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These articles are written by a variety of in-house staff and colleagues across the field, and as such the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of NAHT.

 

Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – April 2022

After many months of waiting for the outcome of the SEND Review, it finally arrived in the form of a green paper, just before the end of March. This was the day after the Schools White Paper had been presented to parliament, and a few weeks after the Levelling Up White Paper had appeared. As there are links between all three, it seemed sensible to base this summary on them, concentrating on the SEND Green Paper, but taking the three papers in chronological order.

1) The Levelling Up White Paper

This was published on 2 February and is a sizeable tome running to just over 300 pages. As it is very wide-ranging, only one of its 12 ‘Levelling Up Missions’ is specifically about Education: 

"By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third."

As Michael Gove – who is remembered for his determination to raise standards when he was education secretary – is now in charge of levelling up, it may be no surprise that this is picked out as the main mission for education. I’ll say more about this later.

In chapter 3, the section on Education introduces another approach to levelling up standards through creating 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs). First there were Education Action Zones (EAZs) that came and went, followed by Opportunity Areas (OAs). EIAs will include current and previously identified OAs. They will become 12 of the 24 areas within EIAs to be termed ‘Priority Investment Areas’. A consultation is to be launched on moving schools in EIAs with successive ‘Requires Improvement’ judgements into MATs.  The section on education is followed by one on Skills, which covers post-16 and adults of all ages.

At the end of the whole document, there is a section on ‘Delivering for all parts of the United Kingdom.’ This contains two pages on each of the nine regions in England and two pages each for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These provide an excellent synopsis of what is already happening and what is planned for each area. Colourfully illustrated in photos, maps and text, they could become a useful resource for many school subjects!

 

2) The Schools White Paper

On 28 March, Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child was presented to parliament. In his foreword, Nadhim wrote:

“My vision for this white paper and the SEND Review alongside it is simple: to introduce and implement standards that will improve children’s education, deliver the right support if they fall behind and give them the tools to lead a happy, fulfilled and successful life.”

For those of us who heard Nadhim speak at last autumn’s Policy Conference in London, it was clear that he shared Gove’s desire to focus on illiteracy and innumeracy.  Although he had previously had a brief spell in the DfE when SEND was part of his brief, since then he has become better known as the minister for COVID vaccine deployment, responsible for getting as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible. Although he is said to be seen as a safe pair of hands (which could be jolly useful in terms of vaccinating people) he may find that getting as many pupils as possible up to the expected standard by 2030 isn’t as straightforward. This white paper runs to 60 pages and has four main chapters.

Here is a flavour of some of the items:

1. An excellent teacher for every child

This chapter refers to the ‘golden thread of teacher development’ which is seen as running through four stages –  from ITT to senior leaders, heads and executive leaders. There is to be a new National Professional Qualification (NPQ) on Leading Behaviour and Culture. A suggestion about changing the current SENCo Award to a SENCO NPQ comes up as a consultation question in the SEND Green Paper.

2. Delivering high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance

This is the chapter which provides the title for the SEND Green Paper:

“…..we sometimes miss the needs of children who do not acquire the label of having SEND, or being disadvantaged. We need to pivot to a system where all children receive the right support, in the right place, at the right time.”   
(Paragraph 90)

This sounds promising, yet it is disappointing to find the terminology continues to talk in terms of the government’s desire to get 90% of children to the expected standards in reading, writing and maths, as well as increasing the take-up of the EBacc. This reads as if pupils form an homogenous mass and the same aim is suitable for all of them, rather than seeing them as unique individuals.

There is a promise to speed up the rollout of mental health support teams (MHSTs), so that there are more education mental health practitioners (EMHPs) working in schools. While this is to be warmly welcomed, it is still far too slow to meet needs of a post-pandemic pupil population.

3. Targeted support for every child who needs it

“The Parent Pledge is a commitment to effective assessment and support and we will embed it as a central part of any school.”   
(Paragraph 96)

The government has made much of its Parent Pledge, which is a promise that any child who ‘falls behind’ in English or maths will receive additional support, whether or not they have SEND. To include pupils who may not have any ‘label’ or diagnosis, is a positive step. To continue the National Tutoring Programme, but giving the money directly to schools rather than rerouting it via Randstad, should have happened in the first place. What isn’t clear is whether the government understands that some of the pupils who do have SEND will always be working at a different level. Yes, they deserve – and should get – extra support, but they haven’t ‘fallen behind.’

