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The world of special educational needs (SEN) has seen a tumult of change over the past year. However, now that we’re starting to look forward to a new academic year, things should be starting to settle down. The focus must really be on what is best for pupils and students and implementing the best possible teaching practice to support their needs effectively.
Reviewing the SEN register is an ongoing process but one which is particularly under the spotlight right now. Schools are working well to make better informed decisions driven by effective practice outcomes and well-grounded research based inventions in how to move forward with their pupils who may be currently recorded requiring SEN Support. So what constitutes best practice for this decision-making?
The graduated approach
This process of review should sit neatly inside a well-established cycle, demonstrating the graduated approach at a whole school level, as well as for individual pupils. Within this graduated approach, schools should be reviewing their provision, in light of all the evidence it is constantly gathering related to pupil progress. That way, the register will be continually and seamlessly up to date. High quality teaching, recognised as the universal offer of the school, ought to be the foundation in every classroom.
This way, staff are confidently identifying and meeting the needs of all learners, and evidence of this can be seen from observations of classroom practice, progress and attainment data, the scrutiny of work produced, discussion with teachers, the views of parents/carers as well as the views of the pupil, too. Everyone’s perspective informs cycle at each stage and decisions about the need to change provision is agreed by all.
The ideal school invests in achieving this strong foundation of universal, high quality teaching through sound use of the SEN national budget, as well as the Pupil Premium Grant. They do this because they know that it will lead to a reduction in the number of pupils who may need to access targeted provision, and that what is good practice for meeting SEN is effectively good practice for all. This whole school provision offer directs cycles of staff CPD, encourages enquiry-based practice and contributes to the sense of being a learning community for all (staff as well as pupils).
Best practice provision
Auditing an existing register must start with considering individual pupil needs. Planning for the real involvement of parents/carers and the pupil themselves is also key. Where schools are using a criteria-based approach to determine identification of SEN, this may work as general guidance but it has to lead to thinking about the individual pupil: What needs do they have and how do we know? What evidence is there from initial assessment, previous cycles of the graduated approach, from parents or from the pupil themselves? Have we considered any social, emotional or mental health needs? What is their behaviour telling us? What is their pattern of attainment and progress?
The next step for the school, having self-evaluated using these questions, is to find out more about the pupil’s needs (i.e., further assessment) and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to show that they fit the definition of having a special educational need.
They must then make an informed decision about whether they require SEN support to make good progress. If they are currently receiving SEN support, the school needs to assess whether this is addressing their needs and whether it needs to continue or if high quality universal classroom provision which is personalised would better meet their needs now.
It is then important to involve parents in the decision-making process and ensure they understand the implications of continuing or leaving SEN support. Use the School’s SEN Information Report to assist their understanding of the provision offered and consider sharing the Local Authority local offer website with them for a wider picture of local provision.
A review of the SEN Register should be carried out at least once a year. Ideally, a school should be reviewing their SEN Register following learner progress meetings and gathering of whole school assessment data (approximately three times per year). Continual progress and improved attainment, for example where a learner is now working within age related expectations, should trigger re-assessment and discussion regarding the removal, or change of status, of learners placed on the SEN register.
By applying more creative thinking, where pupils are receiving targeted provision which is all about closing the gaps and where this is common for many of the pupils in the school, it should lead to a reduction in the number of pupils registered as having SEN; finally addressing the nagging sense SENCOs have had that really what is required is the best provision at the classroom level.
High-quality, inclusive teaching supported by effective whole-school policies and frameworks, clearly targeted at all pupils’ needs and prior learning, is key. It can mean setting a new trajectory for the learning programme to take pupils to where they need to be in terms of age-related expectations.
One of the key things to remember when it comes to a school’s SEND policy is that it must support teachers to ensure they are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of all children in their classroom. Young people with SEND are not the sole domain of the SENCO; with one in five children identified as having SEND, the reality for many teachers will be around five to seven pupils per class group who may have SEND.
Effective support for all pupils in school is about strengthening collaboration but still maintaining responsibility for the pupils and taking an adaptive approach to teaching. Teachers should use additional resources to address targeted support for pupils by focusing their time and efforts in better understanding the outcomes of that support; what progress has been made towards agreed outcomes, and how has the additional support enabled the pupil to achieve this as independently as possible? What is the pupil’s view on this, the view of the TA, the view of the teacher and maybe the pupil’s peers?
This reflective, constantly shifting approach is integral to good practice, and something which should be nurtured in all teaching staff to become standard practice within the classroom. No two pupils are the same, even if their needs are identified as belonging to the same area of need. Once we know this, the next steps become reassuringly clear. This approach enables teachers to know their pupils well, challenges the “old ways” of working under previous systems and drives the requirement for high quality teaching to be present in every classroom in every school. L