As the term draws to a close for many of you, and after a year demanding remarkable resilience, adaptability and stamina from school leaders, it’s disappointing to have to mention yet another non-appearance of the SEND Review rather than welcoming its arrival.
The DfE is now indicating that it will be out in the autumn rather than the summer, which, in DfE-speak, could mean any time up to Christmas. One explanation being offered is that not only has the timetable fallen behind because of covid-19, but the pandemic has changed the context, so more time is needed to consider the implications for the SEND system.
However, there’s no shortage of other information, some of which you may have missed, as keeping up to date while running a school must be becoming increasingly impossible, particularly with all the guidance on what to do during the pandemic. So, what follows is a covid-free zone, with the headings arranged in alphabetical order.
When Gavin Williamson said that the government is planning a full programme of primary assessments during the 2021/22 academic year, including the statutory reception baseline assessment, the multiplication tables test and the phonics screening check, Paul Whiteman’s reaction to the phonics check being held in the autumn was that it would create a “completely unnecessary bureaucratic burden at a challenging time and for zero academic value”, which just about sums it up. (See also ‘Reading’).
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill has started its passage through the House of Lords. The government says the bill will underpin its skills and training revolution and remove the illusion that a degree is the only path to a worthwhile career. Natspec (the voice of specialist further education), working closely with the Association of Colleges, is keen on getting some amendments put forward, including ones to ensure that a wide range of students will have access to any opportunities being opened up.
There are several live consultations at the moment, but one that is of particular interest is Behaviour management strategies, in-school units and managed moves: call for evidence. The questions are mainly around the themes of:
- behaviour management strategies
- removal rooms and spaces
- in-school behavioural units
- managed moves
The DfE says the feedback will be used to issue revised guidance later this year on behaviour and discipline and also on suspensions and permanent exclusion. The DfE is also keen to hear about examples of effective practice.
In chronological order, two unmissable conferences coming up are:
ISEC 2021 (the Inclusive and Supportive Education Conference): this International Conference only occurs every five years and should have been ISEC 2020. Despite delaying it for a year, it will still have to be delivered fully online and will run from Tuesday 3 to Thursday 5 August. Hosted by UCL’s Centre for Inclusive Education (CIE) and nasen, the title is: Closing the Research to Practice Gap. More than 200 presenters from 30 countries will be sharing their research and insights. The Draft Programme Schedule includes over 50 events and I look forward to being part of a panel of CIE Fellows on the final day.
NAHTs’ annual SEND Conference: the theme this year is New Perspectives on Neurodiversity – Needs, Names and Knowledge. It will be held in Manchester on Wednesday 20 October, but will also be available virtually. As well as keynotes from two renowned international speakers, Professor Amanda Kirby and Professor Francesca Happe, who are always as up to date as it is possible to be, there will be a number of breakout sessions on: ADHD, Behaviour Hubs, FASD, helping parents to help themselves; Ofsted and SEND; rare syndromes and the SEND Review.
Robert Halfon’s energetic Education Select Committee has a number of Inquiries on the go. These include:
- An inquiry into prison education, which began last November and is part of the committee’s work on examining the issues faced by ‘left behind’ groups. It is examining the educational opportunities that exist for adults, young people and children in custody. The Learning Alliance reports that nearly two-thirds of prisoners have truanted from school and 42% were expelled or permanently excluded. People in prison also have a high level of additional learning and other needs. Around 47% of those entering prison have no prior qualifications.
- The inquiry into care homes began in March this year and will look at educational outcomes and destinations; the quality of support provided by children’s homes; unregulated provision; rates of criminalisation; whether there are enough places; and the impact of the pandemic. It has been suggested that those in children’s homes have worse outcomes than those in foster care, as they have no key person to themselves. (See also under Reviews, The Case for Change -the independent review of children’s social care).
Amanda Spielman was due to complete her term of office at the end of 2021, but is said to have been keen to extend her reign to ensure the changes she introduced in the new education inspection framework (EIF) have an opportunity to bed in. The DfE has agreed that she will continue in post until the end of 2023. This means she is on track to become the longest-serving HMCI.
Nick Whittaker HMI is retiring after six years as Ofsted’s specialist advisor, SEND. Nick has been that rare combination of an HMI who understands SEND, yet appreciates the value of being informed by professionals working across the services, as well as directly by young people and their families. We’ll miss him from our SEND Conferences.
On 6 January, I attended an extra meeting of the Special Education Consortium, billed as an Ofsted summer catch-up. Nick directed our attention to three documents:
- Supporting SEND: How children and young people’s needs are met in mainstream schools (May 2021)
- SEND: old issues, new issues, next steps (June 2012)
- HMCI commentary: putting children and young people with SEND at the heart of our recovery plans (June 2021), published alongside the previous document.