Chapter 4: A stronger and fairer school system

The government is sufficiently keen to continue its drive towards academisation to set a timeframe for a fully trust-led system. It is even contemplating local authorities being able to establish new MATs. At the same time, LAs are being reassured that their future, although different, is secure.

“Local authorities will remain at the heart of the system, championing all children in their area – especially the most vulnerable – as they step back from directly maintaining schools into their new role. 
(Paragraph 151)


In summary, many have felt that the Schools White Paper is lacking in vision. There are few new ideas, but much rehashing of old ones. As well as the continued drive towards academisation for all, there is the insistence on pupils reaching what are called ‘expected standards’ by set ages, when the expectation should be that children develop at different rates. In the same vein is the encouragement to concentrate on the EBacc subjects rather than the subjects pupils may wish to study. The failure to make a distinction between pupils who need short-term interventions to catch up and others who may never ‘catch up’ reveals a worrying lack of understanding.

It was a relief to read the green paper the next day and to find it had more substance, but, disappointingly, the hanging-on to unhelpful concepts continues.  

 

3) The SEND Green Paper 2022

The green paper’s full title, SEND Review: Right support, Right place, Right time - Government consultation on the SEND and alternative provision system in England, made an encouraging start by having a similar cover to the Schools White Paper, giving the impression that they were to be read together, rather than SEND being seen as an afterthought. It was also promising to note that the ministerial foreword has been written jointly by Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid, secretary of state for health and social care.

Running to around 100 pages, after the foreword, some useful statistics and the executive summary, there are six main chapters. The consultation questions appear at relevant points in the chapters. All 22 questions are also listed together near then end of the document.

Here is just a flavour of each chapter:

Chapter 1         The case for change

The chapter talks about a ‘vicious circle’ of delays in identifying needs and receiving support, leading to demands for EHCPs and specialist placements. A defining moment comes at the end of the chapter, when an inclusive system is described as one where:

“...more children and young people able to have their needs met in high-quality mainstream provision with high aspirations, a confident and expert workforce and access to high-quality targeted support as needed.

We also need a strong specialist sector that supports those children and young people with more complex needs, and a clear vision for an improved alternative provision system that offers upstream support as well as placements.”                          
(Chapter 1, paragraph 35)

This clarifies that all children and young people’s needs should be met within a well- connected continuum of provision.

Chapter 2         A single national SEND and alternative provision system

The next chapter suggests that the 2014 Reforms placed a strong emphasis on local decision-making, resulting in 152 local SEND and AP systems operating across the country. The solution put forward is to develop national standards from early years to further education (FE):

“We propose to establish a new national SEND and alternative provision system that will set new standards for how needs are identified and met across education, health and care.”  
(Page 26, paragraph 2)

Although the standards would be set nationally, they would be interpreted by new bodies called local SEND partnerships. These would be tasked with using the national standards to produce a local inclusion plan. The first consultation question is about the development of national standards, on which a lot of other arrangements depend.

As part of the SEND Reforms of 2014, statements were replaced by EHCPs. This time, there is no proposal to abandon EHCPs, but to make them more effective by introducing a standardised template and digitising both the EHCPs and the whole process for getting one.

Chapter 3         Excellent provision from early years to adulthood

To encourage better identification of SEND in the early years, the progress check for 2-year-olds as part of the EYFS and the Healthy Child Programme (HCP) development review should be aligned to find out which children may need additional support. To this end, consideration will be given about how best to upskill more EY practitioners to undertake the 2-year check and to encourage closer working across education and health. In addition, more Early Years SENCOs are to be trained.

The suggestion that there should be a new qualification for SENCOs in the form of an NPQ has been mentioned before and is reiterated here, along with a consultation question on the proposal. Another question is around whether all MATs should be mixed, or whether there should be an option for special schools and AP to form their own MATs “in the fully trust-led future.” 

