It’s a time of bewildering change for teachers and schools. With the new curriculum for 2014 to consider and then assimilate into teaching plans, and changes in the way these subjects will be assessed, teachers have enough to fill their working day already. So it should come as no surprise that schools may not have fully engaged with other important changes coming next year relating to children with SEN.
The new approach to SEN education is set out in the Children and Families Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords. The measures are due to come into force from September 2014 and the Department for Education is using the experiences of pathfinder schemes, which are piloting the new way of working, to shape the legislation.
A draft Code of Practice has just been published for consultation. Now is the time for schools to familiarise themselves with the Code, how it will affect them, and to influence the final version which will be published in Spring 2014.
To start with, the new duties in the Bill will apply to all maintained schools and to academies and free schools. Out go the existing Statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments, replaced by the new streamlined Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP). EHCPs will be available to children and young people aged between 0 and 25 whose schools cannot reasonably be expected to meet their SEN (the same threshold as a statement). The new EHCP is very much about focusing on the outcomes for the child or young person, a common thread throughout the Bill, and schools will be expected to fully involve children and parents in decisions about how their needs are going to be met. The EHCP should reflect the young person’s aspirations for the future as well as their current needs.
The draft Code proposes that the two current levels of school-based intervention, School Action and School Action Plus, be replaced with a single school stage. Under the current system, at School Action Plus, schools are expected to involve specialist input from beyond the school (such as a specialist teacher or educational psychologist). The new system will expect schools to involve people with particular expertise at any stage where school-based interventions are not securing at least adequate progress.
In the past, a common complaint about services for children with SEN has been that families have to battle to find out what support is available and where they can expect to get it. Under the new Bill, all local authorities must publish a clearly written “local offer” telling parents and young people what is available. This includes what the local authority expects schools to provide from their delegated budget.
The local offer should also encourage greater co-ordination of local services, with better inter-agency co-operation between schools and colleagues in social care and health. Schools are likely to find the duty to co-operate contained in the Bill will see them working more closely with other teams, such as professionals in mental health services.
The stakes are high for children with SEN. These young people consistently achieve less well than their peers at both school and college and are more likely to be out of education, employment or training when they reach age 18. Furthermore, parents with children with SEN often complain that the child has their needs picked up late. With its emphasis on inter-agency collaboration, family participation and outcomes (a favourite word of the government) there is hope that the new Bill can help us do better for these pupils. The expertise of teachers is needed to shape these plans.