As we head towards half term for many of you, the covid situation continues to add to the complexity of running a school and the need to respond with extraordinary flexibility to demands that change day by day. It remains to be seen whether or not, in the wake of the pandemic, the government will take the opportunity to rethink the whole of the assessment and accountability framework.
So far, this isn’t looking likely, as those working in the primary phase will have experienced a new school year bringing with it: a revised EYFS Framework; the introduction after previous failed attempts to have a reception baseline assessment (RBA); and the engagement model to replace P scales 1 to 4, for pupils not engaged in subject-specific study, to name but a few.
What the new school year did not bring was the DfE’s SEND Review, which has been promised so many times that a date is no longer being given for its appearance, but just an assurance from the DfE that a great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes.
Changes at the DfE
To add to a changing scene, the last reshuffle saw an almost complete clear-out of the DfE. In place of Gavin Williamson is Nadhim Zahawi, who was briefly in the DfE as minister for children and families, when his role included responsibility for SEND. Since then, he has become better known for his last role as minister for covid vaccine deployment. Speaking at NAHT’s Policy Conference in London in October, Mr Zahawi reiterated his plans for a whlte paper in the New Year, which would tackle what he described as “innumeracy and illiteracy”. He also mentioned his ambition to identify the root causes of pupil absenteeism, so that more pupils are in school and attend regularly.
Meanwhile, at nasen Live 2021, Will Quince, MP for Colchester, who has replaced Vicky Ford as minister for children and families, referred in his keynote speech to the delayed SEND Review as follows:
“We have been taking time to properly consider the impact of the pandemic, and the extensive feedback we are receiving about our ongoing work… The government began the review because we are determined to level up outcomes for children and young people with SEND and focus on preparing them for later life and adulthood…”
If and when this happens, it will be interesting to find out what levelling up outcomes means in terms of the disparate group of pupils included under the SEND umbrella.
Motions at NAHT’s Policy Conference
NAHT’s Policy Conference, which was held in the spacious surroundings of County Hall, London (having been re-routed from Telford to make it a more accessible venue for a face-to face-conference), was a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues again. Not surprisingly, among a large number of motions, many were on funding and the need to ensure that all the services supporting children and their families were able to provide the support and interventions required, so that it wasn’t left to schools to fill in the gaps. NAHT Cymru was also concerned about the lack of funding for the new role of ALNCo (additional learning needs coordinator), while NAHT NI mentioned the Education Authority’s (EA) failure to plan for an increase in pupils with SEN.
In case you’ve missed it amongst the welter of information you receive, NAHT’s A Failure to Invest: The state of school funding in 2021 encapsulates the findings from a survey of school leaders in June this year, to which some of you will have responded.
The findings include:
- 97% of school leaders saying funding for pupils with SEND in their schools is insufficient to meet needs, including for those with and without EHC plans
- 79% of school leaders in mainstream schools reported having to fund additional services because they were unavailable from health and social care, rising to 86% in special schools.
In July this year, two strategies appeared: the National Disability Strategy and the five-year National Strategy for Autistic Children, Young People and Adults (2021-26).
The first of these was presented to Parliament by the DWP secretary Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, who has managed to keep her seat at the cabinet table, while Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, has, since the launch, become minister for disabled people. There are several references to the work going on across the UK, including Northern Ireland’s work on a new Disability Strategy which started to be developed in September 2020, and the Welsh government’s framework, Action on Disability: The Right to Independent Living, which was launched in September 2019.
The strategy has three main parts and much of it is focused on improving the lives of disabled adults. However, part one has a section entitled ‘Education: ensuring children and young people fulfil their potential’, which is largely about the yet-to-appear SEND Review, while part three lists what each government department promises to do. This includes the DfE, whose first commitment reads: ‘Completing a wide-ranging review of actions to improve outcomes for children with SEND’. There is no date on this commitment.
While welcoming the strategy, the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) quite rightly points out that “… it offers little new for disabled children, repeating instead some of the commitments already announced. We hope it is just a stepping stone to a fully rounded strategy". It is a bonus that the strategy is accessible in easy read, large print, BSL and Welsh.
The National Strategy for Autistic Children, Young People and Adults: 2021 to 2026 makes a refreshing change, as previous ones, along with the Autism Act of 2009, overlooked younger people. This time, they are mentioned in the title. Overall, the strategy looks at improving the lives of autistic people and their families and carers in England, with a detailed implementation plan for the first year, 2021 to 2022. It is based on six themes that form the main chapters:
- improving understanding and acceptance of autism within society
- improving autistic CYP’s access to education, and supporting positive transitions into adulthood
- supporting more autistic people into employment
- tackling health and care inequalities for autistic people
- building the right support in the community and supporting people in inpatient care
- improving support within the criminal and youth justice systems.
The strategy recognises that autistic children need a range of provision:
“It is important that autistic children, as well as other children with special educational needs, get the right school placement, and some will need special school provision to reach their potential. To this end, we have committed to opening 37 new special free schools across the country, of which 24 have provision specifically for autistic children and young people... which are expected to start operating from September 2022.”
In welcoming a strategy that the National Autistic Society (NAS) has long campaigned for, Tim Nicholls, head of policy, remarked: “…this is a huge moment. But true change for autistic children and young people will depend on the government’s upcoming SEND Review and the funding it dedicates to future years of the strategy."
