When I wrote the last SEND summary way back in February, little did I realise how the world would change. I take my hat off to all of you who have had to cope with school closures of uncertain length, partial closures for varying numbers of pupils, organising fluctuating numbers of staff and dealing with unhelpful rumours about when schools might open. As March disappeared in an avalanche of information, advice and guidance from the government — which was expertly and swiftly analysed, sorted and explained by our general secretary Paul Whiteman and his team — I didn’t see much point in adding to the deluge of virus-related information, so I have waited until now.
1. Political changes
In February, I described the changes at the Department for Education (DfE) caused by the prime minister’s reshuffle. Since then, Sir Keir Starmer has become the leader of the Labour Party and Angela Rayner, the new deputy leader. This has seen Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford & Eccles, replacing Angela as shadow education secretary. The rest of her team are as follows: Margaret Greenwood, MP for Wirral West and a former secondary teacher, Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, Toby Perkins, MP for Chesterfield and Emma Hardy, MP for Kingston upon Hull West & Hessle and another former teacher who will be mentioned again later.
2i) The Coronavirus Act 2020 and EHC plans
Just before the parliamentary session ended for the Easter break, The Coronavirus Act 2020 gained royal assent, giving the government some emergency powers. As a result, and despite some lobbying to prevent it, Schedule 17, part 1 of the Act gives the secretary of state power to issue “notices temporarily removing or relaxing statutory provisions”.
These include the following:
i) Disapplying the section of the Children and Families Act 2014, which requires a school named in Section I of an EHC plan to admit a child/young person as a pupil
ii) Modifying the ‘absolute duty’ on LAs under the 2014 Act to deliver the provision contained within an EHC plan, to using ‘reasonable endeavours’ to do so
iii) Putting on hold the duty to undertake reviews of EHC plans with 12 months.
However, everything stays as it is now, unless and until the secretary of state issues a notice saying he intends to use these new powers. See details of the Coronavirus Act here.
2ii) Other coronavirus Information
I have picked out three of the most recent documents, at the time of writing, that have relevance for SEND.
On 17 April 2020, the DfE published Coronavirus (COVID-19): financial support for education, early years and children’s social care. Among other items, this includes a section on high needs funding, which clarifies that the funding should still be available regardless of whether or not pupils are in school:
“Authorities will continue to receive their high needs budgets and should continue to pay top-up and other high needs funding so that the employment and payment of staff supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and those requiring alternative provision, can continue.”
The publication goes on to say that teaching and non-teaching staff should not be furloughed when they are funded from continued high needs funding, but where necessary and feasible, should be available for redeployment within settings and in other settings to assist in maintaining provision for vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers. There is a section as well on residential special schools, which says the following:
“While the educational costs will continue to be funded from the DSG, the residential costs are met from social care budgets. Local authorities will continue to receive funding for social care provision and should continue to pay residential costs so that the employment and payment of staff supporting children and young people who require residential provision can continue”.
On 19 April 2020, the DfE published updated guidance on actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak. This contains a raft of information, including children with EHC plans, safeguarding, children with mental health issues, AP/ PRUs and special schools. As some previous information has been updated, you may wish to check it out.
Also on 19 April 2020, the DfE published coronavirus (COVID-19): SEND risk assessment guidance, which relates mainly to children who require hands-on care or “whose behaviours cannot be managed at home… or is a risk to siblings or family members.” So, the guidance is largely, but not exclusively, for special schools, specialist colleges or other specialist settings.
3. APPG for SEND and trip to Number 10
As some of you may know, All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are cross-party groups within parliament for members of the Commons and Lords, with some being supported by outside individuals and organisations.
There are more than 100 listed under countries, including separate APPGs for the Isle of Man (Manx), Ireland and the Irish in Britain.
There is a much longer list of subject groups. Some are as diverse as pigeon racing and American football. It includes others such as DiGeorge (22q11 deletion) syndrome, acquired brain injury (ABI), ADHD, autism (supported by NAS), dyslexia (supported by BDA), dyspraxia, eye health and visual impairment, learning disability (supported by Mencap), and speech and language difficulties (supported by RCSLT).
A recent addition to this list is the APPG for SEND, whose inaugural meeting was on 3 March 2020. The chair is Labour MP Emma Hardy (mentioned earlier), and the vice chair is Conservative MP Sally Ann Hart. NAHT is providing the secretariat. There are four other conservative members, three more from Labour and Tim Farron, former leader of the Lib Dems. The purpose of this new APPG is to support special schools and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) provision in mainstream school and college settings.
At the first meeting, Marijke Miles, chair of NAHT’s SEND council and head of Baycroft School in Hampshire, described the levels of funding for SEND as amounting to “an act of neglect”.
Despite the DfE’s welcome boost to high needs funding by £780 million for 2020-21, Marijke’s words were echoed by many others who were present.
Anyone who would like to be kept in touch with the work of the APPG for SEND can do so by contacting Rob Kelsall, NAHT national secretary (organising and campaigns), whose email address for this link is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As further evidence of the inadequacy of the funding for SEND pupils, after the APPG meeting, Marijke led a walk from parliament to 10 Downing Street to deliver a petition from more than 300 special school head teachers, calling on the prime minister to boost funding for pupils with SEND.
4. NAHT’s SEND Conference and Annual Conference 2020
It was a great disappointment, although not unexpected, when the decision had to be taken to postpone both NAHT’s SEND Conference (Friday 20 March in Manchester) and Annual Conference (7 to 10 May in Cardiff).
Regarding the latter event, not only is it the occasion when members can vote on motions – invariably including some related to SEND – but also the opportunity to publicly thank president Judy Shaw who has managed to achieve so much, to congratulate Ruth Davies as she starts her year as president and to welcome Tim Bowen as vice president. These changes have now taken place, and it is hoped that there may still be an event in the autumn when we can meet them officially in their new roles.
Meanwhile, the Leading on SEND across all Schools Conference 2020 has moved to 3 December at the same venue in Manchester. The theme, 'looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour', remains the same, and so do the keynote speakers and workshop leaders.
If you booked for the original date, I hope you can manage the new date. If you hadn’t booked before, do check out all the details of what is being packed into the day. This is an excellent opportunity to hear from eminent speakers in the field, choose from a range of seminars and workshops, and network with colleagues and friends. For further details and to secure your place, visit our conference page.
And, finally, Barry Carpenter has recently recorded a podcast for The Key, which gives a fascinating resume of his 40 years in SEN/SEND.
My very best wishes to you all in these uncertain and unprecedented times.