SEND Reform: Where are we now?

spacer

After years in the making, the SEND Reforms are now in the process of being embedded, which makes it a good time to reflect on what is involved in implementing a new system and the cultural shift that lies behind it.

There was considerable excitement when, in March 2011, Sarah Teather, the Minister for children and families at the time, launched the Green Paper, Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability. Not since the Warnock Report of 1978 had there been a thorough overhaul of SEN, so it was long overdue. It was also an opportunity for children and young people with SEND and their families, to have their turn in the spotlight. In the event, it took another three years for the changes to be incorporated into Part Three of the Children and Families Act 2014, with implementation starting from September 2014. 

Codes of Practice

It was known all along that a new Code of Practice would be needed to replace the one that had been in use since 2001. What was unexpected was the convoluted journey it took for the Code to be finalised. The various drafts that appeared cut into the time schools and other settings should have been given to prepare for its implementation. In the end, what turned out to be almost the final version appeared in July 2014, just in time for school leaders and other interested parties to take it on holiday with them. This was hardly the ideal preparation for beginning to implement the reforms at the beginning of the new school year 2014/15. To add to the confusion, another version of the Code was published in January 2015, which was largely the same, but incorporated some late changes to the arrangements for young people with SEN who find themselves in youth custody. 

The SEN/ SEND Codes of Practice

 

SEN Code of Practice 2001 is still referred to in terms of statements, which are being phased out between now and the end of March 2018.

 

SEND Code of Practice 2014 was briefly in place between July 2014 and the end of March 2015.

 

SEND Code of Practice 2015 was published in January and became operational from

 1st April 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Despite the confusion over the different Codes, two positive changes are flagged up in the title: Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0-25 years. This incorporates both the extension of SEND from the ages of 0 to 25 and recognises children and young people who come under the term ’disabled’. In fact, Sarah Teather had been keen from the start to make sure that those who were disabled were included alongside learners with SEN and both were mentioned in the title of the Green Paper mentioned previously. Although she seldom talks about it, the effect of illness during her teenage years helped Teather to understand why changes were needed. In the Times Educational Supplement (TES) in September 2010, she said:

 “‘I spent most of that time in a wheelchair, so I have direct personal experience with a disability. I have to say I think it is a prime example of how not to do education because I ended up with no education whatsoever during that period." (17.10.15)

 She went on to give a graphic description of how her school was in an old building with limited access for those who were physically disabled. This meant that she had to drop out of education altogether for some time and only caught up later through her determination and hard work. Yet, despite her efforts to make sure the needs of disabled young people were recognised, when the Children and Families Bill first appeared before Parliament, Part 3 was headed, ‘Children and young people in England with special educational needs.’ It was only after several amendments that the phrase ‘or disabilities’ was added. This has meant the confusion that has existed since the 2001 Special educational needs and disability Act (SENDA) brought the two terms together, continues to rumble on. Children and young people with disabilities are part of the SEND reforms, but are not covered by all the changes. As the overlap between the two terms is far greater than any difference between them, today it is generally safer to use the term ‘SEND’ rather than ‘SEN’. Before the reforms had completed their passage through Parliament, and as a result of a government reshuffle, Sarah Teather was replaced by the present incumbent, Edward Timpson, whose own experience while growing up, was being raised alongside two natural siblings, two adopted brothers and an extraordinary number of foster children.

 A change in culture

As well as considering the main changes brought about by the SEND Reforms, it is worth  thinking about the change in culture that the government has said they are designed to bring about. At the heart of this cultural shift is the concept that children, young people and their families will be at the heart of making the decisions that affect them. No longer will they be seen as the passive recipients of what the professionals think is best for them, but their views, wishes and aspirations will be at the centre of everyone’s thinking. This may be less of a change for schools who are used to working alongside parents and taking the voice of the child seriously, but more of a challenge for local authorities (LAs), where statementing officers may have been used to writing statements without necessarily getting to know the child concerned or their families. This is not a criticism of the people involved, but of the way statements were written as opposed to the intention behind the move to replace statements with EHC Plans. Giving parents the option of a personal budget is further evidence of the importance being attached to parents feeling they have greater control over the decision-making process. Although personal budgets have been used for aspects of social care and for health, they are a new concept in education and it is taking a little while for the advantages to be recognised.

 The cultural shift is seen, not only in terms of parents and families having greater involvement in the support their own child needs, but the government hopes they will help to move forward the SEND system as a whole. This is most apparent in the way many have helped their local authority to compile the Local Offer, often through the Parent Carer Forums that exist in most areas or other parent / carer groups, as well as through individual contributions. Now Local Offers have been in place since September 2014, parents and other interested parties remain involved by sending in suggestions on what could be improved, for instance in terms of presentation or content. LAs have a duty, not only to publish the comments they receive, but also to explain what they have done to address them. These can be viewed on each LA’s Local Offer website.  

