In my previous special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) summary, we were awaiting the results of the latest government reshuffle. Now this has happened, we know Gavin Williamson is staying on as secretary of state for education and only Nick Gibb survived as a minister in the Department for Education (DfE). His responsibilities include the following: pupil premium; relationships, sex, and health education; personal, social, health and economic education; behaviour, attendance and exclusions; and early education curriculum.
The new minister for families and children, which includes SEND, is Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford. On her website, she describes her first two days at the DfE as follows:
“Wednesday 19 February - The diary is packed full of detailed briefing sessions. My role will involve oversight for all children and young people in care, those needing social service and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The government is already doing a full review of the SEND support across the country, and a deep independent review of the care system has just been introduced. There is a lot to learn and much to do. One of my first meetings is with England’s chief social worker.”
“Thursday 19 February - Today I hear from the head of Ofsted, the children’s commissioner and those responsible for children’s services in local authorities across the country.”
Vicky’s responsibilities also cover alternative provision (AP), young people’s mental health, online safety and preventing bullying in schools.
At the end of February, the government unveiled its new taskforce to help schools tackle unruly behaviour. Gavin Williamson said the £10 million programme, first announced last August, would “…give all schools the tools they need to improve behaviour by making sure they can learn from the best”. Six advisers will join behaviour tsar Tom Bennett’s team. They are as follows:
- Mark Emmerson, CEO, City of London Academy
- Marie Gentles, co-director of Magic Behaviour Management
- Michelle Long, executive principal, Dixons Academy Trust
- Jayne Lowe, director of Bright Green Learning, and currently supporting the ministry of justice on ‘transforming youth custody’
- Charlie Taylor, chair of Youth Justice Board and former behaviour tsar
- Jenny Thompson, principal of Dixons Trinity Academy.
As Tom and his team are now in place, the DfE is recruiting up to 20 lead schools to become behaviour hubs and work with the new advisers to support at least 500 schools over three years, starting from this September. The DfE hopes to recruit around 10 secondary schools, six primary schools, two APs and two special schools. Anyone interested can download behaviour hubs: application guidance(DfE, Feb 2020). The schools must be outstanding: primary schools must have above average progress for reading, writing and maths with phonics results for 2018/19 above 90%; secondary schools must have above average scores for progress 8 and attainment 8 as well as EBacc entries of at least 45%. Special schools and AP may be accepted on the strength of being outstanding alone.
As it happens, the National SEND Forum, where NAHT is represented by Rob Williams, senior policy adviser and myself, is embarking on a series of thought leadership papers. At the last meeting, it was agreed that the first paper would pick up the controversy around zero-tolerance behaviour policies.
On 26 February, Natasha Green, policy research analyst for NAHT, attended a debate by MPs on school exclusions, which was initiated by Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, who is the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on knife crime. Among the points raised were the following:
- The correlation, if any, between the increase in knife crime and exclusion rates since 2012
- The high rate of exclusions among students with SEND
- The extensive cuts in SEND funding
- The lengthy timeframes for referrals for EHC (education, health and care) plans
- Concerns about the reduced number of AP places and increased demand.
Most MPs praised the hard work of school leaders and teachers, saying it was the system that was failing the students, not the school staff. Sarah Jones rounded off the debate by saying the education sector should receive better training on vulnerability and trauma, schools should be supported to focus on prevention, every council should have a leader responsible for excluded students and adequate funding/resources should be given to this issue.
At the same event, Nick Gibb was asked when the government was going to move forward with the recommendations from the Timpson Review of School Exclusion. He responded that he supported school leaders in using exclusions, there was no causal link between knife crime and exclusions, and the DfE’s focus was on improving AP and supporting the work of the behaviour hubs.
Also in February, Ofsted’s research, Making the cut: how schools respond when they are under financial pressure, was published. While welcoming the government’s commitment to increase the school budget by £7.1 billion by 2022-23, Ofsted warned that “even if this meets schools’ immediate needs, shortfalls in local authority funding will continue to affect them.” Both primary and secondary schools tended to address this by reducing spending on teaching assistants, learning resources and their premises. Some schools had decreased their use of external services, such as educational psychology, behavioural support and alternative provision because they couldn’t afford them. Some reported that special educational needs coordinators (SENCos) had less capacity to manage SEND provision because their other workload has increased as a result of staff losses. Others had reduced curriculum breadth and extracurricular activities.
