It may be the summer holidays and life supposedly revolving around Brexit, but education changes continue apace, in the wake of a new prime minister, another secretary of state for education, and a change of minister whose brief includes SEND.
So Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, takes over from Damian Hinds. Although better known for i) his ability to whip recalcitrant MPs into line, ii) his sudden departure from Theresa May’s cabinet, and iii) Cronus, his pet tarantula, it may also be worth noting that he was state educated, showed a strong interest in education when a county councillor, and that he has been a school governor.
Meanwhile, Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden, has replaced Nadhim Zahawi as children and families minister. Born in Wimbledon, she grew up in Nigeria and the US, before returning to England in her teens. Her portfolio of responsibilities includes the early years, high needs funding, children’s social care and SEND.
Select Committee Reports
i) House of Commons Education Committee
Although the report of its SEND inquiry has yet to appear, on 19 July 2019 the same committee published A Ten-Year Plan for School and College Funding. As these two inquiries ran in parallel, there was quite an overlap between them. Hence, the one on funding has a whole chapter on SEND, from which the following recommendations emerge:
“The Department must make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for sufficient funds to finance the widening high-needs deficit, projected to be over £1 billion by 2021, and address the underlying drivers of spiralling costs at an early stage. The funding uplift must include a thorough assessment of the cost implications of local authorities’ duty to maintain an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan up to the age of 25.” (Paragraph 106)
“The Department’s assessment of the core school funding uplift requirements must include a thorough analysis of the role that sufficient school funding plays in facilitating early intervention and avoiding more costly intervention later on.” (Paragraph 107)
The chapter ends with a further recommendation about the need to revise the high needs funding formula, in order to make it more responsive to projected trends rather than being based on historical factors.
ii) Home Affairs Committee
Published on 31 July, the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Yvette Cooper MP (wife of former education secretary Ed Balls), has published a report, Serious Youth Violence. It includes a section on school exclusion (paragraphs 163- 171), which makes reference to the Timpson Review.
i) Home-to-school transport
There are two documents that might be of interest. The first is Home to School Travel and Transport for Children of Compulsory School Age – Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (Consultation Draft). Paragraphs 43 to 45 and 67-68 cover children with SEN, a disability or mobility problems; paragraphs 69 to 70 are on independent travel training; and paragraphs 71 to 72 are about children with medical needs. The consultation is running from 19 July to 31 October and will update the 2014 guidance.
ii) Character and resilience: a call for evidence
This consultation closed on 5 July and came from Ian Bauckham CBE, who was asked by Damian Hinds to chair a Character Advisory Group. This includes current and former teachers, charity heads, former government advisors, academics and union leaders, including NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman and ASCL’s general secretary.
The five areas the Department for Education (DfE) has previously identified for building character are:
- volunteering and membership;
- world of work.
The DfE will be relaunching the Character Awards and schools will be able to enter in October, with an awards ceremony in March 2020. Nominations will be considered in the following categories: school culture and ethos; curriculum and teaching; collaboration; character champions; and delivering against the five foundations for building character.
As regards the first of these character-building attributes, on 15 July a School Sport and Activity Plan was published by the DfE, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department of Health and Social Care.
It aims to promote a joined-up approach to physical activity and mental well-being. It is described in the introduction as a statement of intent from the three government departments, with the aim of giving all pupils the opportunity for at least one hour of physical activity every day, to improve behaviour and enhance learning.
In the press release about the activity plan, Amanda Spielman said: “Schools that offer children a broad, balanced education, including plenty of opportunities to get active during the school day and through extracurricular activities, will be rewarded under our new inspection regime.”
An update to the action plan is promised later this year.
i) Online safety
Teaching Online Safety in Schools: Guidance supporting schools to teach pupils how to stay safe online when studying new and existing subjects has been published, and comes into operation from September 2020. Teaching pupils about online safety and respectful behaviour is included in relationships education, relationships and sex education and health education. It may also form part of citizenship and computing. The guidance includes information about resources that supports vulnerable pupils.
ii) Pupil premium
Guidance on the funding levels for next year have been announced in Pupil Premium: Conditions of grant 2019 to 2020. The DfE wants to encourage schools to spend less time on annual reviews and more on having light-touch ones, combined with a three-year strategy.
Mental health and well-being
i) The task group
Following on from an earlier announcement about the creation of a 26-strong group to look at how to support the mental health and well-being of school and college staff, the group has held its first meeting, chaired by Paul Farmer, CEO of charity Mind. Included in the group is James Bowen, NAHT’s director of policy and NAHT Edge.
ii) The Link Programme
On 12 July, Damian Hinds, the then-education secretary, set out the next stage of the Link Programme. Some of you may have been one of the 3,000 schools that have already been through this training. It is now being opened up to every school, college and alternative provision in England over the next four years, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, and starting with those who are attached to Mental Health Support Teams as part of the first 25 trailblazer areas. At the same time, the government confirmed that a further 124 Mental Health Support Teams will be created in 48 areas across the country.
iii) Senior mental health lead
The DfE is also seeking a specialist provider to deliver training for senior mental health leads in schools and colleges, so they have the skills and knowledge to promote positive mental health and well-being and know-how to access appropriate support for those young people who need it.
iv) Ofsted and mental health
There has been mixed reactions as to whether the changes to the Ofsted framework say enough about mental health and well-being. Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see how much interest inspectors take in the topic. In the meantime, Guidance for Joint Targeted Area Inspections on the Theme: Children’s mental health was published in July, whereby inspectors from Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) will work together to focus on children aged 10 to 15 who are living with mental ill-health and are in receipt of multi-agency services.
i) DfE’s data on SEN
Following on from the data on Statements of SEN and EHC plans 2019, which was published in May, on 4 July, Special Educational Needs in England: January 2019 was published. This shows that, after falling for several years, the number of pupils identified as having SEN continues to show a slight increase. The figure now stands at 14.9%. For the 11.9% pupils who are on SEN support, speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is the most common need, and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) for the 3% who have EHC plans.
ii) DfE’s data on exclusions
On 25 July 2019, Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions in England 2017-2018 was published. For both types of exclusions, “persistent disruptive behaviour” remains the most common reason across all schools. For special schools alone, by far the most common reason was “physical assault against an adult”. Although there has been a slight drop in the exclusion of pupils with SEND, they remain high.
iii) Whole School SEND Index
The long-awaited Whole School SEND Index: An analysis of SEND data nationally and by RSC region was published at the end of June. It is the first of a series to be published annually. It is packed with information giving an up to date picture of SEND nationally and by region and is well worth perusing.
The Index is divided into the following sections:
- key findings;
- types of need and placements;
- Pupil attainment;
- local area inspections.
The index is available within the Whole School SEND section of nasen’s SEND Gateway.
Although the information in this summary is as up to date as I could make it, with so much uncertainty about what may or may not happen once Parliament returns, it’s impossible to know how much ongoing work will be taken forward and, if it is, whether the timescales may change.
Finally, my apologies for interrupting your holiday. You can always wade through the information at a later date.