In addition to ongoing concerns about balancing the books, the new school year kicked off with a round of party conferences, murmurings about the impending changes to Ofsted's Framework and LAs being taken to court for cutting SEND budgets, so, whether or not parliament was in session, there has been plenty going on.
First up was the Lib Dem conference in Brighton, where Layla Moran, their education spokesperson (and who happens to be a former teacher), promised to abolish Ofsted, league tables and SATs, and possibly the 11-plus where it still exists. This was followed by the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, with Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, talking about the effect staff shortages are having on pupils with SEND. She said that, under their national education service charter, her government would have a “truly inclusive education service”, with shadow children’s minister, Emma Lewell-Buck, leading plans “to stop those with special educational needs and disabilities from falling out of the school system.”
In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Damian Hinds announced a further £20 million to support the spreading of best practice and knowledge about behaviour and classroom management. He went on to link character building with workplace skills and with general health and well-being. As Edward Timpson (one of Nadhim Zahawi’s predecessors at the Department for Education (DfE)) finalises his report on exclusions and alternative provision, Nadhim talked about ‘informal exclusions’ or ‘off-rolling’ being illegal. He said he hoped schools would “do the right thing… and determine never to exclude”, which seems a bit over the top.
Literacy and the DfE
Shortly after this, the DfE came under fire from the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) for its presentation of statistics, including Nick Gibb, the schools minister, claiming that England had leapt up the global literacy rankings from nineteenth to eighth place, which was actually achieved across 10 years, and not the more recent move from tenth to eighth place as implied. Meanwhile, research by the Driver Youth Trust has revealed that 54 LAs in England, according to their local offers, don’t have any provision for specialist teachers of dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties (SpLD).
Some of you may well have taken part in wearing yellow, if not a full banana suit, to join in with Young Minds #HelloYellow on Wednesday 10 October as part of World Mental Health Day. Wearing a more traditional suit, Matt Hancock, who replaced Jeremy Hunt in the recent reshuffle as secretary of state for health and social care, hosted the first-ever global mental health summit to take place in London. This was attended by the duke and duchess of Cambridge. Matt used the occasion to confirm his commitment to achieving equality between mental and physical health, and announced that Jackie Doyle-Price, the health minister, would take on the additional role of minister for suicide prevention.
A few days before the summit took place, the Education Policy Unit (EPI) published its research on 'Access to children and young people’s mental health services-2018'. The foreword is written by David Laws, who, at one time, was the education spokesperson for the Lib Dems and is now chair of the EPI. The report suggests that only a quarter of children with a diagnosable mental health condition are in contact with CAMHS and demand is rising.
It is to be hoped that the training of the new mental health support teams (MHST), which seven universities will be offering from January 2019 and the governments says will create “as many as 8,000 additional staff supporting schools and colleges across the country in the long-term”, will be a significant step forward.
In his latest blog, Nick Whittaker, who will be at our SEND conference next April, said there will be a consultation in the next few months about the new inspection framework and one of the strands will be about educating children with SEND. Nick says: “As a profession, we’ve got a duty to make sure all children have the support they need to make the most of whatever opportunities life may hold.” While we might all agree with the sentiment, it’s sometimes impossible to give pupils what they need with insufficient funding and resources.
On 10 September, Damian Hinds, Nick Gibb and Nadhim Zahawi were all present for one of the Department’s regular grillings by the House of Commons. Mike Kane, shadow schools minister, said recent research suggests that inspectors rate schools “by deprivation rather than by the quality of teaching and learning”. Hinds, however, dismissed the claims, saying: “I do not agree with that. I think Ofsted do a very, very worthwhile and high-quality job.” Elsewhere, there is also concern that Ofsted no longer has sufficient inspectors to carry out all their many roles.
