I’m well aware that many of you will have had a term of being bombarded by edicts from the government and elsewhere on top of trying to cope with an ever-changing situation. So, I’ve left it until now to round up before the end of the term, although I realise that for some of you, the term may have ended by the time you read this.
By now, we may be used to expecting the unexpected, but few will have anticipated that Rebecca Long-Bailey would have left her post so soon after being appointed. Kate Green has replaced her as shadow education secretary. Kate is the MP for Stretford and Urmston and entered Parliament in 2010. Before becoming an MP, she was chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, and before that, director of the National Council for One Parent Families (now Gingerbread).
The government’s guidance for September 2020
As most of you will know by now, at the start of July, the government issued guidance for full opening: schools. It covers expectations for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), including those with education, health and care (EHC) plans in mainstream schools.
Separate guidance came out at the same time for early years, FE colleges and special schools. For the latter, see guidance for special schools and other specialist settings.
Despite so many pages, it’s still not clear how the reopening of schools for all pupils will work when schools have varying amounts of space inside and out, pupils who need transport won’t be with their ‘bubble group’, and some parents and/or their children may be too apprehensive to return anyway. Nevertheless, as one head teacher remarked to me recently, most school leaders take the attitude not that we can’t do it, but how can it be done. Thanks to the ingenuity of heads and their staff, perhaps ways will be found to give everyone a lunch without lunchtime taking several hours, every day the weather will be fine so that outdoor lessons will overcome the lack of classroom space and non-stop cleaning throughout the day will happen even though most cleaning usually takes place when the pupils have gone home.
Ofsted information from September onwards
Not to be outdone, Ofsted has waded in with its batch of information. We’ve had a phased return to schools, and now we have Ofsted’s phased return to inspections. Although inspections as such won’t be resumed before January 2021 at the earliest, from September 2020 inspectors will be carrying out ‘visits’, ie not inspections. All so-called ‘inadequate schools’ will be visited and a selection of other schools as well, so that inspectors can do the following:
- identify the barriers schools have faced in managing the return to full education for pupils
- see how leaders are ensuring pupils resume learning, including blended teaching and, where necessary, remote education
- find out how pupils are settling back into expected routines and behaviours
- discover how any identified and specific health and well-being issues are being addressed and what is needed at a local and/or national level to support this
- check on safeguarding.
In a commentary to go alongside this publication, Amanda Spielman has written: “There is no doubt that children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities have been affected significantly by the covid-19 pandemic…..It is also clear that, despite the expertise and commitment of those working in SEND in England, many of the problems we now see in the SEND system precede the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She moves on to discuss the area SEND inspections, by Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC), which have also been paused, but which, like schools, will receive visits to gain an insight into how well the system of visits, which started in May 2016, has been working. Although these have generally been seen as helping to raise the profile of SEND, she admits that there may have been too great a focus on how the 2014 SEND reforms were being implemented, rather than the impact they were having on the lives of pupils and their families.
You can download Amanda’s commentary here.
You can obtain an evaluation of the work of the area SEND inspections so far here.
Ofsted and CQC have now been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to develop a new area SEND inspection framework, which is under consideration and will be launched once the present cycle comes to an end.
Education Select Committee’s inquiry
This committee continues to be very active under the continuing chairmanship of Robert Halfon, and it is currently undertaking an inquiry into the impact of covid-19 on education and children’s services.
On 1 July 2020, the four witnesses were as follows:
- Amanda Batten, chair, Disabled Children’s Partnership
- Ali Fiddy, chief executive, Independent Provider of Special Education Advice
- Imogen Jolley, head of public law, Simpson Millar
- Philippa Stobbs, assistant director, Council for Disabled Children.
They were questioned on how covid-19 had impacted on educational provision for children with SEND and their parents. Among the many comments made, Amanda said there needed to be immediate additional support for short breaks and respite services. Philippa said the curriculum needed to be redesigned to focus on physical and mental well-being and re-establishing routines. Ali pointed out that the current crisis was set against the background of a deepening crisis in SEND provision. She mentioned that while those with EHC plans, and those waiting to receive one, had had a difficult time, the majority who are on SEN support had fared even less well. Imogen said this issue was being compounded by the lack of other services, such as physical therapies. Philippa agreed that “therapy provision, speech and language, occupational therapy, physio, has effectively dropped off a cliff in the last couple of months.”
The inquiry is happy to receive evidence until 21 July.
Since this took place, the DfE has confirmed that there will be no further notices to modify the EHCP duties on LAs, unless the evidence changes. However, it stated that it would “consider whether any such flexibilities may be required locally to respond to outbreaks”.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for SEND
The second meeting of the APPG for SEND is on Wednesday 15 July from 2pm to 3pm. This virtual meeting (via Zoom) is open to all. If you read this in time, you can register on the link below. If it’s too late to attend, but you would like to do so in future, you can make sure you’re on the mailing list.
Click on the link to do the following:
- Register for the meeting
- Sign up to the APPG for SEND mailing list.
Rob Kelsall is NAHT national secretary and secretariat to the APPG for SEND, and for further details about the group and its work, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 2 July 2020, data from the January 2020 school censuses on pupils with SEN was published. This provides a breakdown by type of SEN provision, type of SEN, age, national curriculum year group, gender, ethnicity, EFL and free school meal. Headline facts and figures for 2019/20 include the following:
- 3.3% of all pupils in schools in England have an EHC plan, a rise from 3.1% in 2019
- A further 12.1% of all pupils are on SEN support, up from 11.9% in 2019
- The most common type of need for pupils with an EHC plan is autism, and for pupils on SEN support, SLCN
- SEN is more prevalent in boys than girls, with boys representing 73.1% of all pupils with an EHC plan and 64.6% of pupils on SEN support.
You can find a mass of further details here.
Coronavirus: supporting pupils’ mental health and well-being
In case you haven’t downloaded it yet, this is a reminder that the above is the title of a document written in partnership with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, NAHT and the PSHE Association, supported by Place2Be and YOUNGMiNDS.
Written for all phases of education, it contains within its few pages valuable information on helping pupils to adapt to being back at school and supporting their mental health and well-being. Download it here.
A recent meeting of the Special Education Consortium (SEC) was attended by Suzanne Lunn, deputy director of the SEND Division of the DfE.
She spoke about the SEND Review being delayed, but she said it was still ongoing and hoped to complete its work by the end of the year although it could take longer. In answer to a question, she didn’t confirm that one outcome might be a national inclusion strategy; however, she was clear that the DfE believed in parents having choice and that meant having the possibility of either mainstream or special school provision.
National SEND Forum (NSENDF) - regional centres of expertise
Last but not least, for some considerable time members of NSENDF have been waiting for an opportunity to take forward the idea of regional centres of expertise. NSENDF is a stakeholder group, which has representation from around 30 organisations. NAHT was one of the first members and has been instrumental in helping it to grow and flourish.
The government’s current SEND review is looking for answers, and we believe it may be receptive to new ideas. Our first step is to identify what already exists for those throughout the 0-25 age range who require the kind of specialist teaching and input from all three services, which is not always available in every area. We know this isn’t a good time to ask you to fill in yet another questionnaire, but we would be grateful if you could spare a few moments to fill in a few questions. Thank you! There is further information at the start of the questionnaire about what we would like to achieve.
I do hope you manage to have a real break from an incredibly demanding term and remember to look after yourselves so that you can look after the pupils who, hopefully, will be back next term.