Chapter 4          A reformed and integrated role for alternative provision

This chapter fleshes out what a reformed AP system will look like. A new delivery model will be based on a three-tier model of support:

  1. Providing targeted support to pupils in mainstream schools whose behaviour disrupts learning
  2. Having time-limited placements in AP where more intensive support is needed
  3. Arranging transitions back to a different school or to post-16 placements.

 It is proposed that a new national performance framework based on five key outcomes should be introduced:

  • Effective outreach support
  • Improved attendance
  • Reintegration
  • Academic attainment, with a focus on English and maths
  • Successful post-16 transition.


​After this, the chapter moves on to mainstream provision and repeats much of what has been said previously about children reaching ‘expected standards’ and having a parent pledge for helping pupils who ‘fall behind’.

Chapter 5         System roles accountabilities and funding reform

This chapter is concerned with being clearer about everyone’s roles and responsibilities and therefore where accountability lies. To oversee the work of both LAs and academies in terms of SEND, the intention is to form a regions group this summer. Each one will be led by the local regional schools commissioners (RSCs) who have recently gone up from eight to nine RSCs, so they can slot into the nine regions in England. 

It’s good to note a section on strengthening accountability for SEND within the health system. The Health and Care Bill, which is awaiting royal consent and brings with it significant changes in the way the health system is run, means the DfE has been working with the DHSC to produce statutory guidance on how SEND responsibilities will be covered under the new arrangements. As part of another section on making better use of SEND data, there is work going on to facilitate better data sharing between education and health, which has often been problematic.  

As part of reforming SEND funding, there is a proposal to introduce a national framework of banding and price tariffs:

Bandings would cluster specific types of education provision (aligned to need) as set out by national standards. Tariffs would set the rules and prices that commissioners use to pay providers – for example, pricing attributed to specific elements of provision such as staffing.”
(P.72)
 

Chapter 6         Delivering change for children and families

To ensure more successful implementation than happened with the 2014 SEND reforms, the DfE’s SEND and Alternative Provision Directorate will oversee a National SEND Delivery Board which is due to be established this year. This will bring together the relevant government departments, as well as national delivery partners, who will include parents, representatives of local government, education, health and care, in order to hold partners to account for the development and improvement of the system.

The aim of aligning with wider reforms and other contextual changes is set out in another section:

“It will be crucial that changes to the SEND and alternative provision system are sensitive to the different starting points of local areas and especially sympathetic and accommodating of the fact that the system is recovering from the pandemic. Equally, these proposals are not made in isolation but in the context of complementary changes to the education, social care, and health systems.”                                                                                                                          
(P.77)   

This is followed by spelling out four of these other changes:

  • The need to help pupils, including those with SEND, to recover from the pandemic
  • The aims of the Schools White Paper which support the green paper
  • The forthcoming final report of the Independent Review of Children’s Care – and a reminder that nearly half of the Children in Need (CiC) have SEN
  • The integrated care boards (ICBs), replacing CCGs, which should assist the coordination of services.

 

The final paragraph in chapter 6 is headed ‘Next Steps’. These include a reminder of the 13-week consultation period, running from the end of March to 1 July 2022. During this time, events are planned to engage the sector, including children, young people and their families.

As this is a green paper – meaning that not all the ideas in it are fixed in stone, but are open for discussion – this is a real chance to shape the future for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities. According to the House of Commons Library (8 April 2022), the Queens’ Speech, which is scheduled for 10 May, could include a bill on the SEND reforms during the 2022/23 session.

It has been difficult to pick out the main themes in the green paper, so this is just an initial taster. NAHT will, of course, be responding in full, but it would be great if the DfE were to be bombarded with responses from schools as well as from parents and other interested parties. Although I have concerns about the terminology, as though children can be ‘levelled up’ along with everything else, the emphasis on inter-agency working and on the importance of having a continuum of provision so that all children can be included somewhere along it, are steps in the right direction.

I hope the impact of covid will lessen over the term, and that you and your pupils will be able to  regain a sense of normality – not to mention improved well-being – at last.

Rona Tutt
27.04.22

First published 28 April 2022