As this summary covers the last few days of July, the whole of August and the first few days of September, I’ve arranged it month by month.
Alternative provision (AP) and exclusions
As soon as the last summary had been posted, two key documents were published.
The first of these was the much-anticipated report from Robert Halfon’s Education Select Committee following its investigation into AP and exclusions. It is called 'forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever-increasing exclusions'. The report covers the following:
- What’s going wrong in mainstream schools?
- The process of exclusion and referral
- What does good alternative provision look like?
- Successful outcomes and destinations
- Conclusions and recommendations.
Under these headings, various observations and recommendations are made, including the following:
- ‘Zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies are unhelpful
- Ofsted should introduce an inclusion measure to incentivise schools
- Encouragement should be given to create more specialist AP providers for medical needs, including mental health
- Pupil referral units (PRUs) should be renamed
- Schools should publish their permanent and fixed-term exclusions every term
- A senior person in every LA is needed to promote the interests of pupils in AP
- All trainee teachers should have a placement in AP or special schools
- More should be done to provide for pupils post-16.
While recognising there are many excellent APs, the report says not all provide the education the pupils deserve, and “… in order to access it, children have to be branded a failure or excluded in the first place rather than it being a positive choice.” When Edward Timpson releases his report on exclusions, it will be interesting to see how the two reports compare.
Exclusion and autism
Although it happened in August, this seems the appropriate time to mention a legal case that is likely to have further ramifications. It was won by the family of a child with autism who had been excluded. The case was supported by the National Autistic Society (NAS). The ruling makes it clear that reasonable adjustments must be made before an exclusion takes place. This means that children can't be excluded for behaviour linked to their condition (even if they are violent) unless steps have been taken first to put in place the right support.
Mental health provision
Also appearing on 25 July was the government's response to the first joint report of the Education and Health & Social Care Committees ‘transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper’. The rather lengthy title is due to the fact the government was responding to the joint committees’ response to the government’s green paper on mental health (Dec 2017). This welcomed their report and acknowledged many of the concerns raised. However, the government rejected the idea that the plans they had set out in the green paper lacked ambition in terms of its scale and pace, contending that the proposals are "genuinely transformational".
To add to the confusion, on the same day, the government brought out its response to the consultation on the green paper under the title government response to the consultation on 'transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: a green paper and next steps. Demonstrating that government departments really can work together, the ministerial foreword is by education secretary Damian Hinds and the even-more-recently-appointed Matt Hancock, who replaced Jeremy Hunt as secretary of state for health and social care shortly after the two departments had been combined. The most interesting parts are those that flag up the ‘next steps’. These include trialling all three of the core proposals using trailblazer areas. As a reminder, they are as follows:
To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a designated senior lead for mental health
To fund new mental health support teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff
To pilot a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.
Although the rollout to all areas will still take some time, the exact timescale will depend on the evaluation of the initial trailblazers. Meanwhile the mental health awareness training is underway and due to be given to a member of staff in every secondary school by 2019, with the training for primary schools due to begin ‘soon’. I’m still chasing an answer about special schools.
AP provision fund
On Monday 6 August, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, announced the nine pupil referral units (PRUs), councils and charities who will split between them the £4 million from the government’s new alternative provision fund. The first three are supporting the reintegration of pupils into mainstream or special schools:
- Bradford Central Pupil Referral Unit
- Francis Barber Pupil Referral Unit, London
- Hospital and Outreach Education, East Midlands.
The next three are looking at transitions from AP into education, training and employment:
- Futures Advice Skills and Employment, Nottingham
- Salford City Council.
The final three are looking at improving educational outcomes through parent/carer engagement:
- Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, London
- The Tutor Trust and Talk Listen Challenge, Greater Manchester
- Portsmouth Education Partnerships.
A technology revolution
Speaking at the World Education Forum the next day (7 August), Damian Hinds called on technology companies to launch an education revolution for schools, college and universities. He announced that the DfE would be working with the Chartered College of Teaching, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) and other organisations to develop a range of online training packages to support teachers in five areas of their work:
- Supporting access and inclusion for pupils with different learning needs
- Making assessment more effective and efficient
- Finding flexible ways to deliver teacher training and development
- Reducing the burden of non-teaching tasks
- Using technology to support lifelong learning after formal education ends.
