t a big bang, a lot has been going on over time to help the teaching profession increase its capacity and capability to support children with SEN.

  • There is a much stronger emphasis on SEN within initial teacher training.
  • We are supporting the Teaching Schools Alliance to support schools.
  • We’ve got special schools who are teaching schools and spreading their expertise.
  • We have produced various impairment-specific training materials to increase awareness, understanding and competence with external organisations such as the Autism Education Trust.
  • We have also recently confirmed another round of teaching scholarships for teachers to take further qualifications on supporting children with SEN.

“Ultimately, though, the responsibility for each teacher’s continuing professional development (CPD) is the responsibility of the school and this should be a key focus of each school’s work. The accountability system puts a real emphasis on the progress made by all pupils in a school. It is therefore imperative that schools are able to support all of their pupils. Nationally, just under 20% of children are identified as having SEN, this is a significant proportion of the pupil population and schools must ensure that their internal professional development programmes are addressing this.”

nasen Live arrives

On 21-22 May, nasen Live arrives at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. Following on from last month’s Q&A with The SEND Practitioner, Lorraine Petersen will run a workshop about the new SEN Code of Practice, examining how settings can develop the positive use of additional support. On Wednesday 21 at 13.30, Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families and Jane Friswell, CEO, nasen, provide delegates with the latest SEND update and introduce a brand new free SEN Gateway resource from nasen and other leading voluntary sector providers.

So, it is right to assume that teachers are being given greater responsibility? 

“Yes, that’s right and the best teachers always have. They should feel responsible for the progress of all the pupils in their classroom.”

Our SENCOs are saying that there’s a tension between greater teacher responsibility and the early identification of SEN. Some SENCOs feel that they won’t be having as much of a closer look at some of the children with early difficulties. What is your response to this?

“There doesn’t need to be a tension there. If a classroom teacher is identifying barriers to progress for pupils, they should be talking to the SENCO about the nature of those barriers and how they can use a SENCO’s expertise and support to put in place the right interventions. It’s not about the teacher saying “OK, this child has SEN, SENCO, can you deal with them, TA can you deal with them?” It’s actually about working as a team and drawing on expertise within their school – whether a SENCO or other teachers with particularly relevant expertise.”

So, it’s about harnessing professional conversations about children, rather than handing the responsibility over for somebody else to look at the child and sort it out.

“Yes, absolutely. Each SENCO’s role is to support teachers in their responsibilities for the progress of all the pupils in their class.”

How do you envisage the reforms working with independent schools? As it stands, independent schools have fee income, but it costs significantly more to educate children with SEND. Within the constraints of the Equality Act, it would seem as if independent schools face a Hobson’s choice about whether to put fees up or be selective. Some of our SENCOs feel that the reforms could lead to independent schools being less inclusive, rather than more. How can you assure them that this will not happen?

“Nothing in the Act changes the position for mainstream independent schools.”

What are the implications of section 41 for independent special schools? Some of our SENCOs understand that these schools can opt in or out of taking pupils with EHCPs. Therefore, what are the implications of section 41, the pros and cons, and can you clarify the relationship between funding and local offers?

“First, there isn’t a clear, delineated definition of an independent school, so writing them into law is difficult. Secondly, not all independent special schools want to be under the duty to admit. We created section 41 to address this problem and it allows independent special schools to be named on the published Secretary of State’s list of institutions that will come fully into the system. No school will be named on a list against its will, but if a parent requests a place at one of those schools – to be named on their EHCP – the LA will be under the same qualified duty to name that institution as it would if it were a maintained school, academy, a non-maintained special school, or an FE college. At that point, the institution would be under a duty to admit.

“Independent special schools wishing to stay as they are can do so, and parents will still have exactly the same ability as now to make representations. As now, the LA will have to consider those representations, but that is not as strong as the qualified duty to meet that request. And the tribunal would still be able to tell LAs to name a particular institution. So, it’s an option for independent special schools. They can stay with the status quo, or they can come a bit more into the system.”

How can the Pupil Premium and the changes to the Code co-exist?

“The Pupil Premium is a resource to support children from deprived backgrounds and will enable interventions to narrow attainment gaps between other groups and their peers. The Code is about narrowing the gaps for children with SEN. There is significant overlap between these two groups and the Pupil Premium is part of the resource in place to support schools in delivering for children to whom schools are responsible.”

As a closing question, what is your overarching message to SENCOs, as they anticipate the raft of changes that will take place in September?

“There is absolutely nothing to fear if you know:

  • The children in your school.
  • The children who have SEN and other additional needs.
  • What progress they are making.
  • What support you are putting in place.
  • How well that support’s working.
  • Where you’ll go if it’s not working.
  • That you’re engaging with parents.

“It’s about carrying on and reinforcing good practice and those ways of working. The more strategic elements of the reforms on LAs and clinical commissioning groups require that they work together to publish a local offer of services normally available. Taken as a whole, this should give parents and schools much greater certainty about what support’s available to help them do a good job.”

 

Stephen Kingdom

Stephen Kingdom is the Deputy Director for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities at the Department for Education. He joined the then Department for Education and Science in 1991. Since then he has worked in a wide range of posts across schools, children’s services and education finance. These include working on the children’s social care, academies policy and, from 2007 to 2011, being head of school funding policy. He took up his current post in May 2011. Away from the office, Stephen is a governor of two primary schools in south London, a keen cyclist, a fan of Crystal Palace football club and a trustee of the Crystal Palace Supporters Children’s Charity.

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.