Special Educational Needs - Proposed Changes
SEN is in a state of flux. The Government is seeking to undertake major reforms to special educational needs while bystanders, parents and SEN protagonists watch anxiously in the wings as the green paper pages are tussled over and tinkered with.
What we, at The Good Schools Guide, hope to see:
The needs of the child front and centre.
- Red-tape reduced. Less bureaucracy, more accountability.
- Timely, targeted intervention. Working speedily when it matters but always focusing on the interests of the child.
- Consultation and collaboration. A system that works in tandem with parents, teachers and professionals to best meet the needs of the child. One that recognises most parents have invaluable knowledge and understanding of their child which should be communicated to the powers that be, and acted on.
- Early intervention. Proper help when problems are first identified. An end to the sticking plaster 'wait-and-see' approach. We're not advocating a sledge hammer to crack a nut, nor indeed huge financial outlay - just a sensible, professional approach that enables teachers and others to take immediate action, rather than follow a lengthy and often costly, bureaucratic system.
- Transparency - making sure parents know what provision is available to them and how to access it.
- Help to obtain relevant resources and provision. Over the years we have assisted a number of parents in their quest to find suitable schools, services, therapies - often after an LA has told a parent no such provision exists. We would like parents to be better supported in obtaining the help their child needs.
- An end to the role of the LA as judge and jury. Local authorities (LAs) frequently end up in the unenviable, untenable position of having to decide what provision a child should have, then bearing the responsibility for delivering and paying for it! A clear conflict of interest and one we are keen to see disappear - fingers crossed.
Proposed changes to statements - 10 things you should know
The SEN green paper - Support and Aspiration: A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability (published March 2012 with Next Steps produced in June 2012) proposes sweeping changes to statements and to school action and school action plus.
These are proposals not tablets of stone, some may end up on the cutting room floor, others may be kneaded, pummelled and transmogrified. Absentees may find a presence and those present may not yet be correct.
The key points:
- Statements will be replaced with a coordinated Education Health and Social Care (EHC) plan. This will provide statutory protection for children and young people. Proposals include integrating the many services and sectors that work to meet the child's needs. Under the present system it isn't always clear what constitutes curriculum/education, health or social care. The integrated plan should enable services to work together, to meet the child's needs, and remove conflict and contradiction.
- Extending the age group. The current system covers children to age 16 or age 19 (depending on post-16 provision). EHCPs will extend to age 25 (provided the young person is in school or at college).
- Making a simplified service offer. Cutting bureaucracy and making timely, tailored offers are mentioned (but it isn't yet clear how these objectives will be achieved).
- School preference. All parents (whether or not their child has an SEN) have the right to express a preference for any state maintained school. This right will continue but 'expressing a preference' is not the same as the right to chose or to name a school. The current position is, that for children with a statutory statement of special educational needs, if a school is named on a statement the school must admit the child, unless doing so can be shown to be prejudicial to others already at the school. The proposed school preference system appears to be an erosion of the right to a guaranteed admission to the school named on the statement. No mention is made of independent special schools. Currently local authorities fund a number of places at independent special schools, where this is deemed to be the most appropriate placement for that child. Independent special schools handle some of the most complex, low-incidence (complex/rare) SEN including specialised placements for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and those in need of extensive therapeutic care. Other independent special schools offer teaching for children with a range of difficulties including dyslexia - many aiming to place children back in mainstream school, following a year or two of intensive, specialised help and support. We have seen numerous examples of excellent, targeted provision, which makes a real difference to the child and their life-chances.
- Removing the bias towards inclusion. Including children with special needs in mainstream schools has been key policy since the turn of the century. Not all believe a mainstream setting, and 'including' a child in this way, is best. Parents should have a greater say over the type of school their child attends with special school places available to those who need them. We hope the system will give the freedom and the flexibility that parents want and will be fluid enough for the setting to be changed, as necessary eg a child with Downs Syndrome may benefit from schooling in a mainstream primary but be better off switching to a special school setting for the secondary years. Again no mention is made of the role of independent special schools and whether parents and those involved with the child will be able to recommend such a placement.
- Reducing the time it takes to prepare and receive a 'statement' (EHCP). It currently takes up to six months to prepare a statement. It is hoped that reducing statement / EHCP time to around five months will lead to the child's needs being met more effectively. Provided there is sufficient time for the child's case and supporting documentation to be adequately prepared, this should reduce the stress and anxiety experienced by both parent and child.
- Increasing screening for SEN. Since September 2012 progress checks have been introduced for all two-year-olds to help identify and tackle problems early. Increased screening is welcomed but what matters is what happens as a result of the screening. If difficulties or problems are detected, how quickly will suitable interventions be implemented and by whom? Who will monitor interventions and adjust or adapt them as necessary? Who will be responsible for continued monitoring, target setting and management?
- Replacing school action and school action plus with one single category. The number of categories is not especially relevant. Timely, targeted, monitored, effective intervention is. This has yet to be detailed and there are concerns that a number of children in need, but without a clearly defined need, will simply disappear from the registers. Which children (if any) on School Action or School Action Plus will qualify for an EHCP? On economic grounds alone, we do not envisage mass transference. We suspect enforced economies may see some children lose the support they have under the current system - time will tell.
- Transparency of provision. The paper says LAs should make clear the provision available to parents but does not suggest any minimum requirements.
