|Nine months in, what can SEND practitioners do to continue to embed the reforms effectively? Equally, what can they do to mitigate the negatives that you identified in the previous question?
1. Use the school information report to create a checklist and challenge your practice
“It’s not about ripping up the whole rule book as it existed before. It’s more about using the school information report in your SEN policy as the checklist against how well you’re doing. Don’t panic and don’t see it as an onerous exercise that is simply there to force you to meet a set of requirements.
“Take the questions that are there and challenge your practice. Instead of creating a report, produce a checklist that asks the following questions:
- How does it relate to your SEN policy?
- How does it relate to your previous practice?
- What is working really well in your school and what isn’t?
- Are you good at identifying SEN and your Assess–Plan–Do–Review approach?
- Are you thinking hard about what a personalised plan looks like at each stage of the process as opposed to simply ticking the boxes of an Individual Education Plan (IEP)?”
2. Use the new Code as a professional yardstick
“Remember, the best practitioners have been doing this around SEN for years. They haven’t sat there fixated on whether or not they have ticked all of the boxes in the sixth chapter of the new Code. Instead, they’ve used the new Code as a professional challenge, asking:
- How good are we at these areas?
- What good practice have I got?
- How can I build on that?
- How good am I at really defining what provision we’re putting in place to reach those outcomes?”
3. Adopt a whole-school approach
“SENCOs and/or classroom teachers who are very engaged in the transfer of plans might, for example, find it difficult to know where they make the room for greater parental involvement. This, and many other such questions, can be mitigated by taking a truly whole-school approach. This is not something that a heroic SENCO/teacher can do on their own. Instead, the school leadership needs to make this a priority and has to give the SENCO/teacher the time to really engage this properly.
“If the school does this, and does it properly, then the benefits are myriad. And, equally, if the school gets it wrong then the deficits are daunting. Think about it. How much time do you spend managing poor behaviour; managing poor attendance; and managing the fact that you have to introduce more and more interventions because children are getting further and further behind? At root, it’s about adopting a quality first teaching approach. Get that in place and you will get parents onside to help your whole-school approach really take off. It’s a big investment upfront, but a very big reward will follow if you get it right.”
4. Work with other schools
“Work in a cluster with other schools. For example, a school with good autism provision identifies the fact that they need a speech therapist. They work with other schools in the area and know that a particular school down the road employs a speech therapist. They approach the school to see if they can share the school’s speech therapist and find out that the school down the road needs some additional autism provision. This initial autism/speech therapy tie-in leads to a mutually beneficial partnership between a number of local schools who share resources; share understanding; and share expertise at a school level.”
5. Be creative
“Schools need to look at their delegated budgets and join it up in creative ways. It’s tough and it’s a big challenge, but schools have the resources and expertise amongst themselves (especially when working together) to make that happen.”
A reader’s question: In light of last year’s reforms and the Conservative majority, where do you see the next policy focus?
“I don’t think that the overall focus will shift because of the change in government. Before the election there was some different mood music around some of the points but a broad consensus that: the reforms were here; that we needed to let them run through now; and that we needed to see how well they worked. I am not saying that there won’t be some adjustments in the Code of Practice as we go through the next five years as issues start to emerge. But, short of a very major crisis in the way that the new system seems to be working, I don’t think that there will be any significant change in the reforms or the guidance around them for at least the next three to four years.
“I do think that the context in which it’s being delivered may become more challenging for LAs and schools if we see the level of LA cuts that we’ve heard about – certainly in terms of the support services that are available and the amount that LAs continue to invest in the high needs funding block. The government is reviewing, in any case, how that’s working and how it’s distributed. And we can look at schools’ funding more generally. We know that there are not going to be any big increases in that area. In terms of the central drive of the reforms, I don’t think that we’re going to see any great change.”
A reader’s question: The Pupil Premium was a Lib Dem policy. Is there a chance that the new government will get rid of it?
“The Pupil Premium will stay at least for a while. However, I will be surprised if it increases at anything like the level that it did with the coalition.”
A reader’s question: Are there any plans to make SEN a significant part of teacher training courses, given that teachers play such an important role and have such an input now?
