This month, NAHT past president Rona Tutt looks at SEND reforms, consultations from the Department for Education and two highly successful conferences run by the NAHT.
Celebrating success; succeeding against the odds
As NAHT’s special school, specialist and alternative provision conference took place recently, I’ll start with a few words about it for those who were unable to attend. The title of the conference was celebrating success; succeeding against the odds. For Paul Williams and Tony Newman (chair and vice chair of our SEND council, which organises the conference), it was a successful end to a long period of office before both of them retire from their positions on NAHT's national executive. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the way they have made sure that children and young people with SEND are not forgotten in any discussions on educational matters.
After a lively panel discussion on the Thursday evening (8 March 2018) that was closely followed by an after-dinner speech by NAHT president Anne Lyons (whose talk never gave away the fact that she had only had a day or two to step into our general secretary’s shoes), there was a full day on the Friday. This was off to a flying start thanks to the opening speaker Aaron Phipps, who without a shred of self-pity, recalled losing both lower legs and several fingers to meningitis at the age of 15. Since then and not content with representing GB at wheelchair rugby at the London Paralympics in 2012, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, including four days on his hands and knees when his wheelchair gave up the ghost and he refused any help. He epitomised the conference theme in having succeeded against the odds over and over again.
A series of workshops covered numerous matters of the moment, including ones led by Andrew Hackett from the Department for Education on the Rochford pilots, Matthew Barnes, HMI Specialist Adviser for SEND at Ofsted and Kamini Gadhok, CEO of the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT). The day ended with a welcome return by Jean Gross, who many of you will remember as the former Communication Champion, giving us an insight into the report, Bercow - 10 years on, which is due to be published very soon. Jean chaired the decision-making panel, whose members included Kim Johnson, our immediate past president.
Collaborative approaches to the mental health of children: from issues to interventions
As referred to in my previous blog, a successful inaugural conference by NAHT and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPSYCH) on collaborative approaches to the mental health of children: from issues to interventions took place on 30 January 2018. The conference was held at the Royal College’s spacious venue near Tower Bridge in London. The 200 delegates who attended this sell-out event included school leaders, psychiatrists, researchers and other health professionals, and it demonstrated the value of those from different professional backgrounds learning together.
The conference followed a similar pattern to NAHT’s SEND conference, with keynote speakers topping and tailing the event, and in between, a range of workshops. The difference here was that the workshops were led by a combination of psychiatrists or researchers sharing their knowledge of mental health issues - such as self-harming, anxiety and attachment - and working alongside school leaders who demonstrated how their understanding of these conditions had improved their practice.
Hopefully, the links between NAHT and the two colleges have been strengthened through these conferences and will continue to flourish and lead to other exciting opportunities for closer collaboration in the future. The more we learn together, the easier we may actually find it to work together.
Department for Education's consultations
Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision
As an indication of the amount that is going on in the area of mental health, the above conference clashed with the Education and Health Select Committee’s first oral evidence session to scrutinise the scope and implementation of the green paper, transforming children and young people’s mental health provision. You may have seen the clip of NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman giving evidence (which was included in NAHT News, 31 January 2018, Issue 292) where he is sitting alongside Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child & adolescent faculty at RCPSYCH, who had been instrumental in helping to get the conference off the ground. Paul explained NAHT’s policy position on the role of schools in relation to mental health as being to:
- Promote good mental health and emotional well-being among pupils of all ages
- Play a key part in identifying emerging mental health needs of pupils
- Refer those pupils on to health professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment
- Support and manage pupils with mental health needs in the school environment and in their learning.
Paul was clear that schools should not be expected to diagnose mental health problems; deliver treatment or therapeutic support; or provide health or social care services from the school’s budget. When he was asked whether the pressure from tests and exams could be a contributing factor, he agreed that the “competitive success or failure environment certainly has an impact.”
As well as responding in full to the green paper, the association also gave responses to two other consultations. Last month the DfE published its responses to revised guidance for virtual school heads and designated teachers (Feb 2018) and changes to statutory guidance: working together to safeguard children; and new regulations (Feb 2018).
NAHT is pleased to see that some of the suggestions put forward have been taken on board. Because it is difficult to summarise the key points in the space available, I’ve given the links so you can refer to them when needed.
The latest newsletter from the SEND unit at the DfE, under its extended title of 0-25 SEND, alternative provision and attendance unit, was published this month.
The first item is about the transfer reviews needing to be completed by the deadline of the end of March. Any local authority that is unable to meet this timescale will be contacted by the DfE, who will consider what actions are needed. Further details are given in annex A of the newsletter, which sets out some of the situations that may arise and what will happen in different circumstances, such as changing LAs, leaving school for college or becoming 19+.
There is information on setting up a local supported internship forum to bring together all the local partners who can develop and deliver supported internships in a local area, with the goal of creating routes that will support more young people with SEND aged 16 to 24 into paid employment.
Reference is made to SEND tribunal: single route of redress national trial - guidance for local authorities, health commissioners, parents and young people, which was published this month. The two-year national trial is due to start on 3 April, and it follows a smaller scale pilot. It has always been a bone of contention that the SEND tribunal has been unable to make recommendations about the health and social care elements of an EHC plan. However, this could change if the trial is successful, and although any recommendation about health and social care the tribunal makes would be non-binding, it would be a step in the right direction. If the recommendations are not accepted, the reasons for not following them must be explained and set out in writing to the parent or young person.
Further information on these and other items can be found at https://councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/sites/.../SEND-2016-February-newsletter.pdf.
Exclusions and alternative provision
In the last few days, Damian Hinds, who replaced Justine Greening as secretary of state for education, has announced that Edward Timpson (who lost his seat last summer and therefore his role as minister with responsibility for SEND) will be leading a review into school exclusions. Mr Hinds has said:
“I would like to see the number of children who are excluded from school coming down. Although exclusion rates are lower than they were 10 years ago, they have gone up in the last couple of years, and it’s really important we understand why.”
Further details of the review are due to be announced shortly, but it looks as if it may overlap with the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into alternative provision. As mentioned in previous blogs, this was launched last September under the chairmanship of Robert Halfon, who had taken over the chair after being ousted from his role as minister for apprenticeships and skills in the DfE. The written evidence has been gathered and the third evidence session was held on 6 March 2018.
By now, you may well be looking forward to a welcome Easter break, and then it will soon be time for NAHT’s annual conference and a chance to meet Damian Hinds who is expected to attend. This takes take place in Liverpool from the afternoon of Thursday 3 May to Saturday 5 May 2018. Book and see further details about our decision-making forum.