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Rona Tutt's SEND summary (November 2017)

 This series covers both residential and mainstream education, and it is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former chair of NAHT's Special Education Needs Committee.

After reporting last month on the reviews of funding (including arrangements for funding SEND) and primary assessment (including Rochford), I thought a November blog might be hard to fill. I needn’t have worried because the amount of information pouring out of the DfE and elsewhere continues unabated. 

Department for Education

This month, the Department for Education (DfE) announced the closure of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), which will be replaced by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA). This will join the other executive agencies of the DfE - namely, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Standards and Testing Agency (STA). Efforts continue to make sure trainee teachers have the opportunity to develop sufficient understanding of SEND.

Following in the footsteps of Lord Andrew Adonis, Sir Theodore Agnew has been parachuted into the House of Lords to become Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System following the retirement of Lord Nash. His responsibilities include behaviour and attendance, exclusions, and alternative provision.


As a result of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, the DfE is seeking views on significant revisions to what is expected of organisations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. 'Working together to safeguard children: revisions to statutory guidance' runs from 25 October to 31 December with the intention of replacing the 2015 guidance.

The same Act expands the role of virtual school heads and designated teachers, which leads to another consultation on revised statutory guidance for virtual school heads and designated teachers – the government's consultation runs from 16 October to 27 November. NAHT will be responding to both these consultations.

Running from 16 November to 11 January is a consultation on eligibility for free school meals and the early years pupil premium under universal credit. Our general secretary Paul Whiteman stresses that auto-enrolment for pupil premium is a long-held NAHT objective, and it would be an obvious step towards the fairer system the government says it wants.

Resources from the DfE

Issued this month is 'Literacy and numeracy catch-up strategies', a document that gives links to a range of interventions to do with:

  • Oral language
  • Phonics, reading comprehension and writing
  • Numeracy.

The effectiveness of each one and its cost are given. Additional sections cover Summer and Saturday schools as well as the transition from primary to secondary school.

Education Select Committee

When being interviewed by the committee recently - although not as part of the committee's sessions for its inquiry into Alternative Provision - the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield expressed her concern about exclusions, especially of those who have SEND. She agreed that there will always be children who need specialist provision, but she has concerns that schools are ‘off-rolling’ pupils into AP or encouraging them to leave because of their behaviour or adverse effect on results.

The Lenehan Review           

'Good intention, good enough? – a review of children and young people in residential special schools and colleges' (DfE, November 2017) is the second review this year by Dame Christine Lenehan. For this review, which covered the 6,000+ pupils who spend part of their childhood in residential settings, she was joined by Mark Geraghty, chief executive of The Seashell Trust. In the foreword, the authors comment:

“Some [of these children] receive an excellent education in placements that have been carefully considered to meet their needs; many do not and are placed as a last resort from a failing local authority system and then often ignored.”

The Review divided the children into four groups:

  1. Those with autism, communication difficulties, SLD and challenging behaviour
  2. Those with SEMH and challenging behaviour
  3. Those with PMLD and health needs requiring intensive specialist support
  4. Those with SEN/D but moderate or no learning difficulties. 

This last group includes those with a hearing or visual impairment, Asperger’s syndrome, or a physical disability. The first three groups are seen as needing the most intensive support from education, health and care.

While promising to look at the recommendations in greater depth next year, Justine Greening published on the same day as her letter to Lenehan (6 November 2017) updated guidance on statutory visits to children with SEND or health conditions in long-term residential settings (DfE and Department of Health).

Impact of the SEND Reforms

EHC plans
Last month, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman's Michael King published a report called 'Education, Health & Care Plans – our first 100 investigations'. As this is subtitled 'A focus report: learning lessons from complaints', it’s not surprising that it makes for rather a depressing view of the changes. At the beginning of the report, Michael King writes:

“The new EHC plan system is designed to be a more holistic way of providing SEN support than the previous approach. It aims to be less confrontational, more efficient and involve families better…….In some instances, our investigations have shown the new system to have the opposite of its intended effect.”  

Evidence from other sources would seem to suggest that where local authorities (LAs) have taken person-centred planning seriously, families have been pleased with the outcome. There is a concern at the moment that as some LAs rush to meet the deadline of 31 March 2018 for transferring statements to EHC plans, the quality may suffer.