Other SEND news
There has been further information on changes to the SEND Tribunal and on delivering specialist interventions.
Following a national trial, on 20 July 2021 the DfE SEND division confirmed it would be continuing the extended powers given to the SEND Tribunal to hear appeals and make non-binding recommendations about the health and social care aspects of education, health and care (EHC) plans, provided these appeals also include education elements. As a result, the previous guidance has been updated to remove references to the national trial and to provide details of how appeals which include health and social care aspects – to be known as ‘extended appeals’ – will work. See SEND Tribunal: Extended Appeals – Guidance for LAs, health commissioners, parents and young people.
For those who are interested in the evaluation of the national trial, Evaluation of the National Trial Extension of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal Powers July 2021 has recently been published. In summary, conclusions drawn from the evaluation stated that families were exercising their rights to bring health and social care issues to the tribunal in greater numbers than expected, but there may be further to go in raising awareness of what the process of appealing involves. Although non-binding, there is evidence that local authorities (LAs) and clinical commissioning groups are for the most part agreeing to implement tribunal health and/or social care recommendations.
On 16 September, the government published Delivery of Specialist 1:1 and Group Interventions for Children and Young People in Education settings. Supported by the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Psychologists (AEP), Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), Council for Disabled Children (CDC), National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP), National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF), Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), the leaflet contains three pages of advice on how schools and specialist staff should work with each other and with families, to ensure pupils receive the interventions they need. This includes the following:
“We are clear that education settings should welcome all specialist staff and facilitate their work with children and young people. This guidance aims to address any misconceptions around what should be delivered and to provide clarity in three broad areas: ensuring full access to provision; what safety precautions should be considered; and the importance of working with families and carers.”
The Big Ask and The Big Answer
Following up on The Big Ask, which was launched by Rachel de Souza soon after she was appointed as Children’s Commissioner for England, The Big Answer has now been published. Half a million children from all 151 LAs replied, including:
- 2,200 who were supported by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs)
- 2,300 from Gypsy or Irish Traveller backgrounds
- 3,800 children in care
- 5,200 in special schools
- 6,000 young carers
- 13,000 who had a social worker
- 26,000 receiving mental health support
- 97,000 with an additional learning need.
One of a number of policy recommendations under the section on health and well-being reads: "A more rapid expansion of Mental Health Support Teams, achieved by better utilisation of the voluntary and charitable sectors."
It is ironic that, although the ideas in the Green Paper on Mental Health were warmly welcomed, concerns were expressed from the start that the timescale was far too slow. Now, of course, covid-19 has increased the need, and, at the same time, further delayed implementation. More promising news comes from an interim report, Early Evaluation of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Trailblazers. As well as the details in the report, appendix 1 gives ‘expected milestones’. This is a timetable of events from December 2018, when the first tranche of trailblazers were announced and Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) were set up – together with training for the first cohort of Education Mental Health Practitioners (EMHPs) – through to what is expected by January 2024
Mental health and well-being
Tim Bowen, NAHT president, when he was chairing the Policy Conference reminded everyone that Education Support is his supported charity for the year. It is the only UK charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of teachers and education staff in schools, colleges and universities. As some of you may know, it grew out of the Teachers’ Benevolent Fund and has been in existence for 144 years supporting education staff in various ways. Tim introduced the chief executive of the charity, Sinead McBrearty, who spoke movingly about the need for school leaders to pay attention to their own well-being. “Self-care is not self-indulgence”, she told conference, continuing: “if school leaders don’t look after themselves, how will they look after others?”
NAHT members can access a dedicated, confidential counselling and support helpline on 0800 9174055 provided by Education Support. Open 24/7, it is staffed by qualified counsellors and offers emotional and practical support.
Anti-bullying week is 5-9 November and the theme is 'all about kindness'. Further information and free resources are available from the Anti-Bullying Alliance; #AntiBullyingWeek 2021: #OneKindWord.
Forming part of the government’s Beating Crime Plan, which was announced in July, last month the government confirmed the 21 areas to receive funding to prevent vulnerable pupils in alternative provision (AP) becoming caught up in criminal activity. Specialist taskforces will receive £15 million between them. The taskforces will include mental health professionals, family workers and speech and language therapists, who will offer intensive support directly to pupils seen as at risk of being drawn into crime. The aim is to help them stay engaged in education, and then move into further education, employment or training. The AP taskforce areas are: Birmingham, Bradford, Brent, Bristol, Croydon, Doncaster, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newham, Nottingham, Salford, Sandwell, Sheffield, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. A separate £30 million scheme of taskforces for mainstream schools is also planned, but the 10 areas set to receive cash are yet to be confirmed.
As you may or may not be reading this before NAHT’s annual SEND Conference takes place, I’ll just say that I hope to ‘see’ many of you there. Originally planned as a hybrid conference based in Manchester, it had to be changed at short notice to a remote conference, but this will not make the exciting array of topics and speakers any less gripping. For those of you unable to attend, I’ll give an account of the event next time, together with an update on the work of the National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education (NFNSE) which holds its bi-annual meeting this month courtesy of the NAHT.
In the meantime, look after yourselves and remain optimistic that at some stage, if not now, the pandemic will become endemic; staff and pupils will be able to be in schools as before; and school leaders will be able to concentrate more on teaching and learning and less on wiping down desks, opening windows and marshalling one-way traffic.