Preparing for SEN reform

Written by: HTU | Published:

As a new SEN and disability Code of Practice awaits publication, Jane Friswell summarises the challenges facing schools as the special needs sector undergoes major reform.

One in five children and young people have a special need or disability, which means that the majority of teachers will teach at least one pupil every day who requires additional support. In many schools this could be much higher. 

Although the number identified with SEN has not significantly increased in the last 20 years, the type and range of needs have increased. In turn, this has affected our practices and the interventions and support we are able to offer. Combine this with major reforms to SEN policy and it becomes clear that school leaders have many challenges ahead of them. 

There are real challenges around SEN funding; many schools have difficulties in demonstrating what they are providing and what their package of SEN support is for particular groups of children. The more support a child requires, the more detailed we have to be in describing the nature of those arrangements in school. 

Schools that require access to top-up funding will need to provide their local authorities with this kind of evidence to access the money. If they don’t have that information ready, this will become an area of tension. 

Another key challenge is around curriculum reform in that we are moving towards a more content-driven curriculum. Where schools are working really hard to prompt, engage and improve access to the curriculum, this could present some real challenges for teachers in terms of enabling all the children in their setting to have access to a broad and balanced curriculum, while being confident of the progress their pupils are making. 

Now that national curriculum levels have been removed, schools are well placed to use all the information at their disposal to inform the assessment picture for pupil attainment and progress. It is important that schools are clear about the starting point, destination and levels of progress for all of their pupils. 

There is a third area of challenge around the implementation of in-school SEN arrangements. With the removal of School Action and School Action Plus from September, many staff will feel out of their comfort zone. Schools may feel that, with the loss of a familiar structure, they may not be able to deliver all that they will be required to. 

My view is that the removal of these structures will allow schools to have more freedom in how they interpret their own arrangements to identify, assess and deliver the provision for children and young people with SEN. 

There is an opportunity here for schools to become very creative in demonstrating what their provision may look like by applying a graduated approach, beginning with core investment to their whole-school provision, then looking at their targeted and specialist provision. 

Finally, schools also need to understand the impact on parents, carers and families as they align provision to meet the expectations of the new Code of Practice. On a practical level, from September we will still have pupils with Statements and also pupils with the new Education, Health and Care Plans. Schools will be running a dual system with the expectation that they will scrutinise and report back on their outcomes so we must all be prepared for this. 

The key element is a whole-school inclusive ethos that says we welcome all children, parents, carers and families and see them as the cornerstone of our school community. School leaders need to promote a culture that says when you arrive at school in the morning, we welcome you, are pleased to see you and are privileged to work with you. This requires a workforce that is highly skilled and this includes being sensitive to how an SEN and/or disability has a direct impact on how a child learns.

We need a curriculum that is broadly balanced to meet the needs of all but highly focused so that it can be personalised where appropriate. To do this, school leaders require a long-term view of where children are heading, and the school must be confident in its contribution to the children’s journey towards being independent, productive, happy and confident adults. Making the connections and understanding our contribution to the key milestones in a child’s development have to be seen hand-in-hand with how we support parents, carers and families in making that journey together.

Clearly with the SEN reform agenda workforce development is going to be a key piece of action – not just improving the quality of provision but also supporting those professionals who need to extend their abilities to become the adaptive flexible thinkers that we need. 

Successive governments have fostered a sense of autonomy in schools, with the freedom to make key decisions. What CPD looks like in schools is now very much down to the headteacher. One thing that remains a constant in every school is that we will clearly be preparing for an implementation phase of arrangements – these reforms must be put into practice as soon as possible. 

  • Jane Friswell is CEO of nasen, a professional association supporting SEN educators. Prior to joining the organisation, she worked as a teacher, headteacher and in local authority advisory roles.

Nasen Live

Taking place on May 21 and 22, Nasen Live is a two-day seminar and workshop programme built around the new SEN Code of Practice, briefing sessions from the Department for Education, and the launch of the SEND Gateway, a central portal for educators to access SEN resources from the leading voluntary sector organisations. Visit

SEN Guidance

A guidance pack to help schools with their understanding of the new 0 to 25 SEN and Disabilities Code of Practice is available. This publication has been developed by nasen and provides practical, day-to-day guidance as well as case studies of outstanding and good whole-school practice. Copies of the pack will be available at Nasen Live 2014.

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