“It would be a great idea, but I am not aware of any plans to increase it further. That could change, but the training courses are already so overcrowded that it is highly unlikely that any significantly great focus will be introduced. I understand and sympathise with those who argue that it should be bigger and I don’t disagree with that. However, ultimately we have to look at other ways of making sure that teachers get this expertise during their career.
“There is an implicit danger in the question that perceives teacher training and the NQT course as the end, as opposed to the start, of the process. In light of this, we really do need to be looking more and more into what other online materials are available for teachers in this area. Following the publication of the inquiry, additional materials were produced and, of course, there are many excellent materials on the SEND Gateway and related courses from other providers. Also schools can get support from Achievement for All which grew out my inquiry’s work.
“Essentially, we need to see this as the start of the journey and make sure that there are more and more opportunities for teachers to learn as they progress in their careers. Schools really need to make sure that all of their teachers are really confident to a certain level in SEN. But I don’t think that we can put all of the weight of that on the NQT course, I think that we have got to see it as a continuing training issue.”
A reader’s question: Why do some schools feel tied to their LA when they are not?
“I think that it’s in the culture, particularly with the smaller unitary authorities who have, traditionally, had a very close relationship with their schools. With the larger LAs, there’s been a bit more distance in the geography and numbers, and culturally there has been less of an immediate connection. In amongst all of this, in the context of the reforms, it’s important to remember that there is a clear requirement for the school to cooperate with the LA in the production of the local offer. That is part of why the SEN information report is so important, because that is part of how you can do that.
“Nowadays, a lot of the services come through schools, so it’s important to maintain those networks. In this vein, the LAs have a very important role to play in helping to provide the overall framework and quality assurance around all of this for schools. Ultimately, it’s about the schools and LAs maintaining a balance. The schools need to be leaders and commissioners of their own services much more now that they have got the delegated fund, but the more that they can work with the LA and with other schools to make sure that the local offer is a reality – and that all the partners are playing their part in that – the better. In this way, the more that LAs, schools and parents work together the better.
“Ultimately, it’s about making sure that we get a balance and that schools don’t run off on their own. It needs to be a partnership, a joined-up approach and that’s what the local offer envisages and that’s what we have got to try and deliver. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about providing real benefits and better outcomes for young people.”
A reader’s question: The changes introduced by the new Code are crucial. However, schools are under such pressure to perform that it’s not uncommon for TAs to be the primary educators of low attaining pupils. In the primary school that I recently left, Year 6 pupils were grouped for numeracy and literacy skills with the TA taking the lowest attaining 15 pupils. When asked about this, especially bearing in mind the fact that teachers should be educating all pupils, the head teacher stated that only KS2 test results mattered. What are your views on what can be done in this increasingly common situation?
“OK, I think that we need to go back to the Code of Practice and the very clear statement there that teachers are responsible for the outcomes of the children in their classroom. And, therefore, it’s the teacher that has to be in control of all of this. Now, in a particular school – with well-qualified TAs who have been well-trained in particular interventions – it may be an absolutely appropriate strategy to have some TAs leading some sessions.
“However, despite this pragmatic response by some schools/settings, we must bear in mind the research results of the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project published by the Institute of Education (IOE). The IOE research clearly demonstrates that the greater amount of teacher-time spent with pupils, the greater the level of outcomes. In contrast, it also shows that the more time that TAs spend with pupils – especially if it’s outside of a very structured programme with well-trained TAs – the less progress they will make when compared with other pupils in their class. And that’s why there’s that emphasis in the Code and we mustn’t forget that.
“It’s incredibly difficult to judge an individual school’s practice, but the general principles are clear: that the teacher leads the teaching in the classroom. In this regard, it’s worrying to know that some schools regard certain key stages as being particularly important. Why? Because if this happens to children all the way through the different stages, then this gaming around the exam system will mean that children are only supported sporadically. This will be detrimental to their progress and will mean that they are less likely to achieve the additional improvement outcomes envisaged by the Code of Practice.”
A reader’s question: Are IEPs legal documents, particularly in relation to independent primary schools?
“The simple answer is no. The government has said that schools do not need to do IEPs anymore but, having said that, of course you do need a plan. The Code of Practice is very clear. Once you’ve identified a child as having SEN, you need a plan to actually address their needs. So, the IEP, as a document, may have gone, but the need to produce a plan has not gone.
