It is hard to see the value of ‘encouraging’ good practices, when poor practice does not result in any form of sanction
Nearly 40 years ago now, the Warnock Report into Special Educational Needs (SEN), concluded that with the right support around the child, all children should be able to access a mainstream education. Statements of SEN, School Action and School Action Plus followed. However, the lack of consistency in the way that learners with SEN were supported resulted in parents (and advocates) becoming increasingly vocal about their lack of confidence in the system, something which was highlighted in the Lamb Inquiry (2009) and led to SEND reforms in 2014. Subsequently we saw the introduction of SEN Support and Education, Health and Care plans.
The Department for Education has produced a new guide, “SEN support: research evidence on effective approaches and examples of current practice in good and outstanding schools and colleges”. There have been many such tools since the introduction of statements in 1983, such as the ‘Index for Inclusion (2000)’ and ‘Removing Barriers to Achievement (2004)’. This new document sets out practice examples of what support looks like in different settings. However, in the document’s own words, it “does not aim to explore what higher quality teaching should include or involve”, and this for many parents (and teachers), is the crux of the matter - what does Quality First Teaching look like? When is ‘more’ needed?
There is a triangulation of duties under the Children and Families Act (2014): in the Local Offer, where local authorities must set out what SEN provision it expects to be available, including approaches to teaching and how expertise in supporting pupils with SEND is secured; in the SEN information report which includes the information as previous, along with the expertise and training of its staff in relation to SEN and how specialist expertise will be secured; and in the school governors’ duties to use their best endeavours to ensure that any SEN provision called for by their pupils is made. This also overlaps with the Reasonable Adjustments duties under the Equality Act (2010).
While the new document issued by the DfE is welcomed, for those of us parents who have been in the system for a long time, it is hard to see the value of ‘encouraging’ good practices, when poor practice does not result in any form of sanction. It is not that parents want to see schools punished as such, but sometimes it is difficult not to when it is your child who is being harmed.
I live in a LA where exclusions are soaring and, while it cannot be certain that these are all due to underlying SEN, they are likely to make up a considerable proportion. Schools in my LA permanently exclude more under-11s than almost any other. Add this to the unprecedented number of appeals to the SEND Tribunal across England this year and perhaps I can be excused for saying it straight: this document is great, accountability and actions are not.
SEN is legally defined as a pupil requiring special educational provision. As the SEND reforms took hold, there was a 2.5% drop in children with SEN; an acceleration from previous years. Whilst it can be argued that there was ‘over-identification’ previously, there is no real explanation as to why Yr7s were disproportionately represented. The more support the school provides as standard, the fewer pupils will be identified as SEN. Not only is this cost-effective and sustainable, it is also the right thing to do. But, with exclusions soaring and demand for special schools rising, the argument of over-identification is a weak one. The ‘Good Ship SEND’ has sailed off-course, and needs a firm hand to put it back on track, something that Whole School SEND (and partners) are aiming to achieve. Meanwhile, I continue to search for publication of the skills and expertise of teaching staff. I continue question whether the governors are using their best endeavours. I continue to wait for equality.
The DfE document, if taken on board and followed by schools, CCGs and the like, will both raise standards and spark an increase in parental confidence in schools and the system. I dearly hope that our educational institutions take on board this new document and run with it. There is always a piece of me that is hopeful that support for pupils with SEND will be viewed as the norm, not the separate, as I watch previous aspirational documents disappear under a mountain of dust and continue to hear mainstream schools saying ‘unsuitability’ is reason to refuse attendance.
Bren Prendergast, SEND Specialist Advisor
She is currently participating in the SEND Advocates professional development programme.