Since I last wrote, the election has come and gone. While we know that education secretary Gavin Williamson, schools minister Nick Gibb, and Kemi Baddenoch, whose responsibilities include SEND, have all kept their seats, what we don’t yet know is whether Boris Johnson wants to make any changes at the Department for Education (DfE). As it happens, on a night when many seats were lost, both the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and the Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran held their seats, and both are being spoken of as potential candidates for the leadership of their respective parties. Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee in the last Parliament, remains an MP. It was his committee’s SEND inquiry that helped to convince the government that action needed to be taken to address the difficulties resulting from the implementation of the SEND reforms 2014.
Internal review of SEND
This led to the government setting up an internal review that was due to give an interim report this month. However, this has been overtaken by events. At a meeting of the National SEND Forum (NSENDF) on 4 December, which both NAHT senior policy advisor Rob Williams and I attended, André Imich from the DfE took the trouble to reassure us that work was still going on behind the scenes and a report would be available possibly by Easter 2020.
He confirmed that the usual government responses to both the select committee report mentioned above and the National Audit Office’s report Support for pupils with SEND in England (September 2019), which came to similar conclusions about the state of SEND, had been delayed by the election but would appear in due course.
Ofsted – supporting children and young people with SEND in mainstream schools
Continuing with the theme of catching up with the delays caused by the election, last time I reported that the first meeting of an Ofsted research and evaluation advisory panel had been established to advise on a small-scale piece of research into how the needs of pupils with SEND – both those with and without an education, health and care (EHC) plan – are having their needs met. After having it confirmed that a second meeting in December would go ahead, another communication said it had been postponed. Nick Whittaker, the project lead inspector, may be able to tell us more about this when he runs a seminar at NAHT’s SEND Conference in March next year.
On 3 December, the latest figures from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released, showing some improvement had been made in reading, however, as our general secretary wisely remarked: “Politicians should not be blind to the difference between reading for PISA and reading for pleasure.”
There is increasing evidence that although pupils can be filled with phonics in order to pass the phonics screening check, insisting on one main strategy for learning to read and using non-words to undermine to whole idea of reading being about getting meaning from the printed page or screen, may have resulted in fewer young people going on to read for pleasure and to broaden their horizons. As the new(ish) government settles in, is it too much to hope that they will look again at the negative effects of too much testing, particularly on those whose confidence may already be fragile and who need it built up rather than knocked down? Perhaps it would help if they looked carefully at PISA’s conclusions about our pupils having lower-than-average scores for well-being.
NAHT/Place2Be mental health and well-being survey 2019
This leads on to mentioning the importance of filling in the mental health and well-being survey, which is a combined effort by NAHT and Place2Be. This will be used to inform discussions with government – see surveymonkey.co.uk/r/KVCGQCG.
i) Autism survey
As if one survey at this time of year were not enough, I’ve been asked by Dr Rebecca Wood, a senior lecturer at the University of East London, to highlight a survey she is doing on autistic school staff, She recently published a book on inclusive education for autistic pupils, and is now investigating the experiences of teachers who are themselves on the autism spectrum and what more might be done to encourage more autistic people into teaching. She suggests that by focusing solely on strategies for inclusion and staff training, we could have been missing a trick. This confidential pilot survey is intended as a stepping stone to a larger project and is live until 31 December 2019. I know it’s not a great time to think about doing surveys, but I know Rebecca would be really grateful for your help, which could lead to some much-needed and fascinating findings. See surveymonkey.co.uk/r/DW2VLKP.
ii) Autism Awards 2020
While on the subject of autism, on Tuesday 3 December I attended a working lunch for those of us who have been judging this year’s entries for the National Autistic Society (NAS) Autism Professional Awards 2020. Winners will be announced at the NAS Autism Professionals Conference, which is being held at the ICC, Birmingham, on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 February 2020. Having had a hand in putting together the programme as well, I can recommend it!
When, in the year dot, I trained to be a teacher of the deaf (ToD), ToDs and speech and language therapists didn’t talk to each other. Although I know things have moved on and the two professions now share their complementary skills, it was a particular pleasure to receive a copy of Best Practice Guidance for Collaborative Working between Qualified Teachers of the Deaf and Speech and Language Therapists, which was published last month and is available from the RCSLT and BATOD websites.
The different types of therapy dogs – and indeed other animals – that are being used to counteract stress, etc is growing. As well as the prime minister’s dog Dilyn settling into Downing Street and the speaker’s menagerie, including Gordon the bulldog, getting used to his new quarters in Parliament, stories abound of therapy dogs. These include Findlay and Betsy the beagle, who both greet reluctant pupils as they arrive at the school gates; Archie and Fernie, who enjoy sharing books with pupils who are fed up with a surfeit of fonics – sorry, phonics; and Ffion, who works with worried sixth formers to reduce their stress. Some of these dogs have even been commended in Ofsted reports. Although they don’t need a DBS check, risk assessments are essential!
NAHT’s Leading on SEND Across All Schools Conference 2020
Next year, the conference theme will be ‘Looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour’. This theme will address the need to look behind behaviour at what might be its cause, beneath the behaviour to what it might be telling us, and beyond its superficial manifestation in order to arrive at a resolution. As Marijke Miles, chair of NAHT’s SEND Council says, this is an opportunity to “listen, reflect and debate, exploring the issues with a wide range of contributors, perspectives and contexts” and to “finish your day equipped with renewed energy, understanding and resolve in order to be best leaders for our learners”.
The Conference takes place on Friday 20 March at a splendid new venue in Manchester, when keynote speakers will be Fintan O'Regan speaking on ‘Can’t Learn, won’t Learn, and you don’t know me at all’, Professor Adam Boddison on the future for social, emotional and mental health and the SEND Code of Practice, and Joe Cook, poet and much else besides, talking about ‘Me, myself and Irlen syndrome’.
A wealth of stimulating seminars and workshops complete the programme. You can find out more and book now at eventbrite.co.uk/e/leading-on-send-across-all-schools-conference-2020-registration-79715375835.
Inclusive and Supportive Education Conference 2020
As some of you will know, ISEC takes place every five years, and this time it is in the UK. It is an international opportunity not to be missed. As it falls in August, there is no need to worry about leaving the day job. Under the auspices of UCL and nasen, the conference provides three days of unparalleled opportunities to hear from speakers far and wide on the theme of ‘Closing the research to practice gap. It runs from 3 to 5 August at UCL Institute of Education in London. For further information and to book your place, go to ucl.ac.uk/isec2020.
Season’s greetings to all of you!