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Rona Tutt's SEND summary (November 2018)

This series covers both residential and mainstream education and is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former Chair of NAHT's Special Education Needs Committee.
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Since I last wrote, Brexit has caused another round of resignations. Although the DfE seems to have remained largely intact, the one casualty announced – so far – is Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick-on-Tweed, who is an aide (PPS) to Damian Hinds and his ministers. In her resignation letter, she said she would: “…continue to speak up on all those matters close to my heart around the armed forces covenant and special educational needs”. 

Meanwhile, in the background the SEND agenda continues to move on. 

Recent DfE documents

In case you haven’t had time to find them, let alone digest them, here are some of the relevant documents published since last month’s summary. (I hesitate to say ‘all’ rather than ‘some’ as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be confident of being entirely up to date).

1. Exclusions and alternative provision (AP)

As mentioned previously, there is a great deal of work going on in these overlapping areas. Following on from the publication of the Select Committee’s findings from its AP Inquiry in July, (Forgotten Children: Alternative Provision and the Scandal of Ever-Increasing Exclusions), last month the DfE published its response, accepting some of the recommendations, but not all of them. 

The DfE document refers to two recent reports. The first of these is: Alternative Provision Market Analysis by ISOS et al. This is 115 pages long and one of its most interesting sections is about the relationship between AP and special schools for social, emotional and mental health needs:

“One reason for this is the significant proportion of pupils placed in AP who have an identified SEN and are either being supported at the level of SEN support or have an education, health and care plan (EHCP). Another reason is that LAs reported to us that they were facing similar and related demand pressures for AP and specialist provision for pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.”  

The second one is Investigative Research into Alternative Provision by IFF Research Ltd etc, which, in 187 pages, presents the findings from exploring the landscape of alternative provision (AP). This was achieved by looking at:

  • how schools support pupils at risk of exclusion
  • why pupils are referred
  • how schools use AP
  • what quality AP looks like
  • the processes for exclusions and AP referrals
  • mainstream reintegration.

Meanwhile, it was hoped that the Timpson Review of Exclusions might report by the end of the year and throw further light on these issues. However, it now looks likely that it won’t be out until next year. 

2. Mental health and behaviour

The latest DfE non-statutory advice, Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (Nov 2018), is described as being to ‘help schools to support pupils whose mental health problems manifest themselves in behaviour.’ In the absence of any other sources, it suggests considering drawing on SEN funding and pupil premium as appropriate (and if not already spent several times over). The five chapters cover:

  1. Schools’ responsibilities
  2. Creating a whole school culture
  3. The link between mental health and behaviour
  4. Providing support and collaborative working
  5. Where to find out more.

There is a brief mention at the end to the proposals in the Mental Health Green Paper, as well as links to Relationships, Sex and Health Education, and PSHE. 

On the same theme, a comprehensive piece of research by Rebecca Brown, published jointly by the DfE and GSR (Government Social Research), is Mental health and Well-being Provision in Schools. Although the title sounds a bit dry, the contents make interesting reading. Chapter five is devoted to SEND and Annex D gives useful links to resources, interventions, training and approaches identified during the review. 

3. Rochford review

Hot off the press comes the (almost) final piece of the jigsaw: Piloting the 7 aspects of engagement for summative assessment: qualitative evaluation (November 2018). In the press release which came out the same day, Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, explained that the government has accepted that the pilot had shown most schools in favour of replacing 1-4 of the P scales with this approach, although there were concerns about workload and the necessary training to introduce a different style of assessment. Mr Gibb said the next stage would be for Diane Rochford to lead an expert group to look at refining the Engagement Approach. Detailed guidance and a training package will be developed before implementation in 2020. 

SEND reforms

There are two ways in which the success – or otherwise –of the reforms is being measured.  The first is through the local area SEND inspections and the second is through the Select Committee’s SEND inquiry

1. SEND inquiry

Launched on 18 April this year, there was then a long gap between the first witness session in July and the second on 23 October. Although there is a separate inquiry running in parallel on school and college funding, witnesses at both inquiries have honed in on SEND funding. Speaking at the latter inquiry, for instance, Dave Hill, Surrey CC, told the committee that England is “close to a national crisis” and he warned that funding problems had led to “all the money being spent on firefighting, and no money being spent on prevention”, which is exactly the opposite of what should be happening.

When the third session of the SEND inquiry on 20 November was advertised, it was referred to as a ‘roundtable discussion’. All became clear, when, instead of three or four witnesses facing a semi-circle of MPs as usual, a larger number of witnesses was interspersed with MPs so that together they formed a circle. There was much discussion about EHC plans, with Dame Christine Lenehan (SEC), saying that a national template was needed. This received considerable support and, I suspect, may become one of the committee’s recommendations. John Harris, a Guardian journalist and parent of a child with SEND, also backed calls for making the EHCP system more uniform, describing it as a “great archipelago of different frameworks”. He added that this makes it very difficult to give parents the correct legal advice. The committee’s next session was scheduled for 4 December. 

2. Local area inspections    

The DfE has announced a programme of revisits to local areas which were asked to produce a written statement of action (WSoA) following their SEND inspection. The programme of revisits starts in December this year and will run alongside the current programme of inspections, which is due to be completed by 2021. The details of how these revisits are to be carried out were published on 9 November and will be part of the Local Area SEND Inspection Handbook, Spring 2019. In the meantime, they can be found here.

