5 things to celebrate about special educational needs provision in 2017

We all know that special educational needs provision is nowhere near where we need it to be, but that’s not to say there haven’t been moments to celebrate, writes Adam Boddison

It would be easy to write a review of SEND (special educational needs and/or disabilities) in 2017 by listing all of the challenges we have faced. Most people are aware of the problems:

• Insufficient funding

• The government’s SEND and inclusion policies are not aligned to wider policy

• Exclusion rates are too high and illegal exclusions are all too common

• Schools can end up punished for being more inclusive because of narrow accountability and assessment measures, and because they become overwhelmed with demand

• Too many families have to go to a tribunal to get the support their child is entitled to

• The extensive waiting lists for pupil places in special schools

The list could continue, but instead I would like to share five aspects of SEND from 2017 that are worth celebrating.

1) Fluid provision in MATs

A number of multi-academy trusts, particularly those where there are both mainstream and special settings on the same site, have been demonstrating the way that fluid provision can work for learners with SEND.

In practice, this may mean that a learner attends a special school and a mainstream school for different aspects of their curriculum, rather than having to make a choice between one or the other. This set-up also allows the expertise in special schools to be shared with staff in mainstream schools, so they can meet a broader range of needs.

Highly qualified SENCOs can have a significant positive impact on the quality of provision in their settings

2) LA innovation and joint commissioning

The local area inspections that have been carried out jointly by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have identified pockets of excellent practice across the country. I am encouraged that some local authorities are investing now to ensure that provision in their area is cost-effective and high-quality in the future.

York is building a centre of excellence to help disabled children and their families stay in their home communities. The centre will provide innovative approaches to support, as well as assessments, therapies and short breaks.

This is a good example of how joint commissioning across education, health and social care can truly work.

3) National SENCO award

The National SENCO award provides an accredited professional development for thousands of SENCOs every year.

Behind the scenes, this group of 30+ universities and private providers that deliver this course are working collaboratively to constantly improve it and to share best practice across the sector.

Highly qualified SENCOs can have a significant positive impact on the quality of provision in their settings. The great work of this group is particularly important when you consider that only two roles are legally required in a school: a headteacher and a SENCO, but only the SENCO is required to be a qualified teacher.

4) The SEND review and the SEND gateway

This strategic review tool was developed by the London leadership strategy and made available at scale via the Whole-school SEND consortium. It allows schools to review their SEND provision across eight strategic areas and form an improvement plan.

Schools have also been submitting examples of effective SEND provision across each of the eight areas on the DfE-funded SEND Gateway to share with the wider community of practice.

5) National SENCO Forum

The National SENCO Forum celebrated its 21st birthday this year and it continues to be an active community of practice for SENCOs across England. It is a place to independently share thoughts, concerns and questions. A dedicated volunteer steering group keeps the forum running and it is a valuable resource for many SENCOs.

In 2018, we will be celebrating 40 years since the 1978 Warnock Report. It will be a time for reflecting on where we have come from, where we are now and where we want to go next. Wherever that is, I hope it builds on some the positive work that we know exists within the SEND community.

Adam Boddison is chief executive of nasen

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