“Simply put, the plan needs to be very clear in terms of the Assess–Plan–Do–Review approach about:
- What is the identified need?
- What outcomes are you trying to achieve in relation to that child?
- If there are barriers to your child how do you remove them?
- What provision are you putting in place to meet these outcomes?
“Similarly to EHCPs, the plan has got to be person-centred. In this sense, you will need to:
- Consult with the young person and the parent about the plan.
- Agree some outcomes that you are putting in place.
- Deliver it.
“This is much more liberating than having to sit down and do an EHCP/IEP. Why? Because it has a fresh focus that doesn’t revolve around filling in a rather prosaic formula of categories. In stark contrast, it’s much more about combining professional expertise with the best possible practice to work out the SEN needs/outcomes/provision and fully involve the parent and young person in the process. Following this a review should be carried out to determine whether the targeted outcomes had been met. So, in short, this is what an effective plan should look like.
“Recently, I was at a conference when a member of the audience asked a SENCO: ‘if we’re not doing IEPs now, what’s the difference between IEPs and this plan?’ The SENCO, who was leading the session, replied: ‘whilst before, I might have come to your classroom with a whole big set of folders under my arm, instead we could have a plan that was a one page plan/one page profile with all that you need written on it and you might only have seven or eight pieces of paper. But, it would still contain everything that you needed to understand that child: the SEN need; what outcome we’re aiming for; what the interventions were; and how we can review’.
“Now, obviously, if the plan revolves around a very complex child, then that plan will get bigger. However, ideally, we ought to be doing things in a really focused way. We need to be concise and to the point and not think that we’re achieving the task by filling in the pages or boxes on what used to be an IEP. Essentially, it’s a real opportunity to rethink, because a lot of schools are looking at provision mapping and doing work around provision mapping. I think that this can be very helpful as long as they don’t get too carried away with massive provision charts and forget that the child is at the heart of all of this. But they could be, actually, relatively simple documents that actually do the job just as well as their IEP forebears.”
A reader’s question: How much information, legally, are independent schools required to provide on their websites? At my independent school, we have our SEN policy on our website and recently you said that it is statutory to have an SEN information report online?
“Independent schools do not have to have a school information report. Despite this, I would always advise them to have one. Why? Because:
- The more that you can show that you’re following what’s expected across the rest of the sector the better.
- It’s a real opportunity to lay out the school stall in terms of its offer to parents and young people.
“Ideally, it should be done with parents, co-produced with them to use the jargon, so, actually, you’re really understanding what they want to know and reproducing it in a way that they want to know. And if you do that then I think that you’re going to have a much more open, welcoming and accurate picture of what your school’s doing. That’s what every school wants and that’s what any school needs to be doing for their parents.
“So, legally, no, you don’t have to. But, in terms of good practice, it’s a really good idea.”
A reader’s question: Despite claims to the contrary, there’s absolutely no agreement on the definition of dyslexia. So why do we in the UK not adopt the criteria set out in the DSM-5?
“I agree that identifying dyslexia is a complex issue at school level. I constantly hear from parents and other practitioners about children who have been missed. Whereas, in fact, a simple test would have established what the problem was and something would have been done about it. Of course, dyslexia is an especially complex area, particularly in light of the different tests and views about what is appropriate. Given this context, some more work needs to be carried out to clarify our understanding of dyslexia and to give teachers more support.
“The Dyslexia Trust has produced some very good materials and they are an excellent starting point.”
Do you have any final words for SEND practitioners as they anticipate the next few years of embedding the reforms with a new political administration at the helm?
“It’s about thinking behind the Code of Practice, not here’s the new rule book that somehow is different or better than the old rule book. But:
- Why am I doing this as a professional?
- Why is my practice going this way?
- What is being added to my practice by doing it in this way?
“If you stick with the values behind the Code of Practice – which has a real focus on outcomes (not provision) and on parental and young people’s involvement – you will see real, improved outcomes. And it’s those improvements in outcomes that should guide you and enable you to do the right thing – whether concerned with progression, attainment, attendance, or greater well-being. Let these positive outcomes determine your path and your provision will follow.”