SEND reform – what has been achieved?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Support from 0 to 25: The new SEND Code of Practice is aimed at creating a seamless, cross-agency approach (Photo: iStock)

The SEND Code of Practice is full of high hopes and good intentions. Almost a year on from its publication, are these now translating into the SEND provision that had been anticipated? We look at the unfolding of SEND reform in our schools

Reference to "partnership", "collaboration", and "joined-up services" are sprinkled throughout the 292 pages of the SEND Code of Practice. Parents and carers are to be seen as central to the reforms and professionals must work in partnership with them. Agencies must combine in a seamless fashion to focus on the needs of the child.

Most people would very readily agree with the spirit of this, but now, almost one year on, has this spirit been embodied in school and local authority practice?

A mixed picture

The overall picture seems to be mixed. Another feature of the SEND Code of Practice is the central place that local authorities have in the reform. In spite of the fact that local authority services have dwindled and money has been diverted from them, local authorities have still been given the responsibility of putting the reforms into place.

Local Offers – which local authorities are required to publish setting out in one place information about provision they expect to be available across education, health and social care for children and young people in their area who have SEND – are already demonstrating huge variability in practice.

There is some concern that although they might have established their websites, some local authorities have made little commitment to their maintenance and updating.

Lack of funding and disarray in some areas means that schools are being asked to take on more responsibility for the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) than they should. Schools are urged to resist this trend (for more on this, see our recent article, ECHPs: Getting out of the SEN maze).

Services such as CAMHS continue to be stretched and although further funding has been announced some will see it as too little, too late. Training for school SENCOs and their teams has also been patchy.

Issues of accountability

Perhaps one issue that is only gradually being resolved is how partners will be held accountable for their progress and effectiveness in introducing the reforms.

The document, Special Educational Needs and Disability: Supporting local and national accountability outlines the main responsibilities for schools as: "The governing body and school leaders are responsible in mainstream schools and have duties to use best endeavours to make the provision required to meet the SEN of children and young people. All schools must publish details of what SEN provision is available through an information report and co-operate with the local authority in drawing up and reviewing the Local Offer."

But how will the Department for Education know that schools have done this? Two methods of accountability are highlighted for schools: Ofsted and the annual report to parents.

Ofsted is looking at schools' websites and will expect to see that there is information about SEN published there. However, if SEN children are making good progress then it is likely that Ofsted will not delve much further. Local authorities will be accountable through the development of key indicators, including:

  • SEN appeals and outcomes.
  • The number of EHCPs completed on time.
  • Local authority and parent survey data.
  • The Children and young people's Personal Outcomes Evaluation Tool (POET).
  • Feedback from the independent supporters (employed to help parents through the process).
  • Attainment data.
  • Looked-after children outcomes.
  • Destinations after key stage 4/5.
  • School absence/exclusion rates.

Some of these indicators are vulnerable to practice being skewed towards them and the worry is that they may not reflect the satisfaction level with the new system.

EHCPs

A concern that has been raised by many parents is whether the support their children are already receiving, particularly those on a Statement, will continue.

Implementing a New 0 to 25 Special Needs System: LAs and partners addresses this concern by stating that: "It is expected that all children and young people who have a Statement and who would have continued to have one under the current system, will be transferred to an EHCP."

It is acknowledged that the transfer to EHCPs will have to be a slow one. The transfer is only a requirement currently for those pupils who were issued with draft EHCPs before September 2015.

Sarah Lakeland, SENCO at St Oswald's RC Primary and Nursery School in Accrington, told us: "We have been waiting since last June for a reply regarding whether one review has been looked at and if the child has got a Statement maintained again for this year."

The change over to EHCPs has not really been felt yet at St Oswald's as their one child on a Statement has not yet transferred. Ms Lakeland does feel that she has received less support from her local authority during this time.

Colin Harris is headteacher at Warren Park Primary in Hampshire. They have just completed their second EHCP. He said: "The local authority has not yet signed them off as there appears to be a backlog."

SEN support

Schools should by now have transferred most of their pupils from School Action or School Action Plus to SEN Support, and all pupils should be on the new system by September 2015.

At St Oswald's they have updated their SEN policy and changed the Individual Education Plan (IEP) format to follow the plan, do, review cycle. A Local Offer is now available on their website and the SEN report is being written for parents to access too.

"IEP monitoring sheets have been introduced," explained Ms Lakeland. "These allow teachers and teaching assistants to monitor the IEPs on a weekly basis and change the targets more than three times a year. More children have been taken off the SEN register and put into group support sessions on the costed provision map."

Overall, she is optimistic: "The new way of working with IEPs is much improved with targets being more measurable and achievable and less children being labelled as SEN when they just need extra support in some areas."

Revisiting provision

Warren Park was already in the process of reviewing and changing their approach to SEND when the reform was being introduced.

"First, we changed the SENCO to an inclusion manager," explained Mr Harris. "We appointed a speech and language teacher, as we recognised that all major issues stemmed from speech. For the inclusion manager the main aim was to get all teachers to recognise their responsibilities for SEN children."

They decided to adopt a three-teacher model for each year group, with the third teacher taking on the year group responsibility for SEND, gifted and talented and wellbeing. The inclusion manager co-ordinates all the year groups and liaises with external services.

"These changes hinged on the need to work far more closely with parents," said Mr Harris. "They are now kept far more informed at every stage as they are recognised as the vital cog in ensuring children's progress."

Too little, too late?

Once the SEND Code of Practice was released, schools and their partners were expected to put it into practice seamlessly. Many of them, like Warren Park and St Oswald's, have found their own way of implementing change. Now, people are asking questions about who is checking up on how it is going and what is being done to help those without the capacity or knowledge to drive ahead. It would have been beneficial if these two important questions had been addressed from the outset.

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