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Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – March 2024

As this is my first summary since the turn of the year, I thought I’d give a month-by-month synopsis of some of the events that have occurred so far. Recently, they have come thick and fast, with the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan finally getting off the ground, to the extent that I’m planning to put together a separate a piece on the improvement plan’s progress.

While I was piecing together the rest of the information that might be useful, Robert Halfon announced that he will be one of many MPs stepping down at the general election. A former chair of the Education Select Committee and currently a minister at the Department for Education (DfE), he has referred to his imminent departure in the following terms: 

‘As I move towards stepping down at the general election, I am reminded of what Gandalf said to Frodo Baggins after the defeat of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings – “I am with you at the present … but soon I shall not be … my time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so”.’

Robert was born with a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic diplegia. Doctors had warned his father that he might never be able to walk, live independently, or go to university, let alone make his mark as a politician. 

January 2024

A new HMCI

January marked a change at the top of Ofsted, with Sir Martyn Oliver taking over the mantle of His Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) from his predecessor Amanda Spielman, who had held the post for seven years. Sir Martyn lost no time in saying that, in the wake of last year’s tragic death of a head teacher following a poor inspection report, he was delaying the start of inspections this term until his inspectors had received mental health awareness training.

He said in a 2 January 2024 press release: “I’m determined that we learn from this to improve the way we work and respond fully to the coroner’s inquest, taking tangible actions to address the concerns raised. A lot has been done already, but a lot more can be done now – starting with a robust programme of mental health awareness training for all our inspectors. That begins next week and will become an integral part of how we train and develop our people.”

Two frameworks become one

Towards the end of January, two documents appeared. The smaller one was Outcomes of the review of the Initial Teacher Training Core Content Framework (CCF) and Early Career Framework (ECF), which explains the results of the review of the CCF and ECF.

The second document explains how the two separate frameworks are being combined, with the intention of achieving:

  • less repetition
  • more information about early cognitive development 
  • more information about supporting pupils with SEND 
  • a reduced workload for mentors by shortening their training from two years to one.

This guidance document, which also contains the revised standards, sets out in detail exactly how the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) and the Early Career Framework (ECF) are being brought together. 

From September 2025, the frameworks will be combined to become the Initial Teacher Training and Early Career Framework (ITTECF). There is more content related to adaptive teaching and supporting pupils with SEND, some of which has been taken from the new national professional qualification for SENCOs. In addition, existing statements have been adapted to improve inclusivity for SEND throughout the framework.

February 2024

Moving into February, on the first day of the month the delayed publication of the research and analysis Alternative provision in local areas: a thematic review appeared. This is the first in a series of thematic reviews undertaken by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

In launching it, Sir Martyn Oliver wrote: “I was pleased to see the Department for Education’s SEND and AP improvement plan, which offers an opportunity to give the AP system a clear purpose. I hope this report and our recommendations can support partners across health, education and social care in working together to deliver improvements for children who rely on alternative provision.”

The thematic review set out to assess the commissioning of alternative provision; how it is working; and the impact of the arrangements on children and young people. The inspectors’ findings included examples of effective practice, but also found:

  • a lack of clarity about responsibilities for commissioning and oversight
  • a worrying lack of involvement from health partners
  • children’s outcomes being inconsistent, both across and within local areas. 

Inspectors visited six local areas: Barking and Dagenham, Bracknell Forest, Dudley, Hampshire, Leeds and Lincolnshire. Their conclusions were that there is a desperate need for reform and for clear, unambiguous roles and responsibilities for education, health and care partners.

A second thematic review, called Preparation for Adulthood, is now underway. Details of how this is being undertaken is set out in the guidance Thematic reviews of preparation for adulthood arrangements in local areas, published on 8 February. Inspectors  will look at all phases of transition to adulthood, from early years settings through to post-16 education, to get a detailed overview of how preparation for adulthood (PFA) arrangements are working. They will focus on four key pathways:

  • employment
  • independent living
  • community inclusion
  • health.

Wraparound childcare

Schools have gone to considerable lengths to provide breakfast clubs, activities at lunchtimes and after school, as well as in the holidays. Although the DfE says 80% of schools provide some form of wraparound care, only about half of these offer it to the extent that enable parents to work. It is the duty of LAs to ensure there are enough childcare places within its area for children aged 0 to 14 – or up to 18 for disabled children – and they are expected to work with and support schools and trusts, as well as PVI providers, which includes childminders and early years providers. 

At a meeting of the Special Educational Consortium (SEC), to which NAHT belongs, Gabby Walker from the DfE gave a short presentation entitled ‘National wraparound childcare programme: SEND’. She was keen to focus on the importance of making sure the same opportunities would be available to all primary aged pupils including those with SEND, while recognising the challenges this presents. 

