Just after I’d completed last month’s update, the Department for Education (DfE), in its wisdom, decided we needed plenty to keep our minds active over the Easter break, so a deluge of documents started to appear, and it has continued unabated.
Because 31March marked the end of the implementation period for the SEND reforms, in terms of statements coming to an end, the DfE has released a very brief document, 'special educational needs: transfer of statements of SEN to education, health and care plans' (March 2018), which is described as an ’ad hoc notice’. The DfE has been keeping a close eye on how LAs are getting on with the transfers by requiring them to fill in a monthly questionnaire. The most recent figures suggest that 94 per cent of statements have been transferred or discontinued, although whether this has been at the expense of quality remains to be seen.
While on the subject of EHC plans, a research report for the DfE by the University of Derby published last month, 'experiences of EHC plans – a survey of parents and young people',found that, by and large, the majority were satisfied both with the process and with the end result. However, the findings won’t have included families caught up in the rush to meet the 31 March deadline.
SEND tribunal: single route of redress national trial
In the wake of a successful pilot, the launch of this national trial has just got off the ground. The two-year trial extends the powers of the first-tier tribunal (SEND) to make non-binding recommendations on the health and social care aspects of EHC plans. On 3 April, Nadhim Zahawi, parliamentary under secretary of state for children and families and Caroline Dinenage, minister of state for care (at what is now the Department of Health andSocial Care – DHSC), wrote a joint letter that gave information about the trial. Further details can also be found in 'SEND tribunal: single route of redress national trial – guidance for LAs, health commissioners, parents and young people', (DfE March 2018)
Exclusions and alternative provision (AP)
The details of significant work in this area have now been released. A key document is 'creating opportunity for all – our vision for alternative provision'. In the foreword, Damian Hinds says “this roadmap for reform provides a plan for action to transform the lives of all children in AP, in a country where AP is truly recognised as an integral part of the education system.”
The first phase will be to gather evidence of AP practices across the country. This will involve every LA, 300 schools and 250 AP providers as well as pupils and parents. The findings are due to be published in the Autumn.
Also announced is the launch of an externally-led review of exclusions by former children’s minister, Edward Timpson. This will look at how and why schools use exclusion, what drives the variation in exclusion rates between schools, and the disproportionate exclusion rates of eg children in need, looked after children (LAC) and those with SEN. To kick-start his review, Timpson has issued a call for evidence, which runs from 16 March to 6 May.
In addition, a £4 million AP innovation fund to develop effective practice is set out in the DfE’s March 2018, 'grants to fund innovation in alternative provision – specification of requirements'. This is looking for bids that:
- Support successful transitions from AP to successful education, training or employment at 16+
- Support reintegration into mainstream or special schools
- Improve outcomes by increasing parental or carer engagement.
Meanwhile, the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into alternative provision is already up and running, and the first evidence session was held on 13 April. It focused on early intervention strategies for preventing exclusions in the first place. As excluded pupils are said to be twice as likely to be in care, seven times more likely to have SEN and 10 times more like to suffer a recognised mental-health problem, highlighting this area of work and stressing the need to ensure AP is seen as an integral part of the education service should help to move things in the right direction.
Looked after children (LAC) and children in need
Just after the information on exclusions and AP was published, 'children in need of help and protection: call for evidence' was published. It is seeking information on the following:
- How support is delivered or commissioned
- How this support is measured and evaluated
- How this support influences educational outcomes.
These children are said to be three times more likely to have SEND. The call for evidence runs until 1 June.
Moving into April, the DfE launched 'elective home education: call for evidence – government consultation', which runs from 10 April to 2 July. It is estimated that roughly 45,000 children are educated at home.The DfE says it is not trying to stop children being educated at home, but it wants to improve how they are registered and monitored to make sure they are receiving a good education. Apparently, LA officers have said cases are increasing where schools are ‘off-rolling’ pupils by encouraging parents to home educate as an alternative to their children being excluded, or because the school has difficulty meeting the child’s SEND. There is no way of knowing how prevalent this is, but I very much doubt there are many school leaders who would go down this route unless driven to it through a very significant lack of support and funding.
The consultation has two parts. The first is the call for evidence on issues connected with elective home education, in particular:
- The registration of children educated at home
- The monitoring of home education provision
- The support for home educators.
The second part is seeking comments on two draft versions of guidance documents: one for LAs and one for parents. These are as follows:
- Elective home education – Departmental guidance for LAs: draft for consultation
- Elective home education – Departmental guidance for parents: draft for consultation.
A link to this packet of measures and their context is set out by Lord Agnew, minister for school systems.
It is important to remember that, if a child has been placed in a special school by an LA, the LA has to agree to the parents removing the child to educate them at home.
School readiness and the reception baseline
Despite the previous attempt to introduce a reception baseline being abandoned before it was introduced, the DfE is determined to try again. So, on 11 April, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, announced the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has been selected to develop and deliver it. It is described as a 20-minute, teacher-recorded assessment of children’s communication, language, literacy and early maths skills. It will be trialled in selected schools from September 2018, with the aim of introducing it in 2020. This means it won’t be until the first cohort has been right through primary school that it can be used as a progress measure, and who knows how many more changes there will have been by 2027?
Meanwhile, Teach First, the charity that is led by Russell Hobby, has done an analysis of the number of children who are not ready for school, as judged by their social and emotional development, knowledge and skills. Although this varies in different parts of the country, on average this works out at about one in three children not being ready for school. This conclusion was reached by analysing the DfE’s data from the EYFS statistics. It makes you wonder how many of these non-ready children will be described as having SEND when they simply aren’t ready for a style of education that has become more formal at an ever earlier age. The quid pro quo is that this will eventually be instead of key stage one tests. While I can see that, if progress is going to be measured in this way, it’s better to begin at the beginning rather than wait until the end of key stage one, personally, I’d rather move away from this obsession with testing a narrow range of abilities and free up more time – and money – for learning.
Other assessment news – times tables tests
Once it was on the back burner, but now it’s on the front burner again, with Nick Gibb announcing that some 7,250 pupils in 290 primary schools are expected to take part in the trials of the new multiplication check for year four pupils before it is fully rolled out across the next 2 years. Mr Gibb has explained: "Just as the phonics screening check helps children who are learning to read, the multiplication tables check will help teachers to identify those pupils who require extra support. This will ensure all pupils leave primary school knowing their times tables off by heart and able to start secondary school with a secure grasp of the fundamental mathematics they need to fulfil their potential."
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of NAHT, has rightly remarked it was "hugely disappointing" that the DfE was still determined to bring in a multiplication tables test. Furthermore, I see at least two flaws in Mr Gibb’s argument. The first is that any teacher worth their salt is aware of which children know their tables without resorting to a test, and secondly, the test is not a miraculous way of enabling ALL children to learn their tables before moving on to secondary school.
Stop the press
I was just about to sign off when, adding further proof of how difficult it is to keep up to date even when not running a school, the information came through from two separate sources that The House of Commons Education Committee has today launched an inquiry into support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). There is a call for written submissions by 14 June on any or all of the following:
- Assessment of and support for children and young people with SEND
- The transition from statements of special educational needs and learning disability assessments to education, health and care plans
- The level and distribution of funding for SEND provision
- The roles of and co-operation between education, health and social care sectors
- Provision for 19 to 25-year-olds including support for independent living; transition to adult services; and access to education, apprenticeships and work.
I look forward to encountering friends old and new in Liverpool.