Challenging times for SEN educators

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It is a busy time for professionals involved in the education of children with SEN and disabilities, with major legislation currently being debated in Parliament and changes to inspection among the many challenges. Lorraine Petersen updates us on the chan

With funding reform, the newly published indicative draft Code of Practice following the latest revisions to the Ofsted inspection framework, the new Teachers’ Standards, and the reform of provision for young people with SEN, secondary schools are facing many challenges.

In fact, with the draft legislation on provision for children and young people with SEN (see below for more on the Children and Families Bill), SEN provision is facing the biggest reform in 30 years.

This comes at a time of overall reform of local authority support and changes to the health service, resulting in a set of challenges that will require careful guidance and measured progress to overcome.

Clear guidance will be required on the processes that need to be in place so that schools can implement the legislative changes in a way that ensures all children continue to get the support they need – especially in regard to the move to a single assessment process (removal of School Action and School Action Plus). 

The recently published Indicative Code of Practice and associated Draft SEN Regulations outline the proposed expectations, but these will be developed considerably further before they are finalised in light of the experience of the pathfinders and debates within the committee. 

The full implications of the Code will be explored at the Nasen Live 2013 conference later this month, with Department for Education officials working on the Code of Practice and the new single SEN category in attendance to provide an update and discuss the thinking behind the proposals.

A consultation will be hosted at the event, with SENCOs, teachers and school leaders encouraged to examine the roles and responsibilities of the SENCO, the impact on schools’ SEN and disabilities policies, the changes to the procedures in schools for the identification, assessment and provision for pupils with SEN, and the transition to a single SEN category to replace School Action and School Action Plus.

Funding and evidence

If wider changes to the education sector are one side of the coin, then funding is the other. With the new funding formula now in effect, local authorities will be given a high needs budget for children and young people with higher needs, most of whom will have SEN. 

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.

These reforms have further implications for schools when the requirements laid out in the revised Ofsted inspection framework announced in September last year are taken into account. 

The correct allocation of funding can help schools to achieve many of the requirements detailed in the Ofsted framework, but the knowledge and expertise of SENCOs in the secondary education setting must be recognised in order for regulations to be effectively aligned with the needs of schools, their pupils and teachers.

The Ofsted framework outlines the expectations for schools to provide accurate information about pupils’ attainment and progress, along with a requirement to identify pupils who are making less than expected progress and/or are unlikely on current performance to make expected or higher attainment. 

Ofsted expects arrangements to be in place for these pupils to increase their progress and raise their attainment, with regular and accurate monitoring, along with rigorous moderation of the assessment of pupils’ attainment levels and target setting.

Effective support arrangements must show that the rate of progress has increased and the “gap” is narrowing, and a regular review of the quality of support arrangements with respect to pupils’ outcomes must be evidenced. 

The new framework also takes into account curriculum reform and the greater freedoms that this hopes to introduce, with schools required to provide evidence that they are delivering a curriculum that is broad, balanced and meets the needs and interests of pupils, and promotes high levels of achievement, good behaviour and successful progression to the next stage of education, training or employment. 

The nasen Guide for Secondary SENCOs Preparing for Inspection is available from our website.

A vital debate

The challenges facing schools in light of these reforms, whether SEN-specific or general, are considerable. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that we now have the opportunity to influence proposals. To enable an effective evolution of provision, the reforms need robust debate within the entire education sector.

Whether through formal or informal consultations, it is vital that we share experiences so that we can continue to refine best practices and identify the successful strategies. 

It is only by sharing these stories that the sector can help to shape policy and make sure that future legislation provides the best possible foundation for the most vulnerable pupils today, and in future.

The Children and Families Bill explained

The Children and Families Bill details the biggest reform in 30 years, and builds on the reforms to the health service. 

Under the plans, formal SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments will be scrapped and replaced with a 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 current system of School Action and School Action Plus assessments will also be axed, with the government proposing to introduce a single category of SEN.

However, 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.

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, there will be a requirement for the local authority to publish a local offer indicating the support available to those with SEN and disabilities and their families. 

The right to appeal if children are unhappy with their support is also a key measure, addressed by the introduction of mediation opportunities for families.

The Bill is currently being debated in Parliament, with final implementation planned for September 2014.

For information on the contents of the Bill, visit www.education.gov.uk/a00221161/children-families-bill

  • Lorraine Petersen OBE is chief executive of nasen, a UK professional association embracing all special and additional educational needs and disabilities. Visit www.nasen.org.uk

 


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