Further details of the DfE’s plans can be found in Wraparound childcare: guidance for schools and trusts in England, updated in February 2024, which has a section on creating inclusive provision and how to decide if a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is in fact ‘reasonable’.

Although it is a local authority (LA) responsibility, and LAs are said to have received additional funding to carry out this role, parents may approach their school in order to find out what provision is available and where in the area to find it. To help schools, the DfE has also produced the guidance Responding to requests for wraparound childcare.

School attendance and vulnerable children

Another drive of the DfE’s during February was to get more pupils to attend school regularly and cut down on unauthorised absence. At a meeting of the Joint Unions SEND Group on 13 February, Molly Mayer from the Vulnerable Children Attendance Team at the DfE explained that the focus of the DfE’s campaign on school attendance is aimed at preventable and avoidable absence, rather than the more complex reasons why pupils can’t or won’t attend school. 

Molly was followed by Emma Dooley, also from the DfE, who spoke about Moments matter, attendance counts, a toolkit to help schools counteract some parental attitudes post the pandemic. The message is meant to stress the importance of going to school every day while not blaming parents. There was concern at the meeting that the NHS’s encouragement to send children to school with sniffles or a cough could result in more staff being off sick when it turns out to be Covid or some other respiratory infection.

Latest report from the children’s commissioner

Also during February, the children’s commissioner’s report Lost in transition – The destinations of children who leave the state education system was published. In her foreword, Dame Rachel de Souza said: “Thousands of children, still of compulsory school age, continue to leave state schools each year. Many have started to disengage, and some have left the school system altogether. This report shines new light on the vulnerabilities of children who left the state education system last year. For the first time ever, we have been able to examine the destinations, pupil characteristics and educational histories of children who left state education.” 

March 2024

NAHT’s SEND and alternative provision (AP) council

On 4 March, NAHT’s SEND and AP Council met. One agenda item was to discuss motions for this year’s Annual Conference, which takes place on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 May at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Newport, Wales. There was no shortage of suggestions, and more SEND an AP Motions will be coming in from other members as well. 

Another item was a fascinating paper produced by the chair Marijke Miles on ‘De-homogenising SEND’, which should encourage the government not to talk about pupils with SEND as if they are an homogeneous group, when SEND covers the whole of the cognitive ability range and conditions that may be mild, severe or complex. 

The Big Listen 

On 8 March, Sir Martyn Oliver launched Ofsted’s ‘The Big Listen’ consultation, which is designed to be an opportunity for teachers and other educators; parents, carers and children; and employers and social workers to give their views on.

There has been quite a lot of comment about the design and efficacy of Ofsted’s survey questions. Before Easter, Paul Whiteman wrote to Martyn Oliver raising significant concerns. In response Martyn Oliver provided assurance that Ofsted will carefully examine all individual comments made in the survey’s free text boxes, and is committed to ‘real action’.  

The consultation asks for views on: 

  • how inspections are carried out
  • how findings are reported 
  • how Ofsted can have a positive impact on the sectors it inspects
  • how it can become a world-class inspectorate and regulator, trusted by parents, children and the sectors it works with. 

I tried answering the questions and it didn’t take long, so if you haven’t already had a go, there’s no hurry as the closing date is 31 May 2024. NAHT has published some FAQs and guidance to help members respond to the questions that can be found here

As part of the launch, Sir Martyn said:  

“We don’t want disadvantage or vulnerability to be a barrier. Because if you get it right for the most disadvantaged, you get it right for everyone. Ofsted has a crucial role to play in making sure that happens, and pointing out when it doesn’t.”

Physical restraint in AP and special schools

Towards the end of March, the DfE published qualitative research which explored how special and alternative provision schools in England are using reasonable force, including physical restraint and other restrictive practices, Use of reasonable force in AP and special schools (March 2024). The researchers interviewed school leaders in 45 of these settings – 30 special schools and 15 APs – in trying to discover how to minimise these practices.

Some of the findings included:

  • inconsistent use of the terminology to describe reasonable force, physical restraint and restrictive practices
  • Team TEACH was used by the majority, although eight other training models were mentioned, with training and refresher training seen as a significant drain on budgets
  • prevention and de-escalation techniques seen as important and adapted to a pupil’s needs
  • recording of incidents and agreeing what should be recorded varied, but most had invested in software to support record keeping
  • talking to the pupil and staff after the event was common, with some using ‘restorative justice’.

I’d like to finish as I began by saying that I plan to gather together the information that is finally filtering through about the progress of the IP. As well as the main changes around national standards, EHCPs, bands and tariffs, mediation, etc, I’ll cover: ordinarily available provision (OAP), Early Language Support for Every Child (ELSEC), alternative provision specialist taskforce (APST) and Partnership for Inclusion of Neurodiversity in Schools (PINS), although the latter isn’t officially part of the IP.

In the meantime, I hope you had a really refreshing break over the Easter holiday.

First published 15 April 2024