The unexpected announcement of another general election has thrown everything into the air again, as we wait to see what this means in terms of educational policy. An immediate effect was that, as we assembled for NAHT’s Annual Conference in Telford over the Bank Holiday weekend to hear Justine Greening, she didn’t arrive but Jeremy Corbyn turned up instead.
Update on assessment
True to form, the DfE released its two consultations on primary assessment just as most schools were breaking up for Easter. Primary school pupil assessment: Rochford Review recommendations – Government consultation,and the consultation on Primary assessment in England, are running side by side between 30 March and 22 June, so at least there is time to make a considered response. By now, members of NAHT should have received questionnaires on both.
As far as Rochford is concerned, the changes under discussion include:
- The interim pre-key stage standards being made permanent and extended to include all those engaged in subject-specific learning.
- The removal of the statutory requirement to assess pupils using P scales.
- Assessing pupils currently at P1-P3 using 7 aspects of engagement.
- Reporting the progress of these pupils only to parents and carers.
Until decisions are taken and become operational, the P scales remain in place.
Select Committee Report
On 1 May, the Education Select Committee’s report on Primary assessment was published, (House of Commons Education Committee, Primary Assessment, HC 682). The report recognises the danger of linking assessment to accountability and how this impacts on teaching and learning; a narrowing of the curriculum; and teacher & pupil wellbeing. One of its recommendations picks up Rochford’s call for better training for assessing pupils who are working below the standard of the tests. Another one suggests that data should only be looked at after inspectors have visited the school instead of before.
Update on the SEND Reforms
SEN Support, EHC plans and Transfer Reviews
Andre Imich from the DfE has confirmed that the number of pupils identified as requiring SEN support continues to fall, raising questions about how well the graduated system of SEN Support is working.
On 27 March, Edward Timpson wrote to the Directors of Children’s Services to remind them that all statements must be transferred to EHC plans by 31 March next year. In order to monitor progress, the DfE is asking LAs for monthly updates via an online survey to see:
- How many transfers of SEN statements have yet to be completed.
- Of those remaining, how many the LA expects to complete by 31 March 2018.
However, any statemented pupils not reassessed by the deadline will be protected in law and transfer to Plans automatically. One way that some LAs are trying to keep up is by outsourcing the writing of EHC plans, which would seem to go against the whole idea of taking a more personalised approach.
Mediation and Tribunals
One of the criticisms of the previous SEN system was that parents saw it as a battle to get their children the support they need. To find out whether the SEND Reforms have made the system less adversarial, the DfE and the Ministry of Justice commissioned a report which has just been published, together with the government’s response, SEND: review of arrangements for disagreement resolution – government response. One of the next steps being taken is a two-year trial of expanding the First-tier SEND Tribunal’s powers, so that non-binding recommendations can made on the health & social care elements of EHC plans.
Local Area SEND Reviews
By now, there have been 25 reviews and inspectors appear to have become more critical as they familiarise themselves with the process. Of the first 13 reviews, (whose reports were issued between July & December 2016), only two were required to produce a Written Statement of Action. Yet, of the 12 written so far this year, six have been singled out as needing to write one - Sefton, Hartlepool, Suffolk, Dorset, Sandwell & Waltham Forest, while Derbyshire, Hillingdon, Leeds, East Sussex, Trafford & Southampton are in the clear.
Green Papers, White Papers, Bills and Acts
With the change from Cameron to May and from Nicky Morgan to Justine Greening, the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, appeared to go nowhere – although part of it, such as exclusions is being taken forward - and was superseded by the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, published last Autumn. This turned the focus from forced academisation to greater selection. (An interesting footnote to this is the number of Regional Schools Commissioners who have resigned, with only three of the original eight remaining in post). Despite the Green Paper’s title sounding very inclusive, there isn’t a single mention of pupils who have SEND. A follow up White Paper leading to a Bill was promised for this Spring, but may prove to be one of the many casualties of the general election - at least for the time being.
I was looking forward to appearing at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) towards the end of May, when I received a message to say it had been cancelled due to the general election, after which, the select committees and the myriad of APPGs that exist, have to be re-formed from scratch.
However, on a much more positive note, Sarah-Jane Critchley, who has been a driving force on the Autism Education Trust (AET) since its inception, has written a book that has just been launched in its printed version. Called A Different Joy – The Parent’s Guide to Living Better with Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD & more…, it is full of insights as well as practical tips. To go with it is a 90 day journal to help parents and carers reflect on each day’s events, to think about what went well, what could have been handled differently and to encourage them to build in time for themselves. If you have parents who might find this helpful, check it out at : www.differentjoy.com, where there are also details about joining the Different Joy Club.
Behaviour/ Alternative Provision (AP)
Tom Bennett’s Independent Review of behaviour in schools - Creating a Culture : How school leaders can optimise behaviour was published in March and has evolved from the Behaviour Review Group he led as part of the Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT).
In her response (dated 24 March), Justine Greening confirms that the DfE plans to give schools control of AP budgets, to commission places, and to remain accountable for their pupils’ progress.
In common with previous reports from Sir Alan Steer, when he was the government’s behaviour guru, Tom points out that further work needs to be done on supporting pupils with more extreme behaviour. This recommendation is picked up by Justine who says the DfE will be reviewing the Department’s guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools, alongside the joint Green Paper with the DoH on children and young people’s mental health.
