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Rona Tutt’s SEND summary (September 2019)

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I kicked off my last Summary with some of the changes at the Department for Education (DfE). If I’d known how transient they would be, I might not have bothered. Kemi Badenoch, who replaced Nadhim Zahawi as children and families minister, has already been replaced by Michelle Donelan, MP for Chippenham. She is covering for Kemi’s maternity leave and her responsibilities include social care, disadvantage and social mobility, as well as SEND and high needs funding. Meanwhile, Nick Gibb, who must be well on the way to setting a record for the time a minister has remained in post at the DfE, has been given an expanded role. As well as school standards, this includes PE and school sport, pupil premium, early years and childcare. 

Major review of SEND

For some time now I’ve been referring to the Education Select Committee’s SEND inquiry. While its report has yet to appear, all of a sudden on 6 September the government announced another major review of SEND. Like the SEND inquiry, it will evaluate the impact of the reforms. More specifically, the review will focus on:

  • helping parents to make decisions about their child’s support and ensuring high-quality support is available in all areas of the country;
  • working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to look at the role of health, the rise in education, health and care (EHC) plans, and how specific conditions are driving demand;
  • striking a balance between inclusive mainstream and specialist provision in state-funded schools;
  • aligning incentives and accountability so that educational settings provide the best possible support;
  • ensuring public money is spent effectively in securing quality outcomes.

On the same day these details were published, the National Audit Office (NAO) report Support for pupils with SEND in England (September 2019) appeared. This gives some fascinating statistics, key findings and a clutch of recommendations. It doesn’t beat about the bush, and the conclusion goes a long way to explaining why the government is having another SEND review only five years after the previous one.

“The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable. Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets … Pressures, such as incentives for mainstream schools to be less inclusive, increased demand for special school places, growing use of independent schools and reductions in per-pupil funding, are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable.” - Paragraph 23.

Comparing this paragraph with what the DfE says it is going to review shows that the NAO report has been taken to heart. The good news is that this is largely an internal review with an interim report by the end of the year and a final report by spring 2020. This will prevent too much time being spent on reviewing reviews, rather than finding a way forward.

Mental health and well-being

1. Additional trailblazers

Following the first wave of trailblazing Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs), the government has announced that a further 123 MHSTs in 57 areas are being launched during 2019-20:


  • London - 12 areas
  • Midlands - eight areas
  • East of England - six areas
  • North East and Yorkshire - nine areas
  • North West - six areas
  • South East - 11 areas
  • South West - five areas.

The teams are under the supervision of the NHS. Further details of the MHSTs within these areas can be found on the NHS England website

2. Link Programme

Starting in Sept 2019, the Link Programme of training is being rolled out to named contacts in educational settings, starting with those in the Trailblazer Areas. The training will consist of two workshops held six weeks apart, the first looking at improving joint working between education and health, and the second involving the creation of an action plan for sustainable joint working. The training sessions will be run by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

3. Senior mental health leads

The DfE has yet to appoint a provider for training senior mental health leads in schools and colleges, which is due to be rolled out from June 2020. Those in Trailblazer Areas will again be first in line and should, by then, have an education mental health practitioner (EMHP) connected to their school. The training is also likely to take the form of a two-phased approach: knowledge and planning in the first phase, followed by implementation in the second phase. 

Exclusions, alternative provision (AP) and behaviour

Following on from the DfE’s Permanent and Fixed Period Exclusions in England 2017-2018, mentioned in my last blog, both exclusions and behaviour have remained in the news. On 6 September, Gavin Williamson, who is adjusting to the change from defence secretary to being in charge of education, announced a change of direction for the free school programme, saying that its emphasis on innovation and doing things completely differently was ideally placed to provide better options for excluded children and those on the brink of being excluded. He quoted the Boxing Academy in London and the Everton Free School as using sport to re-engage children, improve attendance and academic outcomes; the Wac Arts Academy in Camden, which is one of the few APs with a sixth form and the first to have a specialism in media and the creative arts; and the Pears Family School, which is using therapeutic interventions designed to support mainstream reintegration.

On 12 September, Ofsted announced a new framework for inspecting ITT courses, with an increased focus on managing behaviour. Amanda Spielman said that this would ensure the next generation of teachers “understand the important principles of behaviour management, how to teach pupils to behave, and how to create an environment where pupils can learn”.

