Since I last wrote, and despite everything else going on, the usual avalanche of information has been pouring out of the government and elsewhere, which is inclined to add to everyone’s workload. However, at least we’re approaching the time when the SEND review will reach the end of its work and some additional information about it is emerging.
As mentioned in my last summary, after two years of very little happening a new team of ministers at the DfE, along with a new SEND Review team supported by a large steering group, have galvanised the process and all would appear to be in train for the report to be published by the end of March. The education white paper, which was expected to be released around the same time, could be out quite soon. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which was also due by the end of March, has been held up by having to wait for the report into the tragic deaths of two young children murdered by the very people who should have been caring for them, so the report is due to appear in May instead.
It seems likely that the SEND Review is going to make significant changes since the last review, which resulted in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the current SEND Code of Practice (2015). This means that new legislation and another SEND code of practice will be required. A consultation, in the form of a green paper, is likely to run across the summer; the government’s response to the consultation being published in the autumn; and a debate on the bill possibly starting in spring 2023. What isn’t yet clear is whether or not the green paper will be followed by a white paper before becoming a bill. As for a new SEND code of practice, last time the code wasn’t finalised until the year after the Children and Families Act, so any changes aren’t going to happen overnight.
Last time, I touched on what might be in the green paper and certain elements are becoming clearer. It is said that the DfE wishes to stem the tide of pupils queuing up to get into special schools by having more pupils supported in their local schools. For those of us who were teaching in the 1980s and 1990s, we have gone through the decades when special schools were threatened with extinction, as integration and then inclusion hit the headlines, to a situation where many special schools today are having to turn pupils away because of the demand for places. As the review, despite wanting more pupils who have SEND to attend mainstream provision, is expected to recognise a continuing need for both specialist and alternative provision (AP), we have to hope that the right balance can be found, so that every pupil receives the education they deserve in the setting where they can feel most included. This will require an increase in specialist support teams to help mainstream schools address the needs of a wider population and closer links between all the component parts of SEND provision working closely together. AP is expected to feature quite strongly and be seen as a valuable resource, which is entirely appropriate as 80% of their pupils may have SEMH. This approach also links with the government’s aim of increasing attendance and reducing exclusions, which is covered under ‘consultations’. Other proposals are said to include having a national template for EHC plans, as well as national expectations for locally available provision. (Further information about the review is given in the section on meetings).
Levelling Up White Paper
Although there is little in this white paper specifically about SEND, the fact that it is based on spreading opportunity more equally across the UK, could be said to be what is needed in terms of pupils who have SEND, so that, wherever they live, they can expect to have their needs met, although the exact composition of what is available locally may have some variation. In the same way that the fortunes of specialist provision have waxed and waned, along with some fresh ideas, other proposals are based on ones adapted from the past but under a different name. So we have 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) bearing some resemblance to Education Action Zones (EAZs) and Excellence in Cities (EiCs), while Family Hubs are said to build on the work of the Sure Start Children’s Centre, but with a wider remit.
As well as a raft of other proposals, there is specific reference to building on the secretary of state's wish to deal with illiteracy and innumeracy, by having an aim of 90% of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030. It’s a pity the thinking hasn’t moved on from the idea of children being expected to reach set standards at particular ages, instead of accepting that children are unique individuals who mature at different rates and have different interests and strengths. It will be interesting to see if phonics is touted as the only way to teach beginner readers, and drumming the more obscure elements of grammar into primary pupils is the way to improve writing. So far, the evidence would point to this not being the case.
Read the Levelling Up White Paper here.
DfE Consultations: Attendance, Behaviour and Exclusions
The Consultation on Revised Behaviour in Schools Guidance and Suspension and Permanent Exclusion Guidance is running from 3 February to 31 March and covers both sets of guidance. You can also take a look the consultation questions here.
The Consultation on School Attendance: Improving Consistency of Support, ran from 25 January to 28 February and so is now closed.
In a similar vein, on 7 February this year Ofsted brought out a research and analysis paper: Securing Good Attendance and Tackling Persistent Absence. Under a section on The Importance of Ambition, it says:
“The curriculum and overall provision for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) are important so that these pupils – too many of whom often have poor attendance – have a positive experience of school. Many leaders in these schools have also worked on behaviour in lessons, anti-bullying measures and the wider school culture as part of this.”
