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SEND: Round up of recent policy and personnel developments

 Rona Tutt - Special Educational Needs Blog

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

July 2017

There has often been a complaint about the DfE releasing important information during the school holidays. This time, we’ve had an outpouring of announcements in what for many was the final week of term. The knock on effect has been that, every time I thought I’d finished the July blog, something else relevant to SEND occurred. So my apologies that this will appear when most of you are on holiday.

   

DfE

Changes of personnel

Since last month’s blog, we’ve discovered that the Minister replacing Edward Timpson is not, as generally expected, Anne Milton, (who has taken on the role of Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills), but the other new member of the team, Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby. Anne had her first outing in Parliament on 20 July, when she  confirmed that the government is developing “an appropriate degree apprenticeship route” that would allow non-graduate teaching assistants to become qualified teachers, in addition to the postgraduate apprenticeship route due to start in 2018. 

As the latest reshuffle has resulted in fewer Ministers at the DfE, there has been a redistribution of responsibilities. Whereas Edward Timpson was the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, the word ‘Vulnerable’ has been dropped from Robert’s brief, but early years, social mobility and social care are part of his portfolio in addition to SEND. Nick Gibb has added PSHE, RSE and mental health to his brief as Minister for School Standards.  

Changes in the lives of former personnel

Meanwhile, Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, who was sacked recently from the DfE, has emerged as the new chair of the House of Commons Education Committee.  He says his priorities will be: examining the NFF to ensure a fair allocation of resources and improving standards, particularly in literacy and numeracy. It remains to be seen whether this means he will want even more phonics or whether he might recognise the value of children learning to employ a range of strategies as they learn, not only to read, but to enjoy reading.

It may be of interest to note that, Nicky Morgan, who was removed from her post as Secretary of State to make way for Justine Greening, has picked up the chairmanship of the Treasury Select Committee, the moral being that, being sacked from one post can lead to fresh opportunities.

SEND newsletter

The DfE's 0-25 Special Educational Needs and Disability Unit has published its latest newsletter. This includes a message from Robert Goodwill, as well as an update on the SEND Reforms and many other relevant items. After the last Joint Unions meeting – a report of which is given near the end of this blog - Chris Eridani-Ball emailed to say: “As discussed at the meeting earlier today, if anyone would like to be added to our mailing list for our SEN newsletter please can you email SEN.IMPLEMENTATION@education.gov.uk and we’ll do the rest.”

Research Report

Also this month, the DfE published, The wellbeing of secondary school pupils with special educational needs Research report July 2017. The research by Matt Barnes and Eric Harrison, Department of Sociology, City of London University, is worth a read during the Summer break.

Consultations and responses

The DfE has just released its response to the consultation on Exclusions, together with new guidance:

  • Exclusions from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England (DfE July 2017);
  • Exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England - Statutory guidance for those with legal responsibilities in relation to exclusion (DfE September 2017).

The legislation remains unchanged, but there have been some tweaks and clarifications to make the new guidance clearer. It will come into force in September 2017, but any pupil who was excluded before September 2017, and whose exclusion is still subject to review, should be considered on the basis of the September 2012 guidance.

The Curriculum

The EBacc

On 19 July, the DfE published:

  • Implementing the English Baccalaureate  - the government’s response to the consultation
  • English Baccalaureate – Equality Analysis (DfE July 2017)

The first of these documents shows that, rather like academisation, the plans have been scaled back from expecting 90% of pupils in England to study the English Baccalaureate by 2020, to 75% of pupils being expected to study this combination of core academic subjects by 2022, with the 90% target being reached by 2025. In the second document, which looks at the effect on various groups of pupils, paragraph 26 says:

“We have confirmed in the consultation response document that while special schools’ EBacc data will be published in performance tables, we will not expect high rates of EBacc entry from these schools.”

Although there will, of course, be special schools whose pupils include those able to take the EBacc, this comment would suggest that there is still a lack of understanding at the Department about the pupils in many special schools.

Entry level

Pearson appears to be planning to drop entry level qualifications, except for Maths, Science and English. NAHT has taken this up with Ofqual and DfE, who seemed unaware of these changes and have promised to investigate. The reason given by Pearson is that the qualification is being withdrawn, as the changes to the GCSE requirements mean that “the current Entry Level Certificates are no longer appropriate.” I’m still wrestling with the logic behind this.

Maths

It was expected that the DfE might recommend several different textbooks as part of its £41 million maths mastery programme, otherwise known as South Asian or Shanghai maths. Instead, Maths – No Problem! is the only one on the official list. The DfE says further books may gain approval later. I wouldn’t want to pontificate about whether an emphasis on this one approach will raise standards, but I do worry when it is described as meaning the whole class is taught together at a pace where everyone can keep up. Given the range of pupils in most classes, this sounds quite an optimistic idea. Schools have expressed their concerns that there aren’t enough specialist maths teachers or time for planning lessons, both of which are built into the Shanghai system.

Over a year ago, Adrian Smith was asked to look into the feasibility of compulsory maths study for all pupils up to the age of 18. Report of Professor Sir Adrian Smith’s review of post-16 mathematics (July 2017) says that England’s education system doesn’t have the range of pathways or the capacity for teaching needed to get most or all students studying maths to 18. He puts forward some recommendations which, he believes, would make it possible to achieve this target within the next decade.

