Last month, the government published draft legislation on the reform of provision for children and young people with SEN, setting out the framework for a new system to support those currently identified with SEN and disabilities.
The Children and Families Bill will offer the biggest reform in 30 years, building on the reforms to the health service and drawing on recommendations of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum.
Key measures for SEN include the move to a single assessment process (0 to 25) which is streamlined, better involves children and families and is completed quickly. Also, Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) will replace the statement, aiming to bring services together and improve outcomes.
The requirement for local authorities and health services to jointly plan and commission services that children and their families need means that the local authority’s role will still be key in delivering and facilitating education services.
Meanwhile, the requirement for the local authority to publish a local offer indicating the support available to those with SEN and disabilities and their families will no doubt be welcomed by families calling for more visibility. The right to appeal if children are unhappy with their support is also a key measure, addressed by the introduction of mediation opportunities.
Funding and collaboration
For school leaders concerned with the financial impact of resource planning, and in the absence of much-desired ring-fenced funding, proposals for funding provision for high needs pupils within the School Funding Reform consultation are hoped to give a clearer picture of what is and should be available for schools.
Local authorities will be given a high needs budget for young people with higher needs, most of whom will have SEN.
Named the High Needs Pupil Block, the budget will fund all additional provision across early years, schools and post-16 education and training.
The government intends to make a general assumption that mainstream schools should spend up to £10,000 out of their core and additional support budget (core per-pupil funding of £4,000 plus up to £6,000 additional funding) before the local authority takes up the funding out of the High Needs Pupil Block.
Collaboration is a watch-word for schools wishing to minimise the cost of specialist support by sharing services with other schools in their region. This model looks set to become more official, with the formation of clusters of further education colleges, independent specialist providers and special schools to share their practice, knowledge and skills.
CPD and local support
One of the key messages within this legislation, reinforced in the new Ofsted framework and new Teachers’ Standards, is the need for high-quality professional development opportunities for the school workforce and those who work with schools supporting children and young people.
CPD in the secondary setting is often facilitated by SENCOs, with a belief among the group that every school should have at least one full day per year looking at SEN and disabilities and how to adapt the curriculum and teaching methodology to meet the needs of all children.
SENCOs not only advocate for children but can be instrumental in developing early intervention strategies, carrying out assessments, and advising on appropriate and alternative interventions and strategies as the pupil moves through the school.
For some SENCOs one of the more recent aspects of their role is working with other schools (especially special schools) and external agencies to ensure a holistic model of support for a child.
With more and more children with complex needs in our mainstream schools there is a much greater need to seek advice and support from other professionals to ensure the provision meets the needs of each individual.
Further help with professional development is available via the Department for Education-funded nationwide training programme. Delivered by nasen, it supports schools by providing SENCOs with the tools to disseminate training to their workforce as whole-school professional development. Extended to answer demand from secondary schools, additional dates for the free training have been announced from this month, with sessions taking place in Kent, Manchester, the West Midlands, Liverpool and Blackpool.
The training addresses the concerns of many secondary schools following the staffing cuts taking place at local authority level. It also examines examples of best practice and professional guidance to support schools in developing policies and practices to address the needs of children with SEN.
SENCO networks have also been developed as part of the training to enable clusters of SENCOs to work collaboratively to meet individual needs within their schools. Supporting this are online professional development materials on specific impairments to assist the whole-school workforce.
Meanwhile, the successful Achievement for All model will be available for all schools and there will be an expansion in the number of Teaching Schools.
In addition to specialist CPD, the announcement of the second year of the National Scholarship for teachers and the introduction of a Scholarship for SEN support staff is welcome, as was the fourth year of funding for the National Award for SEN Co-ordination.
The National Award has seen some excellent examples of networking opportunities – both online and face-to-face – developing, both within local authorities and beyond.
Some special schools offer excellent training opportunities for mainstream staff but this is not the national picture. There is an increased role for special schools and mainstream schools to work together within clusters and federations to support CPD opportunities for all staff.
Ultimately, all of the clauses in this legislation have to be considered alongside many of the other significant developments across the sector. In addition to the Bill and the revised framework, topics such as the growth of academies and free schools, proposed funding reform, the introduction of a revised national curriculum, the rise in the participation age and the new Teachers’ Standards, as well as the radical reforms to the health service, will all impact on schools, families and children.
Further informationFor details of the free training for secondary SENCOs, visit www.nasen.org.uk, for an outline of the SEN Green Paper and Teachers’ Standards, see www.education.gov.uk and for the draft legislation, visit http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm84/8438/8438.pdf
Lorraine Petersen is CEO of nasen, a UK association embracing all SEN and disabilities.