As the end of the beginning of Brexit hoves into sight, with much work still to be done on the detail of what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means, there is the possibility of more upheaval, with talk of a realignment of government departments and the reshuffle of ministers within them. Nevertheless, Gavin Williamson had an upbeat message for the start of 2020, seeing leaving the EU as:
“…the perfect opportunity to march forward and be the global leader in educating children, young people and adults. Make no mistake, I want the UK to be the best place in the world to educate your child and make the most of people’s talents.”
Hopefully, he realises this requires some investment.
Although it may be a little while until the shape of the new government is clear, voting for the chairs of the select committees is already underway.
Education Select Committee
One of the first to be announced was Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, who has been re-elected unopposed as chair of the Education Select Committee. Previously, he has proved to be someone who is prepared to take on all-comers, whether from his own party or not. Under his chairmanship, the committee published three influential reports in 2019 alone (which I’ve referred to in previous updates):
- Forgotten Children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever-increasing exclusions
- A ten-year plan for school and college funding
- Special educational needs and disabilities
It will be interesting to see what his committee decides will be its focus for the coming session.
At a meeting on 22 Jan of the Joint Unions and the DfE on SEND Issues, Scott Howard from the DfE’s SEND Review Team, referred to the report from the National Audit Office (Support for pupils with SEND in England- Sept 2019) and to the Education Select Committee’s report on SEND (Oct 2019). He said they were being drawn on as a basis for the current review, which is looking at how to improve the system of support for SEND pupils and young people. Scott explained that during purdah, the team could only listen to views, but were now free to engage and were anxious to do so. They were only just beginning to have the opportunity to talk to Ministers, but still hoped to have something out by March, although it wouldn’t be the final report as originally planned. Scott raised two questions for the group to discuss:
- What are the main challenges for early years, schools and colleges?
- How can outcomes for SEND pupils be improved?
Not unexpectedly, responses centred round: making early intervention (at whatever age) a reality; accepting that the additional money promised was welcomed but wouldn’t solve the problems; recognising that specialist support teams were essential; doing more for post-16 and post-19; and getting the involvement of health and social care, rather than expecting schools to pick up the pieces.
Scott added the information that the revision of the SEND code of practice (2015) will depend on the outcome of the review. He also mentioned that there is another team gathering evidence on the paperwork around EHC needs assessments and plans, which led to a further discussion. Although the unions present had different angles on the questions raised by both debates, there was much unanimity about what was needed.
Local Area SEND inspections
At the same Joint Unions meeting, Chris Eridani-Ball gave an update on the current position and future arrangements for these Joint CQC/ Ofsted inspections. He reported that over 100 inspections had been completed and of these, around half had been required to produce a Written Statement of Action (WSoA). He pointed out that while some of these only had one or two areas of weakness and much that was positive going on, others were doing far less well. Although a decision has yet to be made on whether to have a second round of inspections, Chris was of the opinion that they have turned up enough useful evidence about how far the SEND reforms have been embedded, that it would be a pity to stop them. He suggested if they did continue, they might have more to say about the early years and post-16.
HMCI Annual Report 2018/19
Ofsted’s Annual Report (published Jan 2020), also has some paragraphs on Area SEND inspections as part of the section on Children and young people with SEND (pages 85-89). This aspect of Ofsted’s work is also mentioned in Amanda Spielman’s opening commentary, where she says:
“Our area SEND inspections and the insights we can draw from them have exposed a lack of coherence and coordination in SEND provision across local areas. We welcome the DfE’s review of SEND and we are contributing our expertise. All agencies involved in this area must think carefully about why partnerships are not working well enough and about why resources are not being employed effectively.”(P21)
For those of you who are interested in the latest statistics about children and young people with SEND, it is worth reading paragraphs 227- 247, which cover:
- Provision for CYP with SEND and the pressure on school places
- Problems accessing the right education and support and the increase in EHC plans
- Area SEND inspections and their findings summarised.
Also mentioned in the final paragraphs of Amanda’s opening commentary is a reference to Mental ill health, which is to be the focus of Ofsted’s next joint targeted area inspections (JTAI). She quotes NHS Digital and its finding in 2017 that one child in eight aged five to 19 having at least one mental disorder. Emotional disorders, such as anxiety or depression, were the most prevalent and on the rise.
The Joint Unions’ meeting was also an opportunity to hear from Eimhin Walker about the progress of the mental health developments put in train under the previous government. Although there has, inevitably, been some slowing down towards the end of last year, it was encouraging to hear that the roll-out is continuing. Eimhin gave an update on:
Senior mental health leads
Although this isn’t a statutory requirement (and I know many schools already have someone in place whether or not they have this title) a provider is currently being sought for the training that will be on offer and which is due to start later this year.
Mental health support teams (MHST)
The trailblazer programme is being extended, both through current trailblazer areas seeking to develop further teams and from other areas coming on board. Eventually, the whole of England should be covered. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the rest of the UK).
The Link programme
In addition to the training for senior mental health leads, and the mental health first aid training which some of you may have done, this is being rolled out nationally by the Anna Freud Centre. It will take the form of two-day workshops, which will be for 20 schools and colleges at a time.
In January this year, the Centre for Mental Health published:
Trauma, challenging behaviour and restrictive interventions in schools,
Meanwhile, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) released,
Access to child and adolescent mental health services in 2019.
Also in January, nasen published: The time is now: Addressing missed opportunities for Special Educational Needs Support and Coordination in our schools,
This follows on from a similar publication a year ago by nasen and Bath Spa University, who have conducted national SENCO surveys both years to see the changing pattern of work.
Not to be confused with nasen’s SEND awards which come later in the year, the annual National Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Awards 2020 were started six years ago to showcase good practice and, during that time, have expanded to include both early years and the under 25s. The awards celebrate the most inclusive practice for young people in all types of schools, colleges, educational settings and employment across the UK, including additional learning needs (ALN) in Wales. These are the categories:
- Most inclusive practice across a school
- Partnership with parents
- Most innovative special needs intervention
- Best use of external special needs professionals
- Excellence in special schools and alternative provision
- Inclusion in early years
- Inclusion in further and higher education (up to 24 years)
- Support into employment (up to 24 years)
- Outstanding individual contribution to SEND
The judges come from the following organisations: Achievement for All (AfA), NAHT, NNPCF, Nurture, PACEY, and UNISON. They are looking for evidence of going beyond normal expectations. The closing date is 20 April 2020. www.sendawards.com
Finally, a reminder of a couple of SEND-focused conferences in the first part of 2020:
27-28 Birmingham NAS Autism Professionals’ Conference
Friday 20 Manchester NAHT Leading on SEND across all Schools Conference:
Looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour.
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to book! Check out the programme and make sure of your place at this popular annual event:
Depending on what else has appeared in the meantime, next month I’ll try to cover the wellbeing of staff as well as young learners, and to pick up the controversy around isolation booths/ seclusion rooms/ exclusion or inclusion units, or anything else they may be called. In the meantime, all power to your elbow as you seek to do the incredible in the face of the seemingly impossible.