Assessment and Accountability

The Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales, Kirsty Williams, announced on 19 July that she is going to consult on ending the publication of teacher assessment and national reading and numeracy data below the national level from 2018 onwards. This was welcomed by Rob Williams, Director of Policy for NAHT Cymru, who pointed out, not unreasonably, that assessment should be used to support learning and not for accountability measures. Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s General Secretary Designate, added that he hoped England would follow the example set by Wales

Primary Assessment

The government’s response to the consultation on Primary Assessment hasn’t been included in the flood of information emanating from the DfE, but is expected in September, most likely at the same time as the response to the Rochford consultation. There are signs that the DfE is recognising some of the difficulties stemming from an overloaded and prescriptive assessment system. So, on the one hand, scrapping KS1 SATs – albeit with a reception baseline instead - using ‘best fit’ rather than ‘secure fit’ for writing; and changing the Progress 8 measure to overcome the difficulty caused by a small number of pupils with extremely negative scores having a disproportionate effect on a school’s overall results, are all up for discussion. On the other hand, we seem to have moved from the DfE making up its own linguistic rules about when an exclamation mark can and cannot be used, to pupils being marked down for the curve in their commas and the size, shape and location of their semi- colons.

Meetings

1. National SEND Forum

There were two main items on the agenda when NSENDF met on Wednesday 5 July. First, Andre Imich (DfE) gave us an update which included the following points:

  • The DfE’s main focus in terms of the SEND Reforms is the transition of statements to EHC plans, as these are due to be completed by the end of March 2018. A close eye is being kept on LAs who are in danger of lagging behind
  • Evidence is coming through that Mediation is proving successful in terms of preventing many cases from going straight to Tribunal
  • As many of the grants during the period of the Reforms have been to support the  changes, these are being looked at afresh and the DfE is already considering what the next focus needs to be
  •  The large number of responses to the Rochford Review are being considered, but it is unlikely that anything further will be known before the Summer recess.

The second item was a further discussion on whether this is the right time to develop further Peter Gray’s (2006) work on developing Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs) for low incidence needs and, if so, what they might look like. Time is being set aside after the next meeting on 27 Sept for a small group to take this further. Visitors next term will include Christine Lenehan, who will talk about her review of residential special schools and colleges, and Matthew Barnes, Specialist SEND Adviser at Ofsted.

2. Joint unions on SEND Issues

The Joint Unions SEND Meeting on 18 July, took place for the first time at UNISON’s HQ, conveniently situated for many of us between Kings Cross/St Pancras and Euston stations. A representative from GMB joined us in addition to Unison. Also present were three people from the DfE. Caroline Prudames, Policy Team Leader of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Anti-bullying Team, talked about the forthcoming Green Paper on Mental Health. She confirmed that, despite Brexit, this will be out by the end of the year and is being developed jointly by the DoH and the DfE. At this stage, she wasn’t in a position to tell us much about the content, but there was a useful discussion about what schools should and should not be expected to do.

I asked her whether the training that has already started for secondary schools, would be available to primary schools later, and where special schools fitted into the picture. Caroline wasn’t sure, but said she would find out. Subsequently, she has emailed to say she is waiting for an answer from the DoH.

Chris Eridani-Ball, who is the usual link with the DfE’s 0-25 SEND Unit, added that he was well aware of the difficulties in many areas of getting pupils seen by CAMHS and, as the thresholds were likely to remain high, it was a question of what else could fill the gap between what schools could be expected to do and those meeting the criteria for CAMHS. The need for a single point of contact at both the school’s end and at the Health service end was agreed to be fundamental. There was reference to the Children & Young People’s Local Transformation Plans, which arose from ‘Future in Mind’ (2015), as each area is required to set out their strategy for improving children and young people’s mental health care.

(As I was completing this blog, yet another document appeared. The Education Policy Institute’s   Inpatient Provision for Children and Young People with Mental Health Problems (July 2017) by Emily Frith highlights the need to: increase capacity; iron out the geographical disparity that exists; and increase the workforce, particularly in relation to having more permanent staff rather than relying on e.g. agency cover).   

Autism

The NAS Professional Awards for 2018 are now open. There are awards for individuals and for teams, to celebrate the work throughout theUK in the field of autism. The deadline for entries is Friday 27 October. Further details from: www.autismprofessionalsawards.org.uk.

NAHT Conferences 2018

There is an exciting year to look forward to in 2018, as both the conference on Tuesday 30 January in London with the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) and the annual Special Schools, Specialist & Alternative Provision Conference in The Midlands on 9 March, are set to be superb examples of the benefits of education working closely with health. By the start of term, the final arrangements for both should be in place. So, in the meantime, make sure the dates are in your diary. The first will be a unique opportunity to hear from school leaders and psychiatrists who are working together to put on joint workshops, and the second, thanks to Kim Johnson’s involvement, will have significant input from the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists.

Final thoughts

And I leave you with this invigorating thought. If you feel the DfE is too remote from schools, seize the opportunity to be part of the School Immersion Programme developed by NAHT and the DfE. The scheme operates across England and Wales. For three days, you can play host to a member of staff from the DfE, to help them gain a better understanding of what goes on in schools. Better still, you can have a reciprocal arrangement whereby you can spend time at the DfE.  To volunteer your school to take part in the programme, you will need to fill in an expression of interest form on NAHT’s website. It would be good if they visited the whole continuum of SEND provision from mainstream schools with and without resource bases, to day and residential special schools.

In the meantime, have a really refreshing break!

Rona Tutt

First published 07 August 2017