SEN support
A sizeable resource that pulls together a range of information about ‘What Works’ for pupils and students on SEN support has just been published. 'SEN support: research evidence on effective approaches and examples of current practice in good and outstanding schools and colleges'(ASK Research and Coventry University, November 2017) is well worth exploring.

Local area inspections
Last month, the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted released a report, 'Local area SEND inspections: one year on', that looks at the results of the 30 inspections taking place between May 2016 and May 2017. So far, about one-third have ‘failed’ in the sense of needing to produce a written statement of action.

The rise, fall and rise of special schools

For those of us who have experienced special schools going from being valued as the best way of meeting the needs of a small minority of pupils with SEND, to their denigration towards the end of the last century, it is somewhat ironic that there are now concerns that too many children are being put forward to attend them. Adam Boddison, chief executive of nasen, suggests it would help if schools were judged by Ofsted on how inclusive they are rather than on the educational outcomes of their pupils.

Meanwhile, there is a significant increase in the number of special free schools in the pipeline, and with more than half being for children on the autism spectrum, a further concern that has been raised is whether or not those with other needs are being neglected.  

Different needs

Mental health
NAHT has recently issued guidance for schools on pupils’ mental health. It includes a very helpful list of what schools might do and what they should not be expected to do. If, after reading it, you’d like further information, advice or guidance, our specialist advice team can be contacted on 0300 30 30 333 (option one) or email 

Towards the end of October, the 'Review of children and young people’s mental health services – phase one report' was published by the Care Quality Commission. This found that about 70 per cent of secondary schools and 52 per cent of primary schools in England currently offer counselling services, which is an encouraging trend. On the other hand, the review also flags up the variation in the availability and quality of services, and the way different parts of the system are commissioned, funded and overseen. NAHT is involved on the Expert Advisory Group as the work moves into its second phase.

'When I Worry About Thingsis a collection of animated mental health resources aimed at eight to 13-year-olds. Each video explores a different issue and guidance is given on how it could be used in the classroom. Colourfully presented, a child’s voice is used to explain topics that could be part of a PSHE programme, including:

  • Being a bully and being bullied
  • OCD 
  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Panic attacks. 

YoungMinds has done a survey that found more than 250 young people were restrained face down in mental health units during 2014/15. On 3 November, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill was debated by MPs, and if it becomes law, it will limit the use of some of the most dangerous forms of restraint. In the meantime, we still await the government’s guidance on physical restraint and intervention.

The Autism Education Trust (AET) is seeking a school leader who works in a MAT to join the Schools Leadership Group that meets twice a year. Although we’re tasked with keeping all the AET materials under review and suggesting any improvements, it isn’t necessary for anyone wishing to take the MAT place on the group to be familiar with the materials. More details can be found on the AET's website, and Sarah-Jane Critchley, AET Programme Manager, will answer any questions.

Conferences and meetings

As I’m once again running out of space, I’ll give an update on meetings and conferences next time. However, I couldn’t possibly sign off without mentioning two of the conferences I’ve been highlighting this term:

  1. 'Collaborative approaches to the mental health of children: from issues to interventions' (Tues 30 January 2018 in London) is jointly organised by NAHT and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Tickets are going fast, so if you haven’t already staked your claim on a place, do so now. An opportunity to meet such a range of leading psychiatrists and other experts in the field of young people’s mental health may not come round again for some time

  2. 'Celebrating success; succeeding against the odds' (Thursday 8 and Friday 9 March 2018) is our annual Special Schools, Specialist & Alternative Provision Conference - this time at the Stoke-on-Trent Moat House. There is the option of arriving on Thursday to put your questions to an expert panel; this is followed by an after-dinner speech from our general secretary Paul Whiteman. Alternatively, you can attend for the day on Friday where there will be a choice of up to the minute workshops and keynotes from Jean Gross, who has been chairing the review of SLCN: Bercow-10 Years on, and Aaron Phipps, the Paralympic Athlete with an amazing tale to tell.


I’ll be in touch again next month with the final update of 2017. Who knows if the Green Paper on mental health and/or the guidance on physical restraint will be out by then.

First published 27 November 2017