When I was speaking at a conference in Manchester recently, I managed to slip into a seminar run by a lecturer, who, having spent his professional life in the field of dyslexia, had recently been persuaded that it didn’t actually exist. The description of his session said: ‘We will explore an alternative, more fluid approach to teaching and learning, based upon a notion of neurodiversity that resists traditional SEN categories or even reformulations of 'neurodiversity' that have been trapped within the traditional 'SEN'.’ In this age when brain scans can be done on the living, rather than having to wait until someone has passed away, I found this quite strange, and it must be somewhat disheartening to researchers who have spent a lifetime helping us to understand the various types of specific learning difficulties, co-existing disorders etc to have their work dismissed in this way.
The Review by I CAN and the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT), Bercow: Ten Years On, has moved into its second phase, when parents and carers are being given an opportunity to share their views on provision for their child’s speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Evidence already submitted by the Institute of Health Visiting shows that over 70% of health visitors who responded to the 1st phase, reported an increase in children with delayed speech and communication development. For further details and a link to the parents’ survey, go towww.ican.org.uk/Bercow
There hasn’t been much space recently to report on meetings, so here are a few snippets.
Joint Unions on SEND Issues
The group met last on 6 February at ATL HQ, when Chris Eridani-Ball from the DfE’s 0-25 SEND Unit, who is the usual link, came with some colleagues from the DfE. The next meeting was due to be held on 9 May, but has been postponed until the other side of the election, as both the DfE and the DoH were due to be present to discuss progress on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
The SEND Council met in London on 7 Feb, when much of the time was spent finalising arrangements for the Special Schools, Specialist & Alternative Provision Conference, in order to ensure its continued success. (A reporton this event, which takes place in March each year, was given in the previous blog). We are now looking forward to our meeting on 7 June, which will be held at Chris Britten’s school. He represents members in Wales on the SEND Council and we look forward to visiting his school, Ysgol Y Deri, which is part of the Penarth Learning Community in the Vale of Glamorgan. On the agenda will be the SEND Motions passed at conference.
- Paul Williams’ and Tony Newman’s motion on behalf of the SEND Council, on High Needs Funding being distributed on a more equitable basis.
- A motion from the West Sussex Branch on the need for sufficient resources to support pupils with complex difficulties.
- A motion from the Shropshire Branch about health services pushing responsibility for pupils with mental health issues onto schools.
The Special Education Consortium (SEC)
This meets monthly and it has been agreed to have Early Years and Post-16 on every agenda to make sure they are covered. Recently, this has included:
The Early Years Workforce Strategy which is mainly about ways to attract, retain and develop those working in pre-school settings. Section 2.3 is headed Supporting children with SEND and stresses that all early years provision should be inclusive. The cost of this is recognised and reference made to the Disability Access Fund, which is part of the Early Years National Funding Formula (EYNFF) & the SEN Inclusion Fund which LAs must establish under the EYNFF.
SEND: 19-25 year olds’ entitlement to EHC plans has recently been published and covers: supported internships; accessing FE; allowing more time to study; health & social care needs; and extending or finishing EHC plans. Reference was made to Justine Greening’s announcement on 28th March that from this April, the EFA & SFA are being brought together and will be called the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).
Other items have been:
- A presentation by Russell Ewens & Benedict Coffin from the DfE on High Needs Funding.
- A presentation by Dame Christine Lenehan about her Call for evidence on the outcomes and experiences of children and young people in Residential Special Schools and Colleges. At a subsequent meeting, we discussed who might benefit from this type of provision; what it should look like; and the outcomes that should result from it. Members indicated that the scope of work should be extended to consider lifetime needs and support, particularly where needs are due to prematurity.
- An update from Matthew Dodd (Principal Officer) on mental health. He referred to the Inquiry being carried out by both the DoH & DfE Select Committees into Children and Young people’s mental health – role of education, which began last December, but has yet to report.
The National SEND Forum met on 22 March and meets again on 10 May. Some of the discussions have been around: the difficulty of SEND pupils with high ability being admitted to grammar schools; the falling number of pupils with EHC plans in mainstream secondary education; and the increasingly wide range of pupils in special schools making it harder to meet all their needs. At the March meeting, we had a presentation by Roy O’Shaughnessy, chief executive of the Shaw Trust, which competes for contracts through the government procurement process against blue chip companies. All profits are reinvested, with the aim of increasing the number of disabled people who are in employment. More recently, it has been offering employment opportunities for pupils from special schools.
At the next meeting, there will be a discussion about the need to look again at the work Peter Gray et al did for the government in 2006, National Audit off Support, Services, & Provision for Children with Low Incidence, to see whether it might bring some coherence to a fragmented pattern of provision if we built on his ideas for having Centres of Expertise. In the light of the SEND Reforms, this would need to cover 0-25s within a multi-disciplinary environment.
Apologies for the length of this blog. Hopefully, the next one will be shorter as the period of purdah (now known as period of heightened sensitivity) will last until after the local and general elections. So I’ll be in touch again after 8 June, when, even if there isn’t change of government, we will know whether or not we have yet another secretary of state for education to get to know.