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Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – October 2023

Since I last wrote, we’ve had confirmation of who the next His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (HMCI) will be and what he thinks about education, health and care plans (EHCPs). There’s been a row about whether or not there is a target for reducing EHCPs, together with a response from the new minister about the true state of affairs.

The Department for Education (DfE) has been out and about attending meetings to discuss progress with the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan, the SEND dimension to wraparound childcare, and improving the Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework (CCF and ECF). After I’ve explained more about these items, I’ll end with a reference to a piece of research on the cost of SEND tribunals, followed by the news that a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) has been agreed.

Changes of personnel

Amanda Spielman retires at the end of the year and her successor has been announced. Sir Martyn Oliver, chief executive of the Outward Grange Academies Trust (OGAT), will be taking a drop in salary to become HMCI from January 2024. Sir Martyn has expressed concern about the variation in the number of pupils with EHCPs, quoting one of his own schools as having “seven times the number of EHCP students than schools that are around it”. He goes on to suggest that inspections should include looking at the percentage of EHCPs and the reasons behind the number a school has.

Claire Coutinho has been promoted to secretary of state for energy security and net zero. Into her shoes as minister for children, families and wellbeing steps David Johnston, MP for Wantage and Didcot. David, whose brief includes SEND, becomes the seventh children’s minister since the current SEND Review was launched in 2019. He joins the department as a result of the mini reshuffle which took place over the summer. 

A target for reducing EHCPs?

Some of you will be aware that Delivering Better Value (DBV) and the Safety Valve (SV) programmes have been created to support local authorities (LAs) in achieving more sustainable SEND systems. An article in The Observer (10 September 2023) said that Newton Europe’s contract – the delivery partner for DBV – was set a target of reducing EHCPs by 20%, keeping more children in mainstream schools, and having fewer pupils placed in maintained and independent special schools. 

In the furore that followed, Robin Walker, chair of the Education Select Committee, was one of many who demanded to know whether or not this was true. On 22 September, Robin received a reply from David Johnston, who said:  

“The 20% reduction figure referred to in the contract with Newton Europe ... simply reflects an impact we might expect if the DBV programme successfully enables schools and LAs to identify need early and provide the appropriate support without an EHCP being required.” 

While this sounds a straightforward denial that any actual targets have been set, what it also reveals is that the DfE seems not to understand that, whatever savings are made, early identification and appropriate support are unlikely to be forthcoming without having considerably more education psychologists, specialist teachers and support teams, therapists, education mental health practitioners (EMHPs), etc, to work alongside schools in providing pupils with the help they need. We have stressed this fact time and time again to the DfE.

The SEND and alternative provision improvement plan

Progress on the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan: right support, right place, right time continues to form the meat of most of the meetings NAHT’s Rob Willams and I attend on behalf of the union. The information that follows is gleaned largely from discussions with the DfE, which has been present at joint union meetings on SEND Issues, the National SEND Forum and the Special Educational Consortium. 

Work at national level

The National SEND and alternative provision implementation board is now established and is meeting every three months. It is chaired jointly by David Johnston (DfE) and Maria Caulfield (DHSC), ensuring that both departments work closely together. The board’s role is to oversee the actions set out in the implementation plan, and to provide challenge and advice. This is one of the ways in which the government hopes that the implementation of the changes will be embedded more effectively than what happened with the 2014 reforms. 

Work at national and regional level

John Edwards, a former regional schools commissioner (RSC), was appointed last year as director general of the nine regional directors (RDs) who have broadened the role they had as RSCs. One of their many responsibilities involves the implementation of the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan.   

The regional directors are: 

  • Jonathan Duff – East of England
  • Carol Gray – East Midlands (job share)
  • Kate Copley – East Midlands (job share)
  • Vicky Beer – North West
  • Katherine Cowell – North East
  • Dame Kate Dethridge – South East
  • Claire Burton – London
  • Hannah Woodhouse – South West
  • Andrew Warren – West Midlands
  • Alison Wilson – Yorkshire and Humber

Work at regional and local level

In each of the nine regions, Regional Expert Partnerships (REPs) were going to be formed. These have been renamed as Change Programme Partnerships (CPPs). They will have active support from the DfE’s recently selected delivery partner. This is a consortium called Reaching Excellence and Ambition for All Children (REACh), which is led by PA Consulting and includes the consultancy IMPOWER, the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) and Olive Academies.

Over the next two years, REACh will support the CPPs in testing and refining some of the reforms. These include: developing local area inclusion plans (formerly called local inclusion plans), improving EHCP processes; strengthening mediation; and supporting the development of new national standards. 

