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SEND: conferences, reforms and funding

 This series covers both residential and mainstream education and is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former Chair of NAHT Special Education Needs Committee


As a new school year gets off the ground, change continues unabated. The six teacher unions have shrunk to five, with ATL merging with NUT to form the National Education Union (NEU), and, more significantly for us, Paul Whiteman has become our new General Secretary. When I spoke to Paul at our Annual Conference earlier this year, he was suitably interested in all matters appertaining to SEND as part of the wider educational scene.  

Usually, I leave conferences until the end of the blog, but as 2018 will see a continuation of what happened this year, in having two SEND-focused conferences rather than one, I’m making this the starting point. In 2017, it was the addition of the Autism In Girls Conference and next year will herald a conference organised in conjunction with the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPSYCH) and devoted to mental health, in addition to our long established Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference.


NAHT conferences 2018

The opportunity to meet more psychiatrists, clinicians and CAMHS professionals than are normally found together in one place, will occur on Tuesday 30 January 2018, when an inaugural conference with the RPSYCH  will take place in London. Entitled Collaborative approaches to the mental health of children: from issues to interventions, the first e-shot giving some of the details has just gone out to NAHT members, so, if you are interested, do respond quickly as the demand for places is likely to be high. As well as keynote speeches from Prof Dame Sue Bailey, Dr Francesca Happe, and Baroness Claire Tyler, there will be workshops covering some of the areas of most concern to school leaders. Led by psychiatrists and researchers at the cutting edge of work in their fields, together with experienced school leaders giving the practical dimension, it will be possible to attend two of the following eight workshops:

  1. Self-harm  
  2. Anxiety in primary pupils
  3. Anxiety in secondary pupils
  4. Attachment
  5. Delivering resilience & wellbeing, including a training programme from the Anna Freud Centre
  6. Delivering a mental health and wellbeing curriculum, which will explain the SCARF resources produced by Coram Life Education
  7. Values based systems, featuring Dr Peter Hindley, Convenor of the Commission that produced the report What really matters in children and young people’s mental health, together with Tony Draper, Past President of NAHT, who was a member of the commission
  8. Evidence-based practice, which is scheduled to include Place2Be.

To book on to this conference or to find further details, please click here.

Also open for booking is the annual Special Schools, Specialist & Alternative Provision Conference at the Stoke-on-Trent Moat House, with the option of arriving on Thursday 8 March for an expert Q&A panel and Paul Whiteman as the after-dinner speaker. Alternatively, you can attend for the day on Friday 8 March. The title is Celebrating success; succeeding against the odds. Keynote speakers will be Jean Gross, who is chairing the review, Bercow-10 Years on, and Aaron Phipps, who, after losing both legs to meningitis, took up Wheelchair Rugby and became a Paralympic Athlete. We are indebted to Kim Johnson, Immediate Past President, for providing a link with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, which will enable the conference to include a focus on speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in the year that the Bercow report appears. Further details and how to book can be found here

One of the workshop presenters will be Katie Buckingham, who has used her experience as someone on the autism spectrum who overcame mental health issues, to help others find successful careers as she has done. She is currently crowdfunding a campaign to raise money to provide additional mental health training for schools. Katie has also given a TEDx talk, which you watch here.



Just before the Summer break, Justine Greening made a statement to The House about school funding, which confirmed the introduction of a national funding formula for schools and for pupils with high needs from the financial year 2018-19. She said she would give the government’s response to the consultation in September when Parliament was back. Since then, schools revenue funding 2018 to 2019 – operational guide (ESFA Summer 2017), has appeared. Although additional funds have been promised, concerns remain that this will be insufficient to cover rising costs and pupil numbers.



Although not available at the time of writing, rumoured to be out any day now is the government’s response to the final recommendations of the Rochford Review. In the meantime, August saw the publication of: Primary school accountability in 2017 – A technical guide for primary maintained schools, academies and free schools.In the section on Key stage 2 point scores, there is information on how pupils working below the standard of the test are now being included, by awarding points for the interim key stage standards and the P scales. Details are given on pages 19-21. This means that these pupils will now be able to be included in the overall progress score for schools.


SEND reforms

As the timescale for the transfer of statements to EHC plans is coming to an end, it appears increasingly likely that not every LA will meet the deadline of 31 March 2018. If this occurs, it isn’t entirely clear what will happen. There is some concern that the law is open to interpretation and that there is a danger anyone still on a statement and not yet in the process of having an EHC needs assessment, could find that they have lost the legal protection of a statement without being covered under the new system. This matter is being raised with the DfE and clarification requested, even if it means the deadline will have to be extended.

