SEN: Sticking to the Code of Practice

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
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The SEND reforms including the new Code of Practice have been in place for more than two years now. Dorothy Lepkowska speaks to two experts to find out what challenges are still facing schools, SEN children and their families

When the new SEND Code of Practice was launched in 2014, it placed collaboration between services at the forefront, and greater input and communication between schools and families at its heart.

Now, more than two years since its implementation by schools, a picture is emerging of how well, or otherwise, the policy is working. The image appears to be mixed, and the quality of provision varies between different schools and local authorities.

Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of the special needs association nasen, said one of the biggest challenges was the 1.2 million children who are on the special needs register but who have not had a statutory assessment.

He explained: “Children who are classed as SEND Support – previously known as School Action and School Action Plus, do not have statutory statements or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

“This group is the one that is supposed to be catered for by high-quality first teaching in the classroom and have work differentiated. This group has really been forgotten, as the focus has been on those children who are at the statutory end.

“The situation is that those who are now at the more complex end of SEND Support are having to apply for EHCPs to meet their needs as they feel they are not having these met through quality first teaching. In the past this group would have been catered for without the need for a statement.”

Around 2.8 per cent of pupils have either a statement of special needs or an EHCP, a figure that has remained stable for the past 10 years. Dr Boddison says that speaking to parents, many are unhappy – not necessarily because of the SEND policy, but because of wider issues such as the EBacc and Progress 8 measures and their impact on the curriculum.

He continued: “These factors are really disincentivising schools from being inclusive. Some schools are excluding young people such as these, saying ‘this is not the right school for you and you would be better off somewhere else’.

“It is not necessarily the SEND policy that is at fault but the wider issues, which came in at the same time. (As a result) more parents think it is the SEND policy that isn’t working.”

Lorraine Petersen, an education consultant specialising in special needs, says that many parents still feel left out of the process when deciding what is best for their children – despite parental control/choice being a key tenet of the SEND reforms.

She told SecEd: “Part of the problem remains that many teachers are not engaging with parents, who are not being given a chance to tell their story. There is a barrier between school and parents; parents are saying they are still having to fight the system.”

There have also been reported difficulties with different agencies working together. The onus is often on schools to foot the bill and lead on support, even though the health and care sectors are supposed to be working with them.

“Health and care are late to the table in terms of the reforms,” Dr Boddison added.

“There is no one reason for this but financial reasons are factors for both those sectors and there has been a blurring of the boundaries about whose responsibility things are. Are health-related interventions in schools the responsibility of the health system or education?

“There has been too much of a silo mentality and it should be about pooling resources; there is a mind-set there still that needs to change. It doesn’t help that sectors come under different accountability systems and have separate ministers, so they will always be seen as separate.”

One of the biggest concerns around the new SEND arrangements is the issue of exclusions. Anecdotal evidence suggests schools are often excluding pupils for fixed terms because of their behaviour, when in some cases this is “not being properly managed”, Dr Boddison says.

He said: “Children with needs need to have their needs met. There has been a rise in demand for special school places as a result and there are huge waiting lists for places. Autism is one of those areas where demand has grown significantly.”

He said that in some parts of the country there had been good work undertaken on this issue and the number of exclusions had been halved: “If you have a plan and a specific school has been named as meeting your needs then they have to accept you.

“This should be done in collaboration with the young person but there is significant variability in how well that works.

“If it’s an SEND Support child who has listed their choices of schools a head might say that a child is better off elsewhere. Often parents who know that their child isn’t wanted won’t push it with the school after such a conversation. But it is a postcode lottery.”

However, there are also the “illegal” exclusions of pupils, who are kept off school so that their challenges don’t affect other students. For example, in some cases, pupils are excluded from school trips or asked to leave altogether because “the school down the road is better for you”.

Ms Petersen explained: “Pupils are being rejected because they can’t meet the expectations of the school. The accountability agenda is pushing. Not all pupils will get eight GCSEs in academic subjects and this is going to be a real challenge for SEND children.

“The SEND agenda is in battle with the examinations system, which in turn is in battle with Ofsted. There is no joined-up thinking.”

Where the reforms are working well is in the graduated approach to teaching, which relies on quality first teaching.

“This is one of the better bits of the reforms,” explained Dr Boddison. “It means that everyone has a responsibility for SEND pupils and the graduated approach is the framework for classroom teachers or subject specialists to use to ensure teaching is differentiated.”

There are four stages of this graduated approach – assess, plan, do, review and make any necessary changes in collaboration with the young person (see page 13 for a closer look at the graduated approach in action).

Another positive aspect of the reforms is greater interaction between schools and local authorities according to Dr Boddison. “Before, there was this idea that the local authority was responsible for some things and the school for other things. Now they are talking about provision in the area and it is a more holistic approach.

“Multi-academy trusts, which can include a wide mix of school types, can draw on each other’s expertise, and offer fluid provision where needed. For example, a child with sensory issues sometimes might need a special school environment but not all the time.”

Ms Petersen believes that most schools are successfully embedding the reforms, and are doing their best to make them work. However, training can often be a key barrier.
“Most teachers have not been trained to identify special needs and this remains a challenge,” she said.

“Training remains a big issue across the sector, and there is still no mandatory reform in the pipeline to improve training in SEND. All the emphasis is on subject knowledge. I believe this is why many are leaving the profession – because they haven’t been trained to teach children with special needs.

“We have a teacher training system that is using 20th century practices trying to deal with the problems and challenges of children growing up in the 21st century.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education writer.

Further information

  • Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years, Department for Education, January 2015:
  • High-quality and inclusive teaching practices, SecEd, September 2017:
  • Assess, plan, do, review: The graduated approach to SEN, SecEd, October 2017:


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