The first of these documents was a small-scale piece of research into how SEND pupils in mainstream, both with and without plans, are supported. Nick drew from it that: positive and trusting relationships between families and schools is an essential starting point and reflects a school’s organisation and culture. The pandemic has amplified the wide variation families already find in being able to access the services they and their child need.
- The threads he pulled out from the two related documents considered SEND over a longer period of time. The difficulties he highlighted included:
- Poor quality EHCPs, due in part to no co-production or co-production not working properly
- Problems with identification and assessment, including both over- and under-identification of needs Lack of clarity about who is responsible for what and where accountability lies, as well as a lack of joint commissioning.
In summary, he talked of the SEND system needing to be more flexible and responsive, with quality provision available across the services.
Moving on to area SEND inspections, Nick said that the new framework due to start next year, when the first round has been completed, would see Ofsted and CQC inspectors spending less time talking to service leaders and more time hearing from children and families about what it is like on the receiving end. When asked about his own future, Nick said that he was looking forward to spending more time with the charity, Climbing for All Sheffield.
This month, The Reading Framework – Teaching the foundations of literacy appeared with an introduction by Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that the publication is another paeon of praise for phonics as the only way into reading for all children, despite making it clear that:
“English has a complex alphabetic code: 26 alphabet letters have to do duty, singly or in combination, to represent the 44 or so sounds of English and they do so inconsistently … English has more than 70 common correspondences between phonemes and graphemes and hundreds of rare ones.” (P40)
As well as the main document, a number of sections published separately, include one on Children at risk of failure (Section 4). This hammers home the message that if children have failed to learn to read through phonics, they need more practice in … phonics. Just to make sure no one strays from the right path, there is a link to an updated list of phonics teaching programmes that meet the DfE criteria for an effective systematic synthetic phonics programme.
The Case for Change – The independent review of children’s social care was published last month. In his foreword, Josh MacAllister (Chair) says:
“These children often get a social worker because their parents might be caught in abusive relationships, struggling with their own mental health, or fighting an addiction. And this might be on top of being short of money or stuck in cramped damp housing. Raising children is hard enough but raising children with the weight of these additional stresses can prove almost impossible."
Scattered through the report are some alarming facts:
- 1 in ten children in 2018 had had a social worker in the past six years
- It is estimated that 25% of children will have had a social worker before their 16th birthday
- One in three of all social workers in children’s services do not work directly with children or families
- Even those in direct practice spend less than one-third of their time with families
- The cost of children’s social care is escalating
- Funding is increasingly skewed towards acute services and away from effective help
In summary, the system is under significant strain, with more families being investigated and more children taken into care. Costs are spiralling and money is increasingly being spent on crisis intervention. It is hoped that the report will start a dialogue, the next part of which will be to have feedback on the questions posed at the end of each of the chapters in the report, which cover:
- better support for families
- a more effective child protection system
- a care system that makes rather than breaks relationships
- change won’t happen without changing the way services work.
Within the report is a link to a feedback form which is open until 13 August. The comments received will help to firm up the recommendations that will be put forward for the next stage of the review.
In May this year, Routledge published another book by Paul Williams, former chair of NAHT’s SEND Council, and myself, entitled How to Maximise Emotional Wellbeing and Improve Mental Health-The Essential Guide to Establishing a Whole-School Ethos. This can be purchased at a reduced cost via the Routledge’s mid-season sale. Thanks to all those who helped to bring the book alive with their case studies and conversations, despite our having to write at a distance from each other as the pandemic took hold.
And, finally, at last month’s Festival of Education, Gavin Williamson said that he would be “setting out a broader vision for what our whole school system looks like,” later this year. He has already clarified that a key part of his ‘vision’ is “moving over time to a fully academised model, with all schools being within a family of schools”. There is no difficulty in schools working together – which almost every school does already – or in some schools choosing to become academies, but there is more than one way of schools supporting each other. This has been demonstrated by all types of schools sharing their expertise in seeking solutions to meeting the needs of an increasingly complex population of pupils. Hopefully, when it finally emerges, the SEND Review won’t just concentrate on structures, but will take a broader view of how the system could usher in a new era for children and families, and all those who try to support them.
I hope that, as well as working on your outbreak management plan; sorting out the holiday activities and food programme; and working out that “enhanced hygiene and ventilation” for the autumn term actually means keeping up the handwashing and throwing open the windows, you will have time to take care of yourselves as well as taking care of everyone else in your orbit. What you have achieved during the pandemic is truly remarkable; you deserve some respite, refreshment and recuperation and I really hope you get it.