A recent DfE funded report, SEN Support: a survey of schools and colleges Research Report July 2017 by authors from Coventry University, looked at how students on SEN Support are being supported by staff in primary and secondary schools and colleges across England. Perhaps the most interesting finding was a lack of clarity in relation to who should be responsible for identifying SEN in the various settings.


SEN statistics

At the end of July, the DfE released its annual summary of data on SEN Support and EHC plans, where figures seem to have stabilised. This means that the percentage of pupils on SEN Support remains at 11.6 and those with EHC plans at 2.8, giving the same total as before of 14.4% who have SEN. What has changed is the increase in pupils attending special schools, which has gone up from 42.9% to 43.8%. If this change is due to the pressure on schools to achieve inappropriate academic standards, then the system is at fault. If, however, it means that a more complex population of pupils requires a more specialist education, this could be seen as an appropriate response. Whatever the reason, it’s a refreshing change from the decades when special schools had to fight for the right to exist.


Children and Social Work Act 2017

As neither last year’s White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere (which was about academisation) or the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone (which reignited the debate about selective education), became Acts, there has been no recent Education Act as such. However, the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which scraped through just before the last general election, includes some interesting information of relevance to schools:

  • LAs are required to publish a local offer for care leavers and to provide personal advisers up to the age of 25.
  • Local safeguarding boards are being abolished in favour of local arrangements being made.
Through a government amendment, changes to the curriculum include:
  • All primary schools in England to teach age-appropriate ‘relationships education’; and secondary schools in England to teach age-appropriate ‘relationships and sex education’ (RSE).
  • The secretary of state may also make regulations requiring the provision of Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PHSE). 

Draft regulations and guidance for consultation on these changes are expected this Autumn, with statutory guidance being published early in 2018 and implementation being in Sept 2019.

Character education and mental health

Last month, two further DfE funded reports appeared, which have some overlap with the changes to the curriculum itemised in the previous section:

The first of these is a national survey of mental health provision in schools and colleges, including primary, secondary, special, independent schools and AP/PRUs. The second is also a survey and the steering group included both Kathy James and Nick Brook from NAHT. For the purpose of the survey, character education was defined as any activities that aim to develop desirable character traits in children and young people including:

  • Resilience, perseverance and persistence
  • Hard-work, self-control, discipline and good time-keeping
  • Self-confidence, leadership and team-working
  • Honesty, integrity and respect for others
  • Curiosity, problem-solving and motivation.’

(There is further information about both of these publications here).


Readiness for school

Some of you may have participated in a survey done by NAHT and the Family and Childcare Trust called School Ready? which has just been published. Responses came from school leaders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The findings showed that 83 per cent of respondents reported an issue with school readiness and a majority believed this has become worse in the last five years. Patently, this is likely to be a particular issue for children with SEND, many of whom need longer to be ready for the increasing demands of life in school.

Mixed ability teaching

Academics at the UCL Institute of Education, London, and Queen’s University, Belfast, led by Dr Becky Taylor, presented a paper at the recent British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference on teaching pupils in mixed-ability groups. Whereas they had no difficulty finding 120 schools that teach children in sets, they only managed to find 17 using mixed attainment grouping. Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), who some of you may recall leading the National Literacy Strategy and, more recently, has been Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets, has said that while setting pupils by attainment might benefit higher-attaining pupils, it can also hold back low-attaining learners by damaging their confidence and engagement with lessons.


Residential education

Hard on the heels of evidence being collected for the Lenehan Review of Experiences and Outcomes in Residential Special schools,comes encouragement from the government for LAs to place children in boarding schools rather than in care. Boarding School Partnerships, an organisation that links care charities and councils with places for children, was launched recently with ministerial support and funding from the DfE and the EEF. Around 100 children in council care already attend boarding schools and Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, says there has been a reluctance by some LAs to use boarding schools in recent years. The scheme is also supported by the Labour peer and former education minister Lord Adonis, who attended a boarding school, and was in charge of SEN for a time before moving on to sort out the transport system and engage in other ventures. 

And to end, a reminder that the Communication Trust’s No Pens Day will be on Wednesday 4 Oct. To register and receive lesson plans, activity ideas etc, please click here.


In the meantime, we can look forward to progress, at last, with assessment and funding.

First published 18 September 2017