Some of these key planks of the government’s reform agenda will be piloted by 31 LAs. The list below is slightly different from the one put out earlier by the DfE, which was of LAs that had been shortlisted. This final list is made up of one lead LA and up to three neighbouring LAs in each region: 

Region lead council supporting/neighbouring councils:

Region lead Lead council Supporting/neighbouring councils
East Midlands Leicester Leicestershire, Rutland 
East of England Bedford Central Bedfordshire, Luton 
London Barnet Camden, Enfield, Islington 
North East Hartlepool Durham, Gateshead, Stockton on Tees 
North West Manchester Oldham, Rochdale, Trafford
South East Portsmouth Brighton, East Sussex, West Sussex  
South West Gloucestershire Swindon
West Midlands Telford and Wrekin Herefordshire, Shropshire  
Yorkshire and Humber Wakefield Bradford, Calderdale, Leeds


Wraparound childcare and SEND

James Kissack (DfE Wraparound Childcare – Families Group) attended a meeting of the joint unions to give a presentation on the DfE’s drive to ensure that by September 2026, provision for five- to 14-year-olds is available from 8am to 6pm to families who want it.

James was aware that it would be important to make sure that pupils with SEND were able to be included. Money was set aside in the spring budget for LAs to work with schools, as well as with private, voluntary and independent providers including childminders to map out what is available for all pupils.

The programme can be delivered by:

  • School staff on the school’s site and accessible to own pupils
  • Private provider at a school or elsewhere
  • LA co-ordinating a community model eg a group of childminders or other EY provision such as playgroups.

The DfE has been working with 16 LAs and appears to agree that different models are needed rather than one blueprint. A handbook for LAs is in production, which stresses the need to be inclusive and for provision to be flexible, accessible, and for reasonable adjustments to be made as needed. The programme has three phases:

  • Phase one: April-December 2023, mapping provision
  • Phase two: January-August 2024, preparing for delivery
  • Phase three: Sept 2024-2026, national rollout.

There was talk of making the programme sustainable in the longer term, but when I challenged this, no clear answers were given as to how this might be achieved. 

The Core Content Framework, the Early Career Framework and SEND 

Frances Lalor and Hayley Pearson, whose team is responsible for the Frameworks, gave a brief update. They stressed that they want to include more references to SEND in general, as well as having more specific content on different conditions. In addition to the two frameworks being more closely aligned, they plan to use some of the content from the new SENCO NPQ, which is in development, to help with the information on SEND conditions.

Frances and Hayley were keen to engage with other stakeholders and Rob Williams suggested that NAHT’s SEND Council and similar groups in other unions should be involved. Part of the DfE’s enthusiasm for being in touch with various SEND groups, may have been helped by a statement in the SENDAP IP, which says it will look at how both initial teacher training and ECF can “equip new teachers to be more confident in meeting the needs of children with SEND”.

SEND tribunals

At a meeting of SEC, Stephen Kingdom, (formerly at the DfE but now with the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP)), alerted colleagues to a report on the amount of money spent on tribunals. The key facts and recommendations are well worth looking at. The research was commissioned by the DCP and carried out by Pro Bono Economics, Wasting money, wasting potential: The cost of SEND Tribunals.

GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL)

Last year, the British Sign Language Act was passed giving official recognition to BSL. From June to Sept this year, the government ran two consultations: one from the DfE about the content of the GCSE in BSL, and the other from Ofqual about how it will be assessed. This will be different from most other languages, as being a signed language, BSL has no written form. 

Recently, I’ve spoken with emeritus professor Graham Turner, who has just retired from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. He’s been snapped up by the British Deaf Association (BDA), as their policy and research Lead. Although hearing himself, he has spent more than 20 years studying BSL as well as a range of spoken languages. He is keen to work with other organisations in identifying and implementing solutions in order to prepare for the GCSE in BSL to be taught in schools from September 2025. One of the challenges is likely to be finding enough people to teach it. Graham has stressed the need to see this new GCSE as an opportunity for those who are hearing as well as pupils who are deaf. He also hopes that it will create more job opportunities for the deaf community. 

I hope to leave a rather shorter gap until my next summary and to use it to round off the calendar year. Until then, commiserations to those of you whose premises have been wrecked by RAAC (which can’t have done much for the latest drive to reduce unacceptable workloads), and also to those for whom balancing the books is an ever present threat to your peace of mind and well-being. 

Despite everything, may the rest of term and beyond throw up many moments of satisfaction, elation and even light relief.

First published 07 November 2023