Although Brexit has yet to be sorted, two events have been settled: there will be a December general election, and the Education Select Committee’s report of its SEND inquiry has finally seen the light of day.
On 23 October, the ‘special educational needs and disabilities - first report of session 2019-20’ appeared. NAHT was quick off the mark with its coverage, and further details are on the website. If this has whetted your appetite, but you don’t have the time to run a school and digest all 126 pages, here are some short cuts. There is a succinct summary on pages three and four, and the conclusions and recommendations are summarised on pages 84 to 89. The report itself is split into two parts. Part one sets out the background to the inquiry: what was covered, the committee’s views on the evidence collected and its conclusions and recommendations in full. Part two sets out the actual evidence received, both written and oral, as well as a half-page epilogue, which includes these words: “….the weight of evidence…is clear. The system is not working – yet….Families are in crisis, local authorities are under pressure, schools are struggling.” (P83, paragraph 232)
As you may already have read, but it’s worth repeating, Paul Whiteman’s response to the report was to say the following: “With the number of pupils identified as having additional needs continuing to rise, funding for both education and health and social care services must keep pace. Far more specialist provision is needed in the form of external services, specialist support in mainstream schools and additional special school places. Until the SEND system is fixed, the wider school system will remain in crisis.”
Both this report and the NAO report mentioned last time may have been enough to convince the government that something needed to be done urgently and to set in motion the SEND Review, which is now underway.
Internal review of SEND
Also mentioned in September’s summary was the information that this would be a ‘major SEND review’. However, when I attended the October meeting of the Special Education Consortium (SEC), Mike Davies, who is heading up the review team at the DfE, referred to it as the DfE SEND internal review because it will be reviewing what is already known rather than going out to public consultation, at least to start with. Mike tabled a paper giving an overview of the review, which is considering two main questions:
- To what extent the current system is efficient and effective in providing the right support to CYP with SEND so that they can thrive and are prepared for adulthood
- What additional changes might be needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system, with a focus on the needs of the individual and how these could be achieved.
Mike stressed that, although this is an internal review, it will be working across departments, especially the Department of Health and Social Care, and outside expertise will be provided by Kevan Collins (formerly of the EEF), Anne Heavey (national director, Whole School SEND) and Tony McCardle (recently appointed chair of the SEND leadership board). He gave the context of the review as being the following:
the increase in the number of EHC plans (now at 3.1% instead of 2.8%)
the increase in the number placed in special schools
the number of local areas having to produce a WSoA
the amount of over-spending by LAs
the poor outcomes for many with SEND in relation to those without SEND.
On this last point, I suggested that comparing the outcomes for SEND and non-SEND pupils isn’t particularly helpful. The review will be in two phases: phase one will report by the end of the year and set out some proposals and the work the government intends to do immediately to improve the system. Phase two will report by Easter 2020 and set out costed proposals for an implementation plan to deliver the government’s vision. This is timed to coincide with the spending review. Whether or not all this happens may depend on the outcome of the election.
EHC plans two years on
Another interesting report published in October was the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s ‘Not going to plan? – EHC plans two years on’. In the Ombudsman’s foreword, Michael King writes: "In 2018-19, we received 45% more complaints than in 2016-17 … and we carried out 80% more detailed investigations ….. But most concerning of all is that we upheld nearly nine out of 10 investigations…. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work. It compares with an average uphold rate of 57% for all investigations discounting SEND cases."
The main difficulties that are picked out mirror what is being found in the Ofsted/QCA Local Area SEND Reviews:
Poor planning and anticipation of needs
Poor communication and preparation for meetings
Inadequate partnership working
Lack of oversight from senior managers.
Obviously, it is an ombudsman’s role to deal with complaints rather than talk about what is going well, but this report is further evidence of a system under severe strain. www.lgo.org.uk
Ofsted research: supporting CYP with SEND in mainstream schools
On 23 October, I attended the first meeting of an Ofsted research and evaluation advisory panel, which has been established to advise on a small-scale piece of research being undertaken by Ofsted. This will consider how the needs of pupils with SEND – both those with and without an EHC plan – are having their needs met. The project will involve two LAs, eight schools in those LAs and three pupils in each of the schools: one with an EHC plan and two on SEN support. Staff from the LA, pupils, their families, head teachers, SENCos, teachers, TAs, etc. will all be interviewed.
The project sponsor is Daniel Muijs, director of research and evaluation at Ofsted, and the project lead inspector is Nick Whittaker, who, once again, will be running a seminar at our SEND conference in March next year. Familiar colleagues on the advisory panel included professor Adam Boddison (head of nasen) and professor Brian Lamb, who, in 2009, chaired an inquiry into increasing parental confidence in the SEN system of the time, and, for 10 years, chaired the SEC. The fieldwork starts mid-November, with an initial write up in December or January, and the final version in the Spring. The decision on which LAs to engage has yet to be made, but the idea is to have two that are geographically close.
Ps. After writing this, I wondered if Ofsted would be caught in the pre-election period, but I’ve since heard that the research is going ahead and there’ll be a further meeting of the group in late December.
The well-being of young people
In October 2018, Theresa May promised an annual report would be published every October on young people’s well-being. So, on 10 October, the DfE published its first report, ‘State of the nation 2019: children and young people’s well-being research report’. The scope of this report is threefold:
To provide statistics on well-being in children and young people in England, and examine variation in well-being for different subgroups
To draw on a wider set of indicators that capture children’s relationships, self-reported health and feelings about their appearance, and their experiences of bullying and school
To provide an in-depth analysis of psychological well-being in teenage girls.
According to the report, 81% of 10 to 12-year-olds reported being happy with their school overall compared with 70.7% of 13 to 15-year-olds, which may be more to do with adolescence than anything else. Girls are more likely to be bullied than boys. This includes cyberbullying. Pupils on free school meals reported that they were less satisfied with their lives.
New GCSE in British sign language
For many years, the idea has been floated that British sign language, which is the first language for some profoundly deaf pupils and their families, should be available as a GCSE in the same way that other languages are recognised. Nick Gibb, the schools’ minister, had previously warned that a “huge number of steps would have to be gone through” before this could be achieved. However, on 28 October, in answer to a parliamentary written question, Mr Gibb said: “The government is aiming to introduce a GCSE in British sign language as soon as possible, so long as it proves possible to develop a qualification that meets the rigorous requirements that apply to all GCSEs. ……We are aiming to consult publicly on draft content next year.”
This will not only be a huge boost for pupils who have British sign language as their first language, but many hearing young people have expressed an interest in being able to study it at a higher level than is possible for them at the moment.
On Friday 18 October I was one of the 200 guests invited to the Waldorf Hilton Hotel in London to celebrate the nasen awards. The celebrity host was Pete Firman, who entertained us with his combination of humour and conjuring tricks, before getting through the awards with pace and aplomb. Afterwards, Adam Boddison wrote: “This is the third year running for our awards ceremony, which gives us the opportunity to say thank you to those people who make a real difference to the lives of children and young people with SEND and who dedicate their time to helping them fulfil their potential.” This is the first time I’ve been able to accept Adam’s invitation, and it was lovely to be part of this occasion.
Next time, I’ll include the very latest on the plans for NAHT’s leading on SEND across all schools conference 2020, which is taking place in Manchester on 20 March 2020, with the theme, 'looking behind, beneath and beyond the behaviour'. I’ll also include further information on ISEC 2020 (Inclusive and Supportive Education Conference) and its theme of ‘closing the research to practice gap’.