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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 – June 2022

When I wrote my previous SEND Summary in April, the excitement was around the outcome of the SEND Review, which finally appeared at the end of March in the form of a green paper. Since then, the Schools White Paper, which had been published the day before, has turned into the Schools Bill; the Health and Care Bill has become an Act; and the final report of Josh McAllister’s review of children’s social care has been published.

Consultation on the SEND Green Paper

The consultation, SEND Review: Right support, Right place, Right time – Government consultation on the SEND an alternative provision system in England, was originally planned to run until 1 July. However, the period has been extended until 22 July, due to a delay in publishing the green paper in other formats. These are now available in a large print version, an easy-read version, a guide for children and young people and a British Sign Language (BSL) version. A summary of the green paper is also available in Arabic, Bengali, Polish, Punjabi (Gurmukhi), Somali and Urdu. Braille and audio versions can also be requested. 

From being involved in discussions with a range of organisations, opinions seem to range from seeing the whole thing simply as a cost-cutting exercise, to viewing it as a genuine attempt to sort out a system in urgent need of attention. At its meeting on 23 June, NAHT’s SEND Council will be working on our response.

The Schools Bill

Meanwhile, the Schools Bill is wending its way through Parliament. Its focus is on raising educational standards by supporting all schools to be part of ‘strong multi-academy trusts (MATs)’. On the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) Education Hub – everything seems to be a hub nowadays if it’s to count for anything – the rationale for this approach runs as follows: "We want all schools to be part of a strong academy trust so they can benefit from the trust’s support in everything from teacher training, curriculum, financial planning and inclusivity towards children with additional needs, to excellent behaviour and attendance cultures."

Some might argue that it’s not just MATs that achieve these things and that what goes on inside a school is more important than its structure. One of the consultation questions in the SEND Green Paper (question 11) asks: 'To what extent do you agree or disagree that both specialist and mixed MATs should coexist in the fully trust-led future? This would allow current local authority maintained special schools and alternative provision settings to join either type of MAT.'

If, in the long run, all schools are to become MATs, at least it would be good to have a choice of what type of MAT to be part of, including whether this might be a mixed MAT of mainstream and special schools; a special school only MAT; an alternative provision (AP) only MAT; an AP and special school MAT; or, a totally mixed MAT of mainstream, special and AP; many of these versions already exist. However, as schools have been given until 2030 to have joined a MAT or at least have planned to join one, there is no urgency if you’re not already part of a MAT and are happy with how you’re working in partnership with schools in other ways. In any case, who can judge what the political climate might be like by 2030, when we don’t even know what’ll happen by tomorrow on the political front.

Review of children’s social care

And so we come to the impressive piece of work carried out by former teacher Josh McAllister. Some of you will have read his interim report The Case for Change, which appeared in June 2021. The final version was planned to appear around the same time as the Schools White Paper and the SEND Green Paper, but in the event, it was delayed by a couple of months so that it could consider the findings into the deaths of two young children in their family homes.

The independent review of children’s social care – Final report duly appeared last month, complete with more than 80 recommendations. In his foreword, Josh writes the following, which could also apply to the SEND Green Paper: "The time is now gone for half measures, quick fixes or grandstanding. Changing the easiest bits, papering over the cracks, or only making the right noises, may in fact make matters worse. It will create the illusion of change but without the substance. It will dash hopes and fail another generation."

We have to hope that given the unique opportunity presented by these two major pieces of work – plus the Health and Care Act, which brings health and social care closer together – that we are moving towards education, health and social care working hand in glove, and another generation will not be failed but will experience a coherent and cohesive system.

On the day the report was released, the children and families minister Will Quince gave an oral response to the report in Parliament. After thanking Josh McAllister and all those who had supported him, including children, the Experts by Experience Board, care leavers, families and carers, he spoke of his three priorities as being:

  1. To improve the child protection system so that it keeps children safe from harm as effectively as possible.
  2. To support families to care for their children, so that they can have safe, loving and happy childhoods which set them up for fulfilling lives.
  3. To ensure that there are the right placements for children in the right places, so that those who cannot stay with their parents grow up in a safe, stable and loving home.

He said he would establish a National Implementation Board and work with the sector to develop a National Children’s Social Care Framework, details of which are due to appear before the end of 2022. He promised to report back to Parliament in a year’s time on the progress that had been made and ended by saying:

"For every child who needs our protection – we must reform this system. For every family who needs our help and support – we must reform this system. For every child or young person in care who deserves a safe, stable and loving home – we must reform this system. This is a moral imperative and we must all rise to the challenge."

Other bills pertinent to SEND

Recently, two private members' bills became acts. 

British Sign Language (BSL) Act

Almost 20 years after BSL was recognised as a language, the BSL Act has been passed, providing it with the legal status the deaf community has long sought. It was proposed as a private members' bill by Labour’s West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper, who introduced it by saying: “As the daughter of profoundly deaf parents, BSL is my first language. I know first-hand the difficulty that deaf people face every day… So often they are ignored, misunderstood or have to fight for attention.”

CODA, standing for Child of Deaf Adults, is the term used for people like Rosie, who have the unusual experience of being hearing, but who learn to communicate in sign language before learning to speak. In a refreshing and unusual display of solidarity, MPs voted unanimously for the Bill to become an Act. 

Down’s Syndrome Act

The situation around the Down’s Syndrome Act was a little less straightforward because it wasn’t entirely clear what would be gained by singling out this population as a separate group. The Conservative MP Dr Liam Fox put it forward as another private members' bill, and it was said to be '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'.

The act, as with the BSL Act, asks the government to produce guidance, which may well be a helpful document, although it won't change legislation. 

Consultation on amending EHC plans

The DfE has just launched a consultation on the actions that a local authority should take if it proposes to amend an education, health and care (EHC) plan. The consultation closes on 12 August. Although this may be of more interest for LAs, if you’re interested in the details, they are in the Reviews of education, health and care plans: proposed timescales consultation.

News from Ofsted

As well as Ofsted strategy 2022-27, which sets out the strategic priorities for the next few years, Ofsted is running a consultation on how it is proposing to change the way Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspect local areas. This comes after one round of these inspections has been completed. As these were focused on how the SEND Reforms of 2014 were being embedded, it was clear that another framework needed to be put in place. The consultation runs until 11 September.

Times Education Commission Report

While I was trying to complete this summary, the Times Education Commission, after a year of gathering evidence, issued its report. There is much about how our education system is out of kilter with the digital age, where ‘the world no longer rewards people just for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know’.  

The report points out that success in education is still measured almost entirely in academic terms, with a third of pupils in England defined as failures at 16 because they do not get a grade four or above in their English and maths GCSEs. 

Of the 10 chapters, the ninth is devoted to SEND and AP. We are reminded that Sir Richard Branson (who is dyslexic) was told by his head teacher when he left school at 15 that he would either end up a millionaire or be in prison. Ben Newmark, a teacher whose daughter has Williams syndrome, says that children with SEND and their families are often made to feel as if there is something wrong with them:

“The system needs to be reframed, not by dismissing academic achievement but broadening the scope of what we celebrate and finding ways to reward learning regardless of how children perform against their peers.” 

Before I finish, just a quick reminder that our annual SEND Conference will take place in Manchester on 19 October 2022. Under the title: Reforming the SEND system: accountability, funding and interagency working, there will be the usual array of fascinating keynote speakers and wonderful workshops. Further details will be given next time. 

First published 17 June 2022