There are many schools demonstrating excellent and inclusive SEND practice, but there is still more to do to ensure that children are experiencing consistent, high quality provision across England. Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive at nasen, discusses some recent developments
Since 2014, the focus for the Department for Education (DfE) has very much been on the 2.8 per cent of the school population – the percentage of pupils with a statement or Education, Health and Care plan (EHCPs) – and the process of transferring them to the new system of EHCPs by the deadline of March 2018.
For special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), this is just one aspect of the EHCP administration that continues to take up a disproportionate amount of their time. Although EHCPs are still high on the DfE’s priorities, it is clear that greater attention is now being paid to the 11.6 per cent of the school population who are classified as SEN Support (formerly School Action and School Action Plus).
nasen represents the views of its members through a wide range of SEND stakeholder groups including the National SEND Forum, the DfE’s SEND Advisory Board, the Special Education Consortium, and Special Schools Voice.
During 2016, these groups have considered a whole range of policy areas with implications for the SEND sector. The Fairer Funding Formula and High Needs Funding Formula have both generated significant debate and it is expected that there will shortly be a second round of consultation about this.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT
There are also issues about wider changes to education policy that are incongruent with the SEND reforms; notably those policies in the areas of accountability and assessment.
Progress-8 and the EBacc, alongside statistical accountability measures, are sometimes forcing school leaders to make a choice between developing inclusive practices or meeting the criteria for a successful and improving school. For example, there are concerns that some children with SEND are not included within Progress-8 data because they have no Key Stage 2 data.
Also, the removal of less-academic options from the curriculum to focus on those that contribute towards the EBacc has resulted in less appropriate options for some SEND children. There is a general agreement among education professionals working with children and young people with SEND that the notion of outcomes should be broader than just qualifications.
EMERGING TRENDS FOR SCHOOLS
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have been jointly inspecting the SEND provision of local areas and this is helping to build up a picture of how the SEND reforms are being implemented across the country. An analysis of the first seven inspection reports has demonstrated some emerging trends for schools.
Firstly, in addition to Local Authority (LA) services, special schools have been supporting mainstream schools in developing specialist knowledge and provision. Secondly, the effective identification and meeting of needs of children and young people is a mixed picture with different levels of support available in different areas.
And lastly, there is a growing concern about the mental health of children and young people. This last point is particularly pertinent given that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are operating beyond capacity in most parts of the country.
One of the key aspirations of the SEND reforms is greater collaboration between education, health and social care. While there are still some issues to be resolved, such as the complexities of data sharing and professional supervision, it is clear that collaboration is moving in the right direction.
The strategic financial element of collaboration is complex and not currently working as well as it could be, with the education sector too often picking up the costs for health and social care interventions.
With the shrinking of statutory duties on LAs and the increasing number of free schools and academies, it is not always clear where responsibility and accountability will sit. For example, LAs will retain a range of statutory duties for SEND, but school improvement will be a school-led responsibility, which begs the question about who will be responsible and accountable for SEND school improvement.
This is part of a bigger cultural challenge, in which SEND is still seen as separate to, rather than a fundamental part of, the education system. Too often, policy and practice has to be adapted for SEND rather than being fit-for-purpose from the outset. Part of the issue is that the word ‘inclusion’ means different things to different people.
Some believe that inclusion is about integrating all children into mainstream schools, others believe it is about having different types of school that are designed to meet different needs. My own view is that inclusion is not a place, but an approach. It is about person‑centred provision and we need a robust universal offer for teacher development to help our education system become more inclusive.
OTHER KEY DEVELOPMENTS
The DfE has funded a number of initiatives in 2016 to support the implementation of the SEND reforms and one such project was the Whole School SEND Consortium, led by the London Leadership Strategy (LLS), with nasen as their strategic partners. The Whole School SEND Consortium is a coalition committed to improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND by better scaling and embedding what we already know works.
Using LLS’s SEND Review Guide (www.thesendreview.com) as a basis, nasen is mapping existing national resources and content and facilitating school to school sharing of best practice through the SEND Gateway (www.sendgateway.org.uk).
Early indications are that this school-led and sector-led initiative will be incredibly useful for education professionals supporting children and young people with SEND.
The other significant development in 2016 was the publication of the Rochford Review, which made 10 recommendations about statutory assessment for children operating below the standard of the national curriculum tests at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2.
The DfE intends to hold a consultation on the recommendations in the early part of 2017, as part of a wider discussion about primary assessment. While nasen is broadly supportive of the review and its recommendations, we recognise the challenge in developing an inclusive approach to assessment through one system that works for all children and young people.
Looking at 2017, nasen will continue to support its members through publications, resources, webinars, webcasts and policy representation, but we will also be looking to increase our offer for teacher training providers and the early years sector.
On 7 July, nasen will hold its annual conference, nasen Live, at the ICC in Birmingham. This popular conference brings together policy, practice and research for education professionals supporting children and young people with SEND (www.nasen.org.uk/nasenlive).
To summarise, progress is being made in terms of implementing and embedding the requirements and ambitions of the Children and Families Act 2014. However, it is the wider political, economic and cultural contexts that are resulting in an inconsistent picture across the country. 2017 needs to be the year where we strive to achieve consistent high quality provision for all children and young people.