A few days later, at the Liberal Democrats’ party conference in Bournemouth, Siobhan Benita, who is her party’s candidate for mayor of London, said that no child would be permanently excluded from a mainstream school in London if she won next year’s mayoral election. This prompted a quick response from Tom Bennett, the DfE’s behaviour tsar, who tweeted that this would be “detrimental to the safety and education of many thousands of children, and to the well-being of children who find exclusion takes them into the institutions they need”.

NAHT’s SEND Council

When the Council met on 19 September, we had the opportunity to hear from Rob Williams, policy director for NAHT Cymru, who brought us up to date with changes in Wales. The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 replaces the SEN framework, with a system based on additional learning needs (ALN) rather than SEN. A draft code of practice is still being worked on, and its implementation has been postponed so that it will come into force in January 2021 instead of next year. All ALN pupils will be required to have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), unlike the system in England of having SEN support and EHCPs. This may help to ensure that all these pupils receive the support they need, but, on the other hand, it could create quite a workload for schools.

At the meeting, we also heard from Nick Whittaker, HMI specialist adviser, SEND, who updated us on the differences between the old and current Ofsted frameworks, and members had a chance to ask him questions. Nick’s advice, which may be hard to follow, is that school leaders should do nothing extra just for the inspector. More straightforward to achieve might be his advice to read Inspecting the Curriculum (Ofsted, May 2019) and also part 3 of the School Inspection Handbook, which is about applying the education inspection framework (EIF) in different contexts. Paragraphs 308-312 are specifically about SEND provision in both mainstream and special schools; paragraphs 313-319 cover pupil referral units (PRUs); and paragraphs 320-330 focus on boarding and residential provision.

We look forward to hearing again from Nick, who will be running one of the workshops at our SEND Conference on Friday 20 March. The conference itself, Looking Behind, Beneath and Beyond the Behaviour, will be the focus of the SEND Council’s next meeting in January. To register your interest in attending the conference, please go to

National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education (NFNSE)

The day after the SEND Council met, the NFNSE, which is hosted by NAHT, met at the National Autistic Society (NAS) headquarters in London. The forum was founded to bring together researchers and practitioners. In line with this aim, between now and the SEND Conference in March, the forum will be working on information sheets for members, that will incorporate the latest research with practical tips about how to support these pupils in the classroom. It is hoped to launch the first batch of these information sheets at the conference.

Joint unions on SEND issues

At a meeting on Wednesday 25 September, which was held at the GMB offices near Euston station in London, Anne Heavey, national director of Whole School SEND, gave an account of its work to date and explained what is planned for this year. In Year 1, 8,000 schools, settings and providers joined their community of practice, leaving them with 2,000 to attract in Year 2 to meet their target. Focus in the second year will switch from research and mapping to improving practice, particularly SEN support. Anne is a great believer in unlocking the potential that already exists in the system and making sure it is shared. Every region is holding six events between September and March 2020.

The regions are: 

  • East of England and North East London
  • East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Humber
  • Lancashire and West Yorkshire
  • North
  • South Central England and North West London
  • South East England and South London
  • South West
  • West Midlands.

If you’re not already connected and receiving information, click on your region to find out more – see

Recent appointments

Sarah Broadhurst has been appointed director of the Autism Education Trust (AET). She worked previously for the Institute of Public Care, where she was the lead for autism, learning disabilities and family carers.

Tony McArdle, lead commissioner of Northamptonshire County Council, will be the chair of the SEND System Leadership Board, which was one of the recommendations of Lenehan and Geraghty’s review of children and young people in residential special schools and colleges, Good Intentions, Good Enough? (November 2017). It will bring together sector leaders from across education, health and social care to drive improvements.

Caroline Stevens has been appointed as the new chief executive of the National Autistic Society and will be joining the charity in November, after six years serving as chief executive of KIDS.

Moving from humans to creatures, as I’m due to go to the DfE shortly and I’m an arachnophobe, I thought I’d better check on the whereabouts of the secretary of state’s pet tarantula, Cronus. Civil servants assure me that, so far, it hasn’t been spotted at the DfE, so I’ll risk it…. 

First published 07 October 2019