A couple of days before this, at a ResearchED national conference, Daniel Muijs, Ofsted’s head of research, told delegates the publication of a big research project on the curriculum is imminent. He said: “We have some very exciting news coming up. We will shortly be publishing the findings from that [curriculum] project. It is really exciting because this is one of the best pieces of research on curriculum ever done in the UK.” Reassuringly, Muijs said judging the quality of a teacher on the basis of one lesson observation was “basically a nonsense”. This was followed by Amanda Spielman, HMCI, saying that a renewed focus on curriculum should reverse the current incentives that come from “inspection being too focused on outcomes”. Perhaps we’re heading for a similar u-turn to the one where levels suddenly disappeared and the preoccupation with statistics will give way to something rather more helpful and humane.
Update on Educational Psychology Service (EPS)
I’ve had an update from the DfE on the EP Research Project on the workforce in England, which is completing its evidence-gathering around now (mid-October), and the official report is due to be published within weeks. The Department has explained: “The research has been commissioned as an independent review, and it is looking at the existing EP workforce within England, investigating reported shortages and enabling us to assess the long-term workforce needs of the sector. It looks to map the current distribution and demographic profile of the LA educational psychologist workforce and provide evidence on factors driving shortages of trainee and qualified EPs in certain LAs.”
In the meantime, the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been taken on as a new provider so that the numbers of new trainee places has risen to 160, making an increase of 25% since 2012. Whether that is likely to be sufficient remains to be seen.
Update on speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)
On Tuesday 19 September, at a jointly badged roundtable event between the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT) and the national SEND forum, which was held at the Royal College, the focus was on developmental language disorder (DLD) replacing specific language impairment (SLI). Kamini Gadhok, CEO of the RCSLT, who will be giving a keynote speech at our SEND conference next April, is very keen to spread the word that the new term is the one that is to be used. It has the support of the major names in the field, and the hope is that it will increase awareness of those who, under the more general term of SLCN, have a significant difficulty that is likely to be long term. One of the highlights of the day, apart from having an opportunity to be in a room with more than 20 SaLTs gathered together in one place, was hearing from a 14-year-old girl with DLD, who was brave enough to speak to us.
Update on secure schools
Following draft guidance published on 1 June this year, together with a Secure Schools Vision, justice secretary David Gauke confirmed at the Conservative Party conference that £5m has been set aside to create the first secure school in Medway, Kent, which is expected to open in late 2020. It will be on the site of a secure training centre which is being closed.
The Ministry of Justice plans a number of these new schools run by academy trusts, with the aim of placing “education and healthcare at the heart of youth custody". They will be run by academy trusts.
School business professionals in special schools
The DfE has been in touch about setting up a network of some kind to support school business leaders in special schools, so I have been asked to relay the following information:
"Thank you for offering your support in promoting the development of networks for school business professionals (SBPs) in special schools. We have a couple of specific requests.
- "Any anonymised/consolidated data that you can share on your SBP membership in the special school sector would be much appreciated - ie numbers/FTE/location/job title etc
- "The team is also looking to hold an exploratory discussion group meeting for SBPs in special schools within the next couple of months. If you are able to suggest any particular nominees, with their permission, please let us know.
"Can replies to these points or any other general feedback or thoughts about this piece of work go to firstname.lastname@example.org, please."
I hope some of you may be able to follow this up as it could provide a useful way of making sure these essential staff members are kept in the loop and have access to relevant people within the DfE.
Conferences in 2019
Happily, next year’s NAS autism professionals conference (7-8 March 2019) won’t clash with NAHT’s SEND conference as it has done in the past. Entitled 'improving practice, improving every life', this tenth-anniversary conference is moving to the ICC, Birmingham. Information available from the National Autistic Society's website.
NAHT’s usual SEND conference has been moved to April (2-3 April 2019) to give members the possibility of attending both the 'girls and autism – many voices conference' on World Autism Day (Tuesday 2 April) and the 'leading on SEND across all schools conference' the next day, with 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', which has been written by members of the autism and girls forum, which is hosted by NAHT. The publisher, Routledge, will be there with a stand to sell the books, and many of the 18 authors of the different chapters will be present to sign hot-off-the-press copies. It will also be possible, as usual, to attend the start of the latter conference on Tuesday evening, or to make it a day conference and arrive on Wednesday. So do check these out before it is too late and snap up this amazing opportunity!
I hope the first half of term has had more ups than downs. I’ll be writing another update after half-term.