As I write, the future continues to be very uncertain. The secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi appearing on the penultimate Andrew Marr Show felt the need to talk more about boosting the booster programme than about education, although where his previous and present roles coincide is in his determination to do what it takes to keep as many pupils in school as possible.
Amanda Spielman was probably saying much the same thing when releasing her annual report, in which she describes the loss of education and routine as leading to physical and mental health problems, with loneliness, boredom and misery being endemic among the young, as ”children struggle with a hokey-cokey education”.
And so to some more encouraging news. After waiting for a long time to be able to say something more about the SEND Review, beyond the fact that there was nothing more to say, at last there is a timeline and some ideas about the approach being taken.
As Nadhim announced at our Policy Conference in October, the findings of the SEND Review will appear in the first quarter of 2022. This has since been confirmed by Charlie Lang, deputy director, SEND review division, DfE, when he spoke earlier this month to the Special Education Consortium (SEC).
As further evidence that this time, it really will appear, Will Quince mentioned it in his letter to parents on 10 November, in which he also said:
“I want to assure you that I am wholeheartedly committed to the SEND Review. It is vital work and as we move towards publication of our proposals in the coming months, it is key that your children, families, teachers and others who play a vital role are actively involved… In our first few weeks, the secretary of state and I have been on a number of visits because we wanted to speak to teachers, pupils, students, and parents early on. We heard about fantastic work in mainstream and specialist settings to make sure children and young people could access education throughout the pandemic and are able to access support to catch up.”
Speaking more recently to the Education Select Committee, Will pointed out that he wouldn’t be able to face them for his return visit in three months’ time, if the review’s proposals hadn’t been published by then.
Likely direction of travel
When it appears, it is likely to be in the form of a green paper, which will be followed by a consultation. The timing is designed to enable the green paper to be aligned with the promised white paper on improving literacy and numeracy, as well as with the final report of the independent review of children’s social care. The starting point is said to be mainstream provision, but with specialist and alternative provision also being considered, the former being for pupils with the most complex needs and the latter supporting mainstream schools, as well as providing education on a short-term basis. In addressing the need to improve outcomes for young people with SEND and to have a system that is sustainable financially, the review has been looking at:
- Improving parental confidence and reducing inconsistency/the postcode lottery
- Making early intervention happen, not just in the early years, but whenever needs are identified
- Being clearer about what mainstream schools should be able to provide and the support services they need to be able to draw on
- Maintaining a strong specialist sector for those whose needs cannot be met by high-quality mainstream education
- Looking at the role of alternative provision (AP) and the education of pupils who have SEND
- Engaging the involvement of health and social care in working alongside education
- Clarifying accountability at every level.
Strengthening the review team
As part of making sure the SEND Review moves forward at pace, a steering group has been formed to advise on the proposals that will be in the green paper. This has brought together more than 20 people from across government departments, parent representatives, the voluntary and community sector, early years, schools, colleges, local government, health and care, as well as independent experts. The group is chaired by Steph Brivio, the DfE’s director of strategy, social media and disadvantage. As well as Steph and Charlie Lang, others on the group include Dame Rachel de Souza, children’s commissioner; Chris Russell, Ofsted’s national education director; and Christine Lenehan, director, Council for Disabled Children (CDC).
Ofsted/CQC’s SEND area inspections
In parallel with the SEND Review, Ofsted has been working on a new framework for the area SEND inspections it undertakes with the Care Quality Commission (CQC). As they were originally designed to focus on how well the changes brought about by the SEND reforms (2014) were being embedded, it makes sense to devise a different framework. Although this is still being piloted, it is likely that the focus will move to looking more at the experiences of children, young people and their families, rather than spending time on checking paperwork and talking to key people in charge of education, social care and health. This is in line with how Ofsted has adjusted its thinking between the CIF and the EIF, with a move away from data and towards focusing more on the quality of education pupils are receiving.
Currently, a couple of very different bills that may be of interest are wending their way through parliament. The first of these is the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. In answer to concerns about funding being removed from BTECs and other courses, Nadhim has assured MPs that implementation would not start in 2023 as originally planned. In addition, he said: “I am clear that T levels and A levels should be front and centre of the level 3 landscape. But I am also convinced that we need other qualifications alongside them – many of which currently exist – that play a valuable role in supporting good outcomes for students,” and that it was “quite likely we will see many BTECs and other similar applied general style qualifications continuing to play an important role in 16 to 19 education, for the foreseeable future.”
The Down’s Syndrome Bill is a private members’ bill sponsored by the Conservative MP for North Somerset, Dr Liam Fox. It is described as "a bill to make provision about meeting the needs of persons with Down syndrome; to place a duty on LAs to assess the likely social care needs of persons with Down syndrome; and plan provision accordingly". Speaking at the December SEC meeting, Gillian Bird from the Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) explained that they weren’t consulted about the Bill. Some of us expressed reservations, and I suggested that it would be helpful to spell out what would be gained by treating them as a discrete group.