Damian said that, over the coming months, the DfE would also be working with businesses and schools to ensure the latter have the infrastructure to implement some of the technological developments that can bring learning to life for all pupils and lessen workload.
Response to the Lenehan review
During August, the secretary of state sent a four-page letter to Dame Christine Lenehan in response to her review: 'Good intention, good enough? – a review of children and young people in residential special schools and colleges (Nov 217), in which he recognised the role of special schools and alternative provision while supporting the presumption in law for mainstream education. He also agreed that the trend towards a greater reliance on specialist provision was putting pressure on LAs’ high needs budgets. In direct response to the recommendations, Damian said work had already begun on national minimum standards for residential special schools, the ministry of justice and the SEND tribunal are exploring how to help LAs to decide when to contest a parent or young person’s choice of placement, and on how to deliver mental health support to pupils with SEND.
To round off the month, on 29 August, HMCI Amanda Spielman expressed her concerns that schools were off-rolling pupils to manipulate exam results. Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, she told listeners that the education watchdog is trying to get a sense of what’s really happening. An investigation by The Times newspaper found the number of pupils disappearing from school rolls during their GSCEs rose by nearly a third last year.
This followed a blog in June from Jason Bradbury, deputy director for data and insight, and chief statistician at Ofsted, who wrote: “We recognise that some of these pupils may have moved to an independent school, (including special schools and alternative provision), or become home-schooled. Some may have, however, ended up in an unregistered school, or dropped out of education entirely.”
Amanda added that she wanted to know whether the “pressures that unquestionably act on schools” were encouraging them to manage pupils’ behaviour in the wrong way.
And so we come to September and the start of a new academic year for most, but not all, schools. Despite Brexit looming large, there seems to be plenty of activity.
Funding for pupils with SEND
On 5 September, NAHT released the findings from its survey of members in relation to SEND funding. This is a robust response to a number of motions at annual conference. Empty promises: the crisis in supporting children with SEND provides clear evidence of how schools are struggling to support a growing population of pupils with more complex needs. LAs are finding it hard to make their high needs budgets stretch far enough while health and social care are offering less support to schools than they did in the past because they have their own budgetary pressures.
Following on from Nick Gibb’s announcement that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has been selected to develop and deliver the latest attempt at having a reception baseline, trials will start in selected schools from this month, with the aim of introducing it in full in 2020 and using the results as a progress measure from 2027! It is described as a 20-minute, teacher-recorded assessment of children’s communication, language, literacy and early maths skills.
Along with the reappearance of a baseline for pupils as they enter compulsory schooling, the proposed year four multiplication tables check has moved from the back to the front burner, with some 7,250 pupils in 290 primary schools expected to take part in the trials from this month onwards, before it is rolled out across the next two years. Nick Gibb has explained: "Just as the phonics screening check helps children who are learning to read, the multiplication tables check will help teachers to identify those pupils who require extra support. This will ensure all pupils leave primary school knowing their times tables off by heart and able to start secondary school with a secure grasp of the fundamental mathematics they need to fulfil their potential." If only it were that simple.
Another pilot starting this month is that of the new early learning goals (ELGs), involving 25 primary schools. These have been adjusted to have a greater focus on vocabulary development and a better understanding of numbers one to 10 rather than one to 20. How ELGs are moderated will also be trialled. The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2019.
A reminder that the latest guidance on 'keeping children safe in education', which was published in May this year, comes into force this month. It replaces the 2016 version and places an emphasis on children with SEND, children who are looked after and those leaving the care system.
The annual Tes SEN Show takes place on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 October at the Business Design Centre in London. Further information is available from: tessenshow.co.uk.
By the time of my next summary, you should have received details of how to book for two very exciting NAHT conferences in April next year. To coincide with World Autism Day, on Tuesday 2 April, girls and autism – many voices conference is a follow up to the previous conference, ‘the big shout.’ The next day, Wednesday 3 April, the SEND conference usually held in March and now named leading on SEND across all schools conference, will have the theme diversity, difference and dynamics. Both will be held at the same venue in London, with a special price for attending both days. More details will follow.