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Rona Tutt's SEND summary (June 2019)

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As I write, an air of uncertainty continues to permeate the political scene, both over Brexit and the wider ramifications for education, including who is likely to be in charge at the Department for Education (DfE) and how the funding crisis is resolved. 

SEND reforms

One piece of work that is nearing completion is the Education Select Committee’s SEND inquiry. Shortly after my last summary the final witness session was held, when three people from the DfE were questioned. Although Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for SEND, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, and André Imich, specialist adviser, were keen to emphasise the positive aspects of the changes, they did agree with the chair, Robert Halfon, that much remains to be done. At the moment, the report of the inquiry is being written and should make for very interesting reading when it appears, hopefully before the end of the summer.

Meanwhile the local area SEND inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is the other way in which the success of the reforms is being tracked, have taken place in well over half the local areas, and the trend continues of having a higher percentage being required to produce a written statement of action (WSoA). At a recent count, out of the 90 inspected so far, nearly half have had to produce a WSoA. In addition, we have now reached the stage where the first reinspections are taking place:

  • Rochdale – passed reinspection, January 2019
  • Sandwell – passed reinspection, May 2019
  • Brent – passed reinspection, June 2019
  • Sefton – failed reinspection, May 2029
  • Surrey – failed reinspection, May 2019.

In the case of Surrey and Sefton, responsibility passes from Ofsted and the CQC to the secretary of state, who must decide what happens next. 

SEND Code of Practice

The first SEN Code of Practice lasted from 1994-2001 and the next from 2001-2015. Yet, already, the DfE is considering some changes to the SEND Code of Practice 2015. I blame the march of technology. When everything was paper-based, and the cost of printing had to be considered, people thought twice about constantly updating everything. Now, it is almost too easy to do so. Apparently, the DfE has been keeping a ‘snagging list’ of what needs to be changed. (At a meeting attended by IPSEA, the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, IPSEA said it had been keeping its own snagging list, and it would be interesting to compare the two). 

It is unlikely there will be any major changes, as these would have to go through Parliament. Rather, they will clarify anything that isn’t sufficiently clear; make sure what is said in one place doesn’t contradict something elsewhere, and stress any legal responsibilities. So far, there is no timescale for any changes, but there will be a consultation before they are finalised.

Exclusion and children in need

Last time, I mentioned that the Timpson Review of School Exclusion (May 2019) had been published. One of the startling statistics stated was that 78% of all exclusions were issued to pupils who were:

  • known to have SEN;
  • a child in need (which includes all disabled children);
  • eligible for free school meals (FSM).

It also stated that 11% of permanently excluded pupils had all three characteristics. It isn’t the case that all children with SEND are more likely to be excluded, but it won’t be a surprise that: “Of those with SEND, children with social, emotional and health difficulties (SEMH) are most likely to be excluded,” (Timpson p36).

The final part of the review of children in need, Help, Protection, Education: Concluding the Children in Need review (June 2019), was published shortly after Timpson, and there is some interesting overlap between the two.

Restraint and restrictive intervention

On 27 June, the government published two documents to do with the thorny issue of restraint. The first is Reducing the Need for Restraint and Restrictive Intervention. This is non-statutory guidance that applies only to children and young people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health difficulties in health and social care or special education settings. 

On the same day, the government began a consultation to collect views on the possibility of having guidance of a similar nature for those in mainstream settings and alternative provision, called Guidance on the Use of Restraint and Restrictive Intervention in Mainstream Settings and Alternative Provision. This is now open and runs until 17 October 2019. 

At first glance, it would seem odd to have these two separate documents, and also to make reference only to certain types of need. The DfE itself seems slightly puzzled about this.

Question 14 of the consultation questionnaire asks how the guidance should differ for mainstream schools, and question 15 asks whether it should apply to “a wider cohort of children with SEND”!

Secure schools

The latest entry to the patchwork quilt of schools that exist today are secure schools. In June 2018, the Ministry of Justice published a policy paper, Our Secure Schools Vision, to clarify that these places would be “schools with security and not prisons with education”. On 1 July, it was announced that the Oasis Charitable Trust, which runs a chain of academies, would run the first secure school, which is in Medway and is currently at the pre-opening stage.

Mental health

It was shortly after Theresa May became prime minister that she announced her support for improving young people’s mental health. After this, the green paper appeared. With the main strands of that already underway, and shortly before she departs for pastures new, the PM has made a further announcement about:

  • training for all new teachers to help them spot mental health problems in pupils; 
  • updated statutory guidance for schools on protecting children’s mental well-being;
  • extra support for mental health leads who are supporting pupils who self-harm;
  • new materials for teachers to meet the requirements of mental health education.

The PM said that the next revolution on mental health should be about prevention, and that we should never accept a rise in mental health problems as inevitable.

RE, RSE and health education

The consultation ran from July 2018 to November 2018, with the intention of making materials available by September this year and the subject compulsory from September 2020. Paragraphs 80-98 are on health and mental well-being and include what pupils might be expected to have covered by the end of primary school and the end of secondary school. PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) is seen as the vehicle through which schools can deliver health education, including mental health education.

Latest on Rochford

Following a pilot on using the seven aspects of engagement, Diane Rochford was asked to undertake a second piece of work to finalise the approach to assessing pupils at the lower end of the P scales. Her group’s remit is to review the seven aspects of engagement model, with a view to reduce the number of aspects that need to be assessed. It is also developing the key governing principles that schools need to be aware of, including the fact that: 

  • no quantitative data will be generated from the assessments (so there will be no engagement scale used to demonstrate pupil progress);
  • the DfE will not collect attainment data - instead, schools must only report to DfE which pupils are not engaged in subject-specific study at the end of key stage 1 and key stage 2;
  • the model should be used as a tool, alongside a school’s existing assessment systems, to provide evidence of the pupil’s progress against the outcomes and learning targets in their education, health and care (EHC) plan across the four areas of need.

The DfE says that detailed guidance is being provided and schools will have the opportunity to receive training.

Deployment of teaching assistants

In June, the DfE published a research report, The Deployment of Teaching Assistants in Schools, which found that the main models of deployment are:

  • whole-class TAs (most common method in primary schools);
  • in-class targeted TAs (most common method in secondary schools, but also the second most common method in primary);
  • withdrawal intervention delivery (used by both primary and secondary schools).

A majority of schools reported that they needed to make further changes to their TA deployment as a result of funding constraints, and expressed concerns about the impact of this - see the Deployment of Teaching Assistants report.

Autism

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has appointed a new chief executive to replace Mark Lever, who is moving on after 10 years at the helm. Caroline Stevens is currently leading the charity KIDS, which has done so much to support disabled children and their families. Her CV includes a spell as vice chair of the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) and one of her three children is autistic. She will be taking up her new role in November. 

In April, the Autism Education Trust (AET) appointed Sarah Broadhurst to take over from Bob Lowndes, who is retiring.

There will be a further summary before the end of July, which will include details of NAHT’s SEND conference in 2020. The SEND Council was delighted to have a substantial increase in numbers this year and hopes the trend will continue, despite the difficulty with budgets and having to be out of school.

I hope to catch you before the end of term, but if some of you break up before the next summary, I wish you a refreshing and recuperative summer holiday!


First published 05 July 2019