Consultation on draft guidance
On 1 November, Ofqual launched a consultation: Guidance on designing and developing accessible assessments. Ofqual has accepted that an emphasis on written responses, the way instructions and questions are phrased and having some of the harder questions near the beginning rather than later on may prevent some students with SEND or whose first language is not English being able to demonstrate their knowledge. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have reviewed past GCSE exam papers to suggest improvements. As the consultation runs until 24 January 2022, SEC members have agreed to have an additional meeting to put together a response early in the New Year. The final guidance is expected in the spring.
Elective home education
Since 2016, the Association of Children’s Services (ADCS) has undertaken an annual elective home education (EHE) survey to capture the number and characteristics of children and young people who are known to be home educated. This year’s survey (November 2021) sought to capture the impact of covid-19 across the 2020/21 academic year when schools experienced closures due to national lockdown and covid outbreaks.
Since 2019, the government has been talking about making sure there is a register of those who are being home educated. Recently, Nadhim has confirmed that ministers are “absolutely committed” to launching a compulsory register for all children not educated in school, which might also help to identify those in unregistered and illegal settings. He promised to respond to the consultation which ended in June 2019, as soon as he could, but nothing has appeared so far.
Not surprisingly, there continues to be concern about the mental health and wellbeing of people of all ages.
Well-being of staff
Last month, the DfE produced an updated version of The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter. This was co-created with unions, mental health charities, schools and colleges. The DfE says that it wants to work with the sector to drive down unnecessary workload; improve access to wellbeing resources; and champion flexible working, among a range of other measures.
Both Tim Bowen, NAHTpresident, who chose Education Support as his charity for the year, and NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman have drawn our attention to this mental health support scheme, which is aimed specifically at school leaders. The programme includes facilitated online peer support as well as individual telephone support. The charity has just received funding to allow it to work with hundreds more leaders.
Health and social care select committee
Last month, the health and social care select committee published Children and Young People’s Mental Health: Eighth report of session 2021–22. In a section on the green paper’s commitment to schools in regard to mental health support teams (MHSTs) and training for senior mental health leads (SMHLs), paragraph 76 quotes NAHT’s concerns about the original timescale for the roll-out of the green paper being too slow. This is followed by an account of Tim Bowen’s appearance before the committee shortly before he became president, together with his successor as head of Maple School, Shanti Johnson. The school was one of the trailblazers and Tim describes the difference having an education mental health practitioner (EMHP) from the local MHST has made to his school. Shanti adds that the staff have also benefited from the training available to them. In the light of the evidence the committee received, one of the recommendations is as follows:
“We therefore recommend that the Department of Health and Social Care fully fund and scale up the roll-out of Mental Health Support Teams to cover two thirds of schools in England by 2024/25 and 100% by 2027/28.” (Paragraph 87)
In terms of the training for senior mental health leads (SMHLs), MPs also urged the DfE to make a commitment “to completing the roll-out before the end of the current parliament.”
Colin Foley, national training director at the ADHD Foundation who ran a breakout session at NAHT’s SEND Conference in October, has helped to produce a new resource booklet for SENCOs: Refocusing on ADHD in Education, also available from the foundation.
NAHT’s SEND Conference 2022
This brings me to the final item, and a reminder that our next annual SEND Conference will be in Manchester on Wednesday 19 October. This year, the conference had to be changed at the last minute from being in Manchester to being virtual, but, despite this last-minute change and the odd technical hitch, the feedback was extremely positive, as the calibre of the contributors still shone through. The SEND council’s conference group has already started discussions about the theme and content for next year and further updates will follow.
As another extraordinary year draws to its close, I found myself reading the first blog post by Chris Russell, Ofsted’s national director for education, who, just before the full effect of the latest variant was known, wrote:
“… it does feel like we’re moving – albeit slowly – towards normality. And I know many leaders and teachers are glad to be getting on with the business of educating, even if it isn’t exactly business as usual. We’ve worked hard to adapt the education inspection framework (EIF) and train our inspectors so that we can inspect fairly and reliably this term, taking the full impact of COVID into account. Our expectation is that all inspections are grounded in a thorough understanding of the particular challenges a school has faced, and is still facing. So, we’ll always ask leaders about the impact of covid.”
The good news is that Ofsted Inspectors are saying they will be sensitive to what schools and their pupils have been through. The less good news is that we face a second Christmas season of curtailed plans to meet and celebrate with family and friends. Despite this, I hope you will be able to have at least some time away from the daily stresses and strains of school life, secure in the knowledge that you have gone over and above what could have been expected of you.