In a blog post released alongside Ofsted’s report, Amanda Spielman, HMCI, flagged her concerns over the breadth of curriculum, quality of teaching and SEND provision. She said it was a concern that schools are responding to funding pressure by reducing curriculum breadth because “all pupils should be entitled to a broad and rich curriculum”.
This conflicts with the advice from the DfE’s cost-cutting advisers - officially called school resource management advisers (SRMAs) - who have been said to recommend that schools could reduce costs by amalgamating classes, reducing the curriculum through offering fewer subjects and replacing experienced teachers with support staff. As the Department doesn’t routinely publish reports on the work of SRMAs, it’s difficult to check the context in which these comments were apparently made, or to know whether the money spent on paying a team of SRMAs is value for money.
The mental health of staff
New figures collated by Schools Week suggest the number of sick days taken by teachers for mental health reasons, including stress and depression, are on the rise. In the 2015-16 academic year,
27% of all sick days were attributed to mental health-related causes. This was the highest figure in the past four years. The data is collected by councils and trusts, but it may not show the true number of sick days taken for mental health reasons as some employees may feel uncomfortable revealing the nature of their absence.
According to research published last month by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), one in 20 teachers in England is reporting long-lasting mental health problems. Professor John Jerrim of the IOE said teachers are fairly similar to other professional groups, and a more reliable measure than the statistics quoted by different researchers might be retention and recruitment figures because “those getting massively stressed are likely to leave the profession”.UCL IOE will itself be publishing more research into teachers’ mental health later this year.
A consultation, keeping children safe in education – government consultation, began on 25 February and closes on 21 April 2020. It is a consultation on several changes the DfE is seeking to make for September 2020.
At the same time, draft: keeping children safe in education 2020 - statutory guidance for schools and colleges was published. In Annex G, there is a useful table showing all the changes the DfE plans to bring in, including strengthening the role of the designated safeguarding lead (DSL); the link between mental health concerns and safeguarding issues; and to reflect mandatory relationships, sex and health education (RSHE).
Restraint and restrictive intervention
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched an inquiry into how schools in England and Wales are monitoring and recording their use of restraint and restrictive interventions, following concerns about its use and the lack of data available. Currently, there is no legal duty on schools to record incidents. The inquiry wants to find out whether primary, secondary and special schools in England and Wales are collecting, and if so, whether they are using it to inform any improvements as to how they use restraint. The terms of reference and other information can be downloaded from the website in English or Welsh.
I’ve recently returned from the NAS Autism Professionals’ Conference, held at the ICC in Birmingham on 27 to 28 February. The conference was made even more interesting by the number of autistic speakers, ranging from a young mother giving her personal experiences of pregnancy and maternity to a teacher who received a very late diagnosis and gave us his inside story of how he manages to work in a noisy setting surrounded by a lot of people.
The conference was rounded off by Dean Beadle, who has spoken more than once at our conferences and who manages to catch and hold the audience’s attention, no matter how many times you may have heard him before. To him, getting a diagnosis was important because he saw it as giving him an identity rather than a label.
And so, to our upcoming Leading on SEND across all Schools Conference on Friday 20 March, this time in a new venue in Manchester. The theme of looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour is a very topical one, and it will be addressed from different angles by Prof. Adam Boddison, who is now well established as head of nasen; Fintan O-Regan, who has spent a lifetime getting to grips with pupils who can’t or won’t learn; and to finish the day, Joe Cook, who sees his difficulties as a challenge, but not an obstacle to becoming a musician, poet, youth worker and much else besides. As well as these three keynotes, a wide range of seminars and workshops are on offer. These include the following: Rebecca Brooks discussing the many faces of trauma, Prof. Barry Carpenter on promoting positive mental health, Bernard Allen on reducing the need for restraint, Penny Hermes talking about the value of outdoor learning, Nick Whittaker HMI giving Ofsted’s take on positive behaviour, positive attitudes and positive outcomes, and none other than SEND Council chair Marijke Miles talking about building a restorative community.
With all that on offer, as well as the opportunity to network with colleagues and friends, enjoy an exhibition of enticing resources and have questions that puzzle or concern you answered by our eminent speakers; don’t delay any longer. If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to join in and claim a place.
A bonus will be that those present will receive the first batch in a series of information sheets about different conditions, which are being put together by researchers and school leaders who are members of the National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education, which is hosted by NAHT.
For those of you who can make it, I very much look forward to seeing you there.