It's easy to say that SEND pupils may have more absences, but harder to judge whether or not this amounts to ‘poor attendance.’
Last time, I mentioned the Down Syndrome Bill, which is still going through parliament but is well on its way to becoming an act. This time, I’d like to mention the British Sign Language (BSL) Bill.
After being recognised as a language in 2003 in England and 2004 in Wales, it has taken a long time for BSL to gain legal status, unlike the Welsh, Gaelic and Cornish languages which do have legal protection. However, this bill, which is going through parliament at the moment, will mean that BSL will finally have acquired legal status in England, with the advantages this will bring to the deaf community. As it has all-party support, it could soon become an act. In Northern Ireland, after years of campaigning by the deaf community there, both BSL and ISL (Irish Sign Language) were officially recognised as minority languages in March 2004, but still have no legal status. At the front of the field is Scotland, where The British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Act was passed way back in 2015. This is why it is rare to see Nicola Sturgeon without a signer nearby. Hopefully, if belatedly, England will soon join them and may even manage to introduce BSL as a GCSE subject, something that has been discussed for many years. Personally, I think Michael Gove and Nick Gibb may have baulked at the idea of examining a language that has no written form, without realising the complexities of its linguistic structure.
The National SEND Forum (NSENDF) held its first meeting of the term (virtually) on 2 February. About 20 organisations were present. David Bateson (chair) began by congratulating Andre Imich, DfE’s SEND professional adviser, on his OBE and Mark Blois on being included in the Disability Power 100!, which is an annual award highlighting the work of the top 100 disabled influencers. I first met Mark on the conference circuit, long before he joined the forum and enabled us to meet among the skyscrapers in the City of London where his law firm is based. This year marks his 25th year as a leading education lawyer. On receiving his award Mark wrote:
“My personal journey living with Cystic Fibrosis, like the journeys of so many others on the list, hasn’t been without its challenges but I have been fortunate to work for a firm such as Browne Jacobson who are genuinely committed to diversity and inclusion and I am grateful for the support I have received during my career from allies who have wanted me to succeed.”
Mark is indeed a great role model, always battling on despite any difficulties caused by his condition.
There were two main items on the agenda and the first one was an update from Andre on the SEND Review. In addition to what I’ve already said, Andre suggested that the review had been undertaken because there was too much of everything: too many pupils on SEN support, too many wanting EHC plans, too many in special schools, and too many tribunal cases. He described the review’s priorities as:
- Creating a sustainable system leading to improved outcomes
- A reduction in local variation in terms of eg number of special schools, number of EHC plans, etc
- More support for mainstream schools, including through the use of the specialist and alternative provision sectors
- A push for earlier intervention
- Greater transparency of funding and accountability with a closer alignment between them
- The need for health and social care to understand their role.
Lorraine Mulrooney, National Specialist Adviser SEND for the NHS, (who is a member of the forum), added that she attends the weekly meetings of the SEND Review team, in order to consider the health aspects of any changes. It is promising to know that she is involved.
APPG for SEND
The All Party Parliamentary Group for SEND, for which NAHT provides the secretariat, began this year’s meetings on Wednesday 9 February. The focus this time was on Barriers for SEND Young People and Families – intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Somehow six speakers were packed into the hour’s programme, so it was just as well that MPs didn’t ask too many questions. The speakers included Mala Thapar, from Special Needs Jungle; Tanya Finn and Campbell-Wright who are parents; Tabatha Ayres from the KIDS charity; Phoenix, a young person from KIDS who identifies as non-binary; and Chris Smalling, a deputy head and member of NAHT’s LGBT+ network. All in all, it was a fascinating session.
Further meetings this term will be as follows:
- Wednesday 9 March – SEND Review and bigger picture
- Wednesday 23 March – Social, emotional & mental health in SEND support.
If you would like to speak at either of these meetings, please fill in this expression of interest form.
In my next summary, I hope the main item will be the findings of the SEND Review which should have appeared by then. I’ll also mention the meetings of NAHT’s SEND Council and the National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education (NFNSE), which is hosted by NAHT, both of which have meetings shortly. In addition, I’ll report on the content of two not-to-be-missed conferences NAHT will be putting on in the autumn term. One is being organised by NAHT’s Diversity & Inclusion Group and will be on 29 September. The other is the well established Annual SEND Conference, which will be on 19 October.