Schools in England are half way through the implementation of the biggest special educational needs and disability (SEND) reforms in a generation.
The start of the process saw every school implement three immediate reforms to the way SEND is addressed: SEN information reports, SEN support, and education, health and care plans (EHCPs). Malcolm Reeve looks at progress so far
Reform: SEN information report on school website
Result: These are generally not particularly user-friendly with few having been co-constructed with parents/carers of children with SEND or with the students themselves. The rush to complete these reports was largely a compliance issue. In many schools there is work to be done on ensuring every member of staff is aware of the content of the report and their role in its implementation.
Recommendation: All SEN information reports should be embedded in school practice and understood by all staff and reviewed by parents and carers.
Reform: School Action and School Action Plus replaced by SEN Support
Result: A significant fall in the numbers of children identified with SEN in schools. The overall percentage in schools in England fell from 17.9 per cent in 2014 to 15.4 per cent in 2015, with the biggest drops in the mainstream sector, especially in secondary schools. How did this happen? Large numbers of children identified as having a special need sat incorrectly on school SEN registers before 2014. The reforms forced every school to reassess its “list” and make it more accurate. Having said that, the twin issues of over-identification and more importantly, misidentification, of SEN remain.
Recommendation: The new system is working but we should keep developing screening and assessment systems to identify who the children are and how they can be supported.
Reform: EHCPs – designed to unite all agencies around a single plan for children with more complex needs
Result: The EHCP process is more effective than the previous statementing and has led to more joined-up working. However, a postcode lottery of effective EHCP implementation remains. Parents are generally less favourable in their views of implementation than local authorities, and, as long as this remains, we have a major problem. After all, it is the parents and children that the plans are designed to serve.
Recommendation: Keep driving forward joined-up working between the agencies and work closely with clinical commissioning groups. The best tool for bringing about change for schools is knowing the law.
Lack of leadership
Overall, the biggest issue affecting SEND provision in schools and academies right now is leadership – or lack of it. We have a cadre of teachers who are insufficiently trained in SEN and we have leaders at all levels who have never been trained. Yet we are expecting better outcomes for children by driving forward legislation and statutory guidance. In a recent straw poll I conducted at an education assessment event, less than 10 per cent of the audience felt that headteachers in this country knew the four broad areas of SEN. It is not enough to rely upon the hard-working and often hard-pushed special needs co-ordinator in these matters. Leadership of SEN starts at the top of any school and of the education system.
Leadership of SEN starts at the top of the education system
There is undoubtedly a tension between academisation and the legal role and capacity of local authorities in meeting the needs of children with SEN. As academisation rolls out, there will need to be a strong inclusive focus running through developments at all levels. The government needs to ensure that in addressing this, leaders have the tools of SEN leadership. This starts with a deeper understanding of what we mean by SEN and, at the very least, knowing the four broad areas and their implications.
We talk about “every teacher being a teacher of SEN” but this won’t happen until “every leader is a leader of SEN”.
More on the SEND reforms
Future: What’s the future for SEND?