Challenges ahead as SEN reforms loom

Written by: HTU | Published:

The recently released indicative code of practice for SEN is a work in progress – but will its ambitious agenda translate into effective practice? Headteacher Update reports

The draft SEN code of practice promises much. It wants to involve parents more, bring together services, reflect local needs, improve the quality of teaching and focus on outcomes. It will replace an existing code that has its problems and new legislation intends to tackle the often unwieldy and unequal SEN framework that preceded it.

The Indicative Draft: The (0-25) SEN Code of Practice was issued in order to enable ministers discussing the Children and Families Bill to see how the proposed SEN legislation might work in practice. However, we might wonder when the Department for Education (DfE) will really start to put the meat on the bones.

The draft code is full of omissions and although it indicates where these are, we are left to speculate whether they will be filled in time, with implementation of the changes planned for September 2014. There are pathfinder projects, but with these unlikely to fully report until legislation is in place, their level of influence is in question.

The new approaches to SEN are due to be implemented just at a time when there is enormous restructuring and shifting within local authorities. The NHS is also changing and commissioning arrangements are different.

Traditional partnerships of schools are in transition with old support networks disappearing and new ones emerging. Against this lack of stability, the list of good intentions rolls out.

Involving parents

Personal budgets have been introduced to give parents more control, increase transparency and extend the market development of services. The government wants to provide families with greater choice and control over the services they receive. However, the existing Parent Partnership Services have been cut in some areas.

The real status of the proposed parent forums is unclear and there is no mention of these in the “Local Offer” (the requirement for local authorities to publish all information about services available locally in one place).

Where the code states that parents, children and young people must be involved this could lead to a selective few being consulted rather than engagement with a truly representative group.

Dan Leighton, speaking for the National Autistic Society, wonders whether there will be a real shift to co-production or whether practice will revert back to token consultation: “Local authorities have a duty to involve parents and young people and publish their comments, but it is unclear what will happen in response to this feedback,” he said.

Mr Leighton is concerned that we could see a more complicated complaints and appeals system emerging: “Parents need a single point of redress. As things stand they could find themselves with a number of different channels to pursue if they do not receive the support they need. It could make the system even more fragmented.” The prospect of the personal budget and direct payments gives Dr Rona Tutt, a past president of the National Association of Head Teachers who received an OBE for services to SEN, cause for concern.

She explained: “Not only are they extremely time-consuming for parents to organise, but they could cause conflict with schools, if for instance parents want to employ a teaching assistant or therapist and the school already has one.”Joined-up services

The health service, care service and education are all experiencing changes to their structure, which has added an “extra layer of complexity”, Mr Leighton said.“It’s a massive overhaul. The transition from one system to another is going to be very important.”

While Mr Leighton welcomes the inclusion of a duty on health services, Lorraine Peterson, chief executive of the special needs association nasen, is doubtful that the duty will ensure implementation. She told Headteacher Update: “I am still not convinced that health will be able to commit to provision written into a plan.”

The requirement for a co-ordinating individual or “key worker” to draw services together seems to be missing from the indicative code. The aspiration that families will only need to tell their story once will be hard to realise unless there is a clear steer on the co-ordination of services.

Mr Leighton believes that accountability across services will be key to ending parents’ battle for support: “For this to happen, the focus should not just be about integrated commissioning and delivery of services, but also integrated accountability.”

Meeting local needs

The Local Offer is a crucial part of the new SEN legislation. The intention is that it will bring together all the information about what is available locally. Although the local authority is required to publish it, there is no duty currently to make sure it takes place or to monitor its quality.

Mr Leighton added: “The Local Offer is absolutely critical. If it works then the need for EHCPs (see below) could be reduced. However, there is a lack of clarity about what it actually is and it could be reduced to a directory of services.”

The quality of teaching

The draft code emphasises the importance of high expectations for children with SEN. Of particular concern is the scrapping of formal SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments with a new single Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) setting out the support that a child with SEN will need from birth to the age of 25.

The categories of School Action and School Action Plus will no longer exist and instead children whose needs cannot be met through normal teaching and learning strategies will have Additional SEN Support.

Schools must ensure that children receiving this have an identified SEN and that their progress has not been hampered by weak teaching or poor attendance.

For Dr Tutt, quality of teaching can be a factor, “but what no-one seems to have taken on board is the changing population of children in our schools, including those with complex needs caused by the growing number of very pre-term births and other conditions”.

Will the new provisions be enough? Fears have been raised that children with mild learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, will slip through the net because they might not qualify for an EHCP.

Mr Leighton for one fears that autistic children could miss out on vital support: “Schools need to be able to graduate their provision. Without this there is lack of clarity and less accountability to parents.

“Autism is not mandatory in initial teacher training and while the training provided by the Autism Education Trust has been vital in supporting teachers within schools we believe more needs to be done to equip all teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to realise the potential of all children with autism.”

Focus on outcomes

EHCPs will include the outcome of provision rather than the delivery of hours or services. “For too long schools have ticked the ‘received 20 hours of additional support’ box rather than the ‘has made significant progress’ box,” explained Ms Peterson, “this leads back into our Every Teacher campaign – too many vulnerable young people have been taught by the least qualified.”The draft codeAs the indicative code will be followed by the draft code, there is still time to see the outcomes from the pathfinders influence this next stage of policy development. It could be that the missing detail is sketched in next time round.

Tania Tirraoro of Special Needs Jungle, a parental SEN information website, reminds us that we could be influential in this: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the entire system for children and young people with SEN and disabilities. We can’t afford not to take it. Will the DfE listen to your views? Well they won’t if you don’t put them forward, that’s for sure.”

Further information
• Download the Indicative Draft: the (0-25) Special Educational Needs Code of Practice at
• Special Needs Jungle website:

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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