The Local Offer

 

LAs are responsible for compiling a web-based Local Offer, which lists the provision for SEND available in the local area, as well as provision used outside the area.

 

Schools are responsible for making a contribution to the LA’s Local Offer.

 

At least annually, LAs must publish the comments they have received and what they have done about them.

 

In this way, it is hoped that the SEND system will be driven forward in a cycle of continuous improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 Children and young people with SEND are likely to need the support of other services in addition to education. Those with more complex needs may need the involvement of both health and social care. The Every Child Matters agenda and the Children Act that followed it, 

was a previous attempt to encourage the three services to work more closely together. As a result, education and social care have usually been combined at LA level under a single Director of Children’s Services, instead of having a Director of Education and a Director of Social Care. The service that has remained outside has been health, partly due to geographical boundaries not being coterminous and perhaps also due to the health service  having even more reorganisations than education. The SEND Reforms signal a real attempt to include health, as is apparent in the change from statements to EHC Plans. There should also be a Designated Medical Officer (DMO) or a Designated Clinical Officer (DCO) to act as the link between the local NHS and the LA. In addition, much of the documentation about the reforms has been badged by both the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health (DoH), which is a hopeful sign of progress. 

Moving to school level, another change in culture has been the emphasis on every teacher being responsible for the progress of every pupil they teach, with the SENCO taking on a more strategic role. Of course, how this works out in practice will vary from school to school, depending on the size, the age range and needs of the pupils, a well as many other factors. For primary schools, as teaching is mostly in the hands of a class teacher, the idea of taking responsibility for all pupils in the class will be nothing new. It may be a different situation in secondary schools, where subject teachers are dealing with a moving population of pupils during the week and getting to know how to meet the needs of each individual is far more of a challenge. 

It is rather too early to draw conclusions about how significant the move from having the separate categories of School Action and School Action Plus reduced to a single category called ‘SEN Support’ will prove to be. Again, the ‘Assess, Plan, Do, Review’ cycle that goes with the change, may not be very different from what schools were implementing before. On paper, the main difference would appear to be that outside specialists – in as far as they are available – can be called in at any time, rather than waiting until a child has moved to School Action Plus.  The reduction in categories could be seen as part of a pattern of reducing the number of categories from five stages in the first Code of Practice (1994), where the SEN Register was the first stage; to four in the 2001 Code, which did not require a register to be kept; to three in the present Code: SEN Support, EHC needs assessment, EHC Plan. What will be interesting will be whether the change to SEN Support leads to much difference in the overall numbers being identified. In the last few years, numbers of children with statements / EHC Plans has remained constant at around 2.8%, while the rest of the SEN population has fluctuated  between 15.1%  and 18%. Although the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere (DfE March 2016), quotes the lowest figure yet of 15.4% for all pupils with SEN, it is too early to say whether this is a blip or a trend. 

Embedding the changes 

While many parents involved in EHC Plans have expressed satisfaction with the move to a more person-centred planning approach and the greater control this has given them, it has proved to be time-consuming, This has led to difficulties with keeping up with the demand for new assessments, (which may or may not lead to an EHC Plan), at the same time as moving those who already have statements on to EHC Plans. Although this exercise does not end until March 2018, it has put pressure on LAs, who are responsible for the transition process, and for schools with large numbers of statemented pupils, including special schools.

 Another area that has become clearer over time has been the link between a school’s SEN Policy, the SEN Information Report and the Local Offer. While the latter is the LA’s responsibility, schools have a duty to make a contribution to the Local Offer and to have a link to it on their website. The SEN Information Report is a new legal requirement which is mentioned in the SEND Code of Practice and set out in Schedule 1 of the SEND Regulations 2014. (These are the regulations that sit alongside the Children and Families Act). Schools  should have had their SEN Information Report on their websites since September 2014, but, due to the lateness of the Code being finalised, many were not ready in time. However, these are now in place and most have undertaken the review that is required at least once a year to make sure they are up to date, or more often if significant changes have occurred. It is usual  for this Report to double up as the school’s contribution to the LA’s Local Offer. Meanwhile, the school’s SEN/ SEND Policy generally remains the overarching document, which sets out a school’s vision and values as well as the detail of the provision it makes. Although, unlike the SEN Information Report, it is not a legal requirement to have one, most schools recognise its value and it is a useful document for parents and families as well as for the staff.  

Most changes bring with them their own workload as one system gives way to the next. In addition, these reforms come at a time when schools are already overstretched by a surfeit of changes combined with a time of severe financial restraint. Nevertheless, the increase in the age range from 0-25; the partnership working with children, young people and their families; the Local Offer having all the information about SEND provision in one place; and a revived attempt to make sure services work together for the benefit of those who need them the most, are changes worth striving for. Systems can change overnight; cultural shifts take longer, so it will be some years before the benefits of the changes are fully realised.    

  

Dr Rona Tutt OBE is a past president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), and a SEND consultant, speaker and writer.

spacer
spacer