How do we move forward with SEND?
It is clear that, in England, the still recent reforms to legislation for SEND are not working as they should for all children and young people. Is this the whole story?
The Guardian recently published two articles about SEND, both with quite emotive headlines: Howling Disasters and People Give Up but is what was reported representative of the system and people’s experiences as a whole?
Both articles contain valid points including:
- The system is complex and can favour those with time (and money) to navigate it
- Funding in education is becoming increasingly challenging
- Cuts can disproportionately affect children and young people with SEND
- The process can be adversarial
It is unacceptable that the system does not work as it should for all our children and young people but to move forward we must acknowledge that the majority of parents and young people are satisfied that the system does work for them. The Review of Arrangements for Disagreement Resolution (SEND), published in March 2017, reports that in the 109 local authorities surveyed:
- 69% of requests for EHC needs assessments were agreed
- 95% of assessments led to an EHC plan being written
- 94% of EHC plans were accepted without appeal.
Statistical releases from the DfE show that, until recently, there was a steady decrease in the percentage of those with SEND but the percentage of EHC plans remains consistent.
It is important is to remember that provision for SEND is not made solely through EHC plans. Let’s not forget about the ‘poor relation’, SEN Support; there are 3 times as many children and young people receiving SEN Support as have an EHC plan (11.6% compared to 2.8%). There can be a tendency to focus on statutory provision, but children and young people that receive SEN Support are as important as those with an EHC plan. The code of practice makes it clear that even without the EHC plan, “Schools should take action to remove barriers to learning and put effective special educational provision in place” and “use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need – this means doing everything they can to meet children and young people’s SEN”.
We would argue that it is difficult to find schools, teachers and yes, even local authorities, who don’t want to do this and who don’t use their best endeavours, within the constraints under which they are working.
How do we move forward?
Focus on outcomes not provision
The code makes it clear that the focus should be on those outcomes which, if achieved, will effectively prepare children and young people for adulthood. These outcomes, which should not be restricted to just academic progress, must drive decisions about provision; the notional SEN budget (£6,000 per child) is just that i.e. notional, rather than a target to be aimed for. Much effective provision will not cost this amount (or may not cost anything at all).
Focus on people not processes
Also made clear is that the system should be driven by people i.e. children, young people and their families, rather than processes. Running as a golden thread throughout the code is the need to ensure that practice is person centred.
This requires a shift in ethos, something that is difficult to achieve through legislation alone. The SEND code of practice from 2001 also contained many references to person centred working but issues requiring disagreement resolution services, mediation and tribunals still occur and, as the Guardian articles show, where the system doesn’t work, this can have an extremely detrimental effect on children, young people and their families. The ‘Review of arrangements for disagreement resolution (SEND)’ finds that person –centred approaches are “successful in fostering agreement and supporting the early resolution of any disagreements that did arise”.
Coming to the end of the transition period to full implementation of the 2015 code of practice, it is time to shift our attention to the spirit of the law as well as the letter. This is a challenge in a system that has high levels of accountability focused on attainment but one we must face if we are to address current issues and continue to move forward.
If we get the spirit right, the letter will follow and this will have a positive impact not only for those with SEND but for all children and young people.
Michael has a background in primary education both in the UK and abroad and has worked as a class teacher, SENCo and Deputy Head. Since 2008 Michael worked for Birmingham Local Authority as part of the leadership team of a SEN advisory service developing schools’ provision for children and young people with SEN. Michael was seconded to nasen in August 2015 to work on the DfE funded project to develop a nationwide offer of free online CPD for all practitioners in sectors from 0 – 25.