The SEN Code of Practice explained

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Schools are still getting to grips with the implications of the SEN reforms and the new SEN Code of Practice. We asked inclusion expert Daniel Sobel to summarise the key changes.

A significant change of legislation is never going to be implemented easily. The Special Needs Code of Practice is 200 pages of fairly sophisticated language which amounts to a lot of directives and even more questions by schools.

Most SENCOs will have been to a day seminar or two about implementing the code, but the schools I and my team come across on a daily basis are riddled with unanswered questions and issues that need ironing out. 

In this article I will cover the most commonly asked questions that I and my team receive from schools and will be drawing on guidance that myself and colleagues have produced called the SEN CoP Pack, which is an online resource for SENCOs.

Q: What exactly are the differences between the outgoing and incoming approaches to the SEN categories?

It is worth comparing the out-going model and some of its disadvantages with the new model and the changes it may bring in. We can summarise issues relating to the out-going model as follows:

  • In some cases, concerns may not have been communicated sufficiently early. Subsequently, assessments to gauge the nature of the difficulty might not have been put in place.

  • The question of why the learner was not making adequate/expected progress may not have even been posed if the difficulties were considered behavioural.

  • In extreme cases, a learner could progress from school action to school action plus simply because an external agency had been involved at one point.

  • A learner may have been placed on the SEN list and never removed, even if the intervention was merely to get them back on track.

  • In some settings, once the learner was considered to be SEN it became the responsibility of the SENCO to effectively deal with their issues and put in interventions.

Some of the key points to note are:

  • This new approach is focused on evidence-based approaches and interventions.

  • Through benchmarking, the impact of an intervention is clearer to perceive.

  • Evidence gathered will help inform adjustments needed for the learner and for staff to include the learner within the wider learning environment.

  • Where concerns exist it is the class teacher’s responsibility to adapt their approaches to engage the learner and try different strategies to help support progress and access to the curriculum. 

  • Even if a learner accesses an intervention, they are no longer placed on the SEN list unless as a result of an assessment.

The changes will have broad affects over many different people, from the classroom teacher to the data manager to the teaching assistants, governors and parents themselves.

Outstanding SEN in schools can be measured not just by how many provisions they have or how well the hard data outcomes look on RAISEOnline, but also on how well the community of stakeholders are engaged in SEN and therefore the communication of ideas and system change will be an obvious indicator of this. 

Since the system requires a whole-school shift, senior leadership teams need to be managing this process and not just leaving it up to the SENCO.

Q: What exactly is the “graduated” approach and what does this look like practically?

For identifying SEN, the Code of Practice puts a lot of emphasis on the cycle of assess, plan, do and review – also known as the “graduated approach”. 

It states: “Where a pupil is identified as having SEN, schools should take action to remove barriers to learning and put effective special educational provision in place.

“This SEN support should take the form of a four-part cycle (assess, plan, do and review). Through this, earlier decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised with a growing understanding of the learner’s needs and what would most support them in making good progress and securing good outcomes. This is known as the graduated approach.

“The graduated approach should be led and co-ordinated by the setting SENCO working with and supporting individual practitioners in the setting and informed by EYFS materials, the Early Years Outcomes guidance and Early Support resources.” (Section 5.)

This approach will allow your school to manage expectations among parents and learners, through regular improvements and adaptations. 

This simple process emphasises a different approach to SEN: it is a shift away from thinking about the central tenet of the Statement, which is a diagnosis of need, to a new perspective of the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which does not ignore recognising a student’s needs but focuses us on the provision that the student needs. 

Since this is accepted as the process, there is an encouragement to explore fully a variety of approaches, especially to keep the student in the classroom as much as possible.

Q: What is the difference between an IEP and IPM?

The IPM (Individual Provision Map) combines a one-page student profile with a provision map – Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are likely to be replaced with individual provision maps. 

IPMs will show the interventions and general provision accessed by a learner. In some settings these IPMs have been combined with one page profiles so the characteristics of the learner are on one side with provision accessed on the back. 

IPMs should be reviewed throughout the year with input from the learner and their family to decide on the most appropriate ways to support the learner.

A criticism of SEN record-keeping has been too much paperwork – not least for the SENCO who has to process it all, but also for all of the other stakeholders who simply don’t have time to read extensive SEN files and paper trails.

The IPM then, is an attempt to unify different documents together on literally one page. Be mindful that this should not be a tick-box exercise, but a user-friendly way of disseminating information about a student.

Q: Are EHCPs really that different from Statements?

EHCPs are guided by a number of key principles:

  1. Decisions about content should be made in close collaboration with children, young people and their families.

  2. The Plan should describe what the child, young person can do and has achieved.

  3. The Plan should be clear, concise and understandable.

  4. The Plan should be outcomes focused.

  5. The Plan should be forward thinking (e.g. in terms of transition into further education, employment and adult life), especially from year 9 onwards.

  6. The Plan should describe how informal (family and community) support can help.

  7. The Plan should have a review date which should link into other dates, if appropriate, e.g. Child in Need and Child Protection review schedules.

These principles obviously differentiate the scope of the EHCP from the limitations of the traditional Statement. However, most outstanding SENCOs would have been doing all of these in some guise. What is new for everybody, therefore, is the format to express these other principles into the same document. 

The idea of creating one mega-document like this is potentially asking for trouble in the shape of a paperwork nightmare. Certainly, a number of boroughs’ EHCPs that I have seen look ridiculously long. 

It makes sense then to ensure that the parent can fully access and understand this information, for if they can’t then this will be a flawed process that does not fulfil the principles above. 

An obvious way of making sure a parent can make sense of the EHCP is simply by asking them. It could be that a more simplistic summary page would be useful, not only for them but for everyone. 

Q: Can you clarify the EHCP steps?

  1. The child or young person is brought to the attention of the local authority. The local authority receives a request for an EHCP needs assessment.

  2. The local authority decides to go ahead with the needs assessment.

  3. The local authority notifies parents/carers/young person of its decision within a maximum of six weeks of the request for assessment.

  4. The local authority gathers information for the EHCP needs assessment.

  5. The local authority decides whether or not an EHCP is required.

  6. The local authority drafts a plan and sends it to parents/carers/young person.

  7. Parents/carers/young person have 15 calendar days to comment, to express a preference to an education establishment, and to arrange and seek the agreement of a personal budget.

  8. The local authority consults the institution chosen by the parents/carers/young person before naming it in the Plan. The institution has 15 calendar days in which to respond.

  9. Plan amended and finalised after consultation with parents/carers/young person.

Just like with all of the elements of change in the Code of Practice, the above steps need to be made clear to parents and stakeholders alike. 

It is worth including this information in your SEN information report and possibly in separate guidance you might want to produce for your parents.

Always check that your parents can fully access the material you give them and do not struggle with the reading due to SEN or lack of English language.

Myself and my team have been carrying out a lot of SEN reviews across the country as schools have decided that the new code is a useful opportunity for SEN departments to reinvent themselves and look at all of their procedures. 

The SEN Code of Practice could be seen as a serious burden and stress for schools. However, it has the potential to be a golden opportunity for reshaping, renewing and updating to a new way of SEN.

  • Daniel Sobel is the founder of Inclusion Expert and has a background in educational psychology, psychotherapy and as an assistant headteacher.

Further information
For more details of the SEN CoP Pack referenced in the article, visit http://sen.inclusionexpert.com/


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