DfE’s SEND newsletter

Last month saw the publication of the latest edition of the 0-25 SEND, alternative provision and attendance unit newsletter. Among the items mentioned are the following:

i) SEN information report

Now that the school’s SEN information report has become established, there is a reminder about making sure it:

  • Has been updated within the last year
  • Covers the 14 areas specified in the Code of Practice 2015
  • Is presented in a way that is easy to understand and welcoming
  • Is co-produced with pupils and parents
  • Provides a link to the school’s accessibility plan.

In short, it should explain the quality of the school’s provision for its SEND pupils and is an opportunity to share and celebrate their achievements.

ii) Physical disability

Also mentioned in the latest DfE newsletter is pdnet, the national network for all those supporting learners with a physical disability.  In April 2017, pdnet was awarded the DfE contract ‘Support for Children and Young People with Physical Disabilities’ which aims to improve the knowledge, skills and the capacity of the physical disability workforce across all phases of education.  Over the past 18 months pdnet has worked with the sector to develop:

  • An effective practice hub, which holds a wealth of resources to help support children and young people with a physical disability
  • Phase-specific online training modules
  • Standards for schools and settings to self-evaluate current provision. 

All these are available to access free of charge. Both Jane Carter and Harry Dicks are closely involved in this work and are also long-standing members of NAHT’s SEND Council. Jane is vice chair of pdnet’s executive board and Harry is a member of the expert advisory board. For more information about pdnet, please visit pdnet.org.uk or email support@pdnet.org.uk.

iii) Inclusion experts

Those of you who have already read the latest newsletter will know that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), which is one of three Executive Agencies of the DfE – along with the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA), - will be aware that STA has been recruiting a number of Inclusion Experts in the fields of:

  • Communication and language
  • Hearing impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Autistic spectrum
  • SEND
  • English as an additional language
  • Behavioural development
  • Representation and diversity
  • Educational psychologists. 

As one of the ‘experts’ recruited in the first round, I know there will be a further round in February as they don’t think they have enough of us yet. If anyone has the time and is interested, watch out for further details, which I’ll also include in a future summary. NAHT’s SEND sector council considered this and agreed to press the case that there should be more experts in relation to physical disability as well and NAHT will press the STA for this. 

Specialist and alternative provision

The DfE has recently announced the LA bids for special free schools and alternative provision, (updated 21 Nov 2018) This lists 51 special free schools and eight AP. There are no details about the latter, but the former shows that:

  • Autism and SEMH, either separately or together, are the most popular types of new schools
  • In addition, ASD is linked with SLCN and /or LD
  • Schools for MLD, SLD and/or PMLD are thin on the ground but mentioned frequently in tandem with eg ASD
  • One school is listed for SLD, PMLD, ASD and SLCN, while another one says ‘All needs except SEMH!’

No further details are given on the eight AP schools. 

Meetings in November

NAHT’s SEND Council

On 20 November, NAHT’s SEND Council met at the TUC in London. Although we were sorry to lose Ian Hartwright’s involvement, it was ‘welcome back’ to Sarah Hannafin, and a welcome, too, for Theo Smith. The Council met just before the Rochford report had been published, but Sarah was able to update us on some of the issues around it. Some of the other topics discussed were: AP and exclusions, including ‘off-rolling’ and ‘disapplication of pupils from results’, the early career framework, the SEND inquiry, an update on qualifications for pupils with SEND and the DfE’s response to Bercow- Ten Years On.

The Council also discussed the arrangements for the conferences on 2 and 3 April next year. As a reminder, the Girls and autism – many voices conference is on World Autism Day (2 April ) and the Leading on SEND across all schools conference has the theme: diversity, difference and dynamics. Both will be held at the same venue in London, with a special price for attending both days. The first event will also see the launch of the book, Girls and Autism – Educational, Family and Personal Perspectives and many of the key figures in the autism field will be present to run workshops and to sign books.

It will also be possible, as usual, to attend the start of the SEND Conference on the Tuesday evening, or to make it a day conference and arrive on the Wednesday, when the three keynote speakers will be Dean Beadle talking about his experience as a pupil with autism and his varied life beyond school, Dr Bernadka Dubicka from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) and Kamini Gadhok from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).  Many more details of both conferences are on the NAHT website, so do check these out and book soon to secure a place. 

National SEND Forum 

On 21 November, the National SEND Forum met, when Simone Vibert, from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, came to speak to us. She explained that Anne Longfield, the current Children’s Commissioner for England, is halfway through her four-year term of office. The other UK Children’s Commissioners is Koulla Yiasouma (NI),  

Bruce Adamson (Scotland) and Sally Holland (Wales). The commissioners work closely together and sometimes issue joint statements. Simone explained her own focus is on SEND and she is particularly interested in hearing from anyone who has pupils or families who would be prepared to speak to her about their experiences of being excluded. Do let me know if you’re able to help with the qualitative study she is doing around this.

Autism Education Trust 

On Monday, I was at the Autism Education Trust’s Quality and Standards Group. A recent addition to their materials, created with DfE funding is: AET exam accommodations guidance to support students with autism and GCSE. The guide lists access arrangements, explains how to apply for them and describes the implications for the school in terms of accommodation and staffing. It includes a summary checklist of the key steps to enable an autistic student to do their best before, during and after the exam. It applies to England and Wales.  

At the rate the DfE is churning out information, I expect I will send out another summary before the end of term. In the meantime, I hope there aren’t so many end of term activities going on that you are too pressurised to be able to enjoy them!