- Controlling budgets. Personalised budgets are being piloted. A parent may take the cash, and control how that the money is spent or alternatively leave the kitty in the hands of a key worker but direct how it is used. The hope is that a child will get the services they need, when they are needed, and for any changes to be more effectively managed. Some parents may not feel able, have the time, or possess the knowledge required, to make those decisions and to be accountable for them. Where a parent does control the budget there may well be differences of opinion between how providers feel the money should be spent and what parents think. Parents of children with specific learning difficulties are among those expressing concern about this system and the funding available, while detractors suspect budgets will only really apply to those children with low incidence (complex/rare) needs.
There is also a proposal that respite care (and access to it), should be more readily available and transparent. Respite care is designed to give parents of children with more severe and demanding difficulties a short-break, enabling them to de-stress, rest and recharge.
Our key thoughts:
- Who will qualify for an EHC plan? The paper states, 'it is those children whose needs exceed what is normally provided for in school'. We suspect EHC plans will be limited to those who are currently in receipt of a statement (just under three per cent of all children). What of those children on School Action and School Action Plus? Will any qualify for additional help or an EHC plan? How will that be decided?
- Independent schools. No mention is made of the role that independent schools, including independent special schools and non-maintained special schools, might play (or of funding entitlements).
- SEN identification. The government is keen to reduce the number of children identified with special needs. Some children are possibly misdiagnosed as having a special need because of inadequacies and shortcomings within their environment (poor parenting, language deprivation, social and emotional deprivation, neglect etc). Regardless of root cause or label, what matters is meeting the learning needs of children who are struggling or experience difficulties.
- Final say. Where conflicts arise about the suitability of a school for a child with SEND, who will have the last word? Mediation and first tier tribunals are mentioned but key detail is missing.
- Provision deprivation. What happens when the type of provision hoped for is not available within the resources offered?
- Flexibility. We hope the system will be flexible and will change as and when the child's needs change. This includes, but should not be limited to, moving between different types of provision (mainstream, resourced, special).
- SEN - the responsibility of all schools? Increasing numbers of state schools, including free schools and academies, fall outside of local authority control. Will these schools be accountable for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)? Will the admission of children with SEND be enforceable? Currently parents of children who are refused a place at a maintained school have the right to appeal to First Tier Tribunal SEND. We were pleased to see that a tribunal (August 2012) found in favour of three parents who fought to have Mossbourne Academy named on their statement. According to IPSEA, the decision means that even if an academy's funding agreement with the education secretary does not state that it will follow such a ruling, they must do so. The ruling may be short-lived: the right to name a school is not currently an explicit right on the proposed changes to SEN (Next steps): only the right to express a preference is explicit.
Implications for teaching and learning
- Early identification of special needs is key.
- Staff need to be trained to spot children with special needs.
- Timely interventions can make a real difference.
Initial teacher training. We support the British Dyslexia Association's campaign for all teachers to have a compulsory dyslexia module as part of their initial teacher training. Dyslexia is only one of very many special needs. However, interventions and methods used to help children identified with dyslexia will benefit children who are struggling with any of: language acquisition, poor phonological awareness, difficulty decoding and/or reading, writing and comprehending what is read.
On-going training and professional development. Many teachers will benefit from greater training in special needs. Education is life-long; we believe training and development should be too. We think all staff should, as part of their on-going professional development, continue to develop a better understanding of how learners learn. It doesn't necessarily mean huge CPD budgets - in many good schools, expertise and best practice are very effectively shared within and between schools.
A collegiate approach within schools. In the best schools we visit, teachers and associated professionals openly discuss the needs of youngsters, share what works and are open about what hasn't/ doesn't. Working collegiately in this way - recording and monitoring progress, seeking help and advice from each other and from existing resources, and looking to external sources, (when the necessary support or expertise is not available from within) - can make a real, measurable difference to the learner.
The numbers game - SEND or deprivation - does it matter?
Press coverage has suggested that the government is actively seeking to reduce the number of children with special needs. We see this differently. We think there are children who, because of external factors such as deprivation, are not afforded the opportunity to learn and are thus put on the Special Needs register. With the right support and help these children can thrive.
The dilemma - should children who struggle simply because of their home circumstances be registered as having a special need, or do we keep the numbers down by explicitly excluding this group? The answer is neither. Good schools will be addressing deprivation factors from the onset and plugging the 'nurture gaps' so these children can demonstrate their capabilities, harness their talents and work to show their true ability. As with all elements of the population, some of these children will have special needs - specific learning difficulties, global delay, autistic spectrum conditions - but many more will not. It is not an easy task for schools but we know of schools that face these challenges head on, with sparkling outcomes.
One such school, Leighton Primary, has been a Good Schools Guide stalwart for many years. They are on the 80th centile for deprivation yet only the 10th centile for SEN. We visited to uncover what they do that delivers the goods. The full case study can be read here: 'Getting Reading Right - A Case Study' but the highlights include:
- Meeting needs from within their existing budget.
- Early identification and intervention.
- Exceptionally strong and focused leadership.
- Employing a speech therapist to work in nursery, reception and with KS1 children.
- Working closely with children with poor phonological awareness so they can access speech and language, and subsequently phonics, reading and spelling.
- On-going training and development of staff.
- Continual striving for excellence and improvement.
- Careful monitoring, recording and reporting of all pupils with interventions implemented as soon as there is any dip in progress.
- Reading recovery for those who need it.
Types of SEN - A comprehensive overview of key conditions that give rise to SEN.
SEN Professional Help - useful information on the various SEN professionals who can provide assistance in and out of the classroom
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