The Children and Families Bill took its time going through the House of Lords, as amendments were proposed and abandoned, but it has now been given Royal Assent. In the meantime, September 2014 is fast approaching. Suzanne O'Connell sets out what school leaders should be doing.
The draft Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice is out there — occasionally we are reminded of the fact by a media announcement. For example, in January 2014, the MP Edward Timpson told us that there would be £30 million allocated to pay for 1800 independent supporters to help parents with the new SEN process.
While the pathfinders continue to report on their progress, the time when schools will be expected to begin implementation is fast approaching. The following are actions that schools might take in preparation.
Prepare your school offer
The Local Offer is a key feature of the SEN regulations. It is intended that local authorities (LAs) will publish the additional and different arrangements that they will expect schools to provide from their own budgets. This might include:
specialist expertise within the school
additional pastoral support
intervention programmes beyond high-quality teaching for all pupils
some specific equipment
staffing arrangements to promote access.
Some schools have already begun to adjust the information they provide on their website to take account of the LA’s Local Offer. It need not be a big task as many schools already provide plenty of information about how pupils with SEN are supported, and the resources and strategies that they use. In some cases, only tweaking will be required, in others, an overhaul.
It is worth looking at the school’s own information with the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) and comparing it with some of the pathfinder schools. This is also a good time to audit what you provide generally, and update your provision mapping.
Review how you fund your teaching assistants
Parents are becoming more closely involved in the way that funding is allocated. There might be a shift in their expectations of a teaching assistant’s (TA) role whose salary is funded from their child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.
Some schools currently put together statement money to enable them to employ a TA to work with groups of children who need support. This is often linked to targets that include working independently, as well as having support available when needed.
Parents may prefer a more dedicated type of support for their child. In some pathfinders, examples have been given of TAs who are employed not only to work in the school, but who might support parents in the home with specified tasks, and perhaps work at home with the pupil if he or she is unable to come into school for a period of time.
There is a roll-over period during which schools should be able to absorb the changes. However, it is worth considering what impact this would have on your school organisation and how you might adjust accordingly.
Keep in touch with your local authority
The LA will continue to have a key role in SEN provision, whether you are a maintained school or not. It is required to provide its own Local Offer and will expect schools to reflect its contents.
LAs will be at different stages in their preparation for the new SEN legislation. Some have been involved in the pathfinders from the start, others have progressed to become Pathfinder Champions who are providing advice to non-pathfinder areas.
LAs will have decisions to make that impact significantly on your practice. For example, the exact format for the EHC plan will be agreed locally, as will the timing of some aspects of the new legislation. Keeping up to date with where your LA is, will help you in your planning too.
Develop your relationship with parents
The involvement at every stage of the parent and the child or young person with SEN is paramount. This is not just about inviting them to the review meeting or sending a regular report home. Parents are intrinsic to the funding and decision-making process for their children.
Parents should be kept informed about the impending changes and existing links, and consultation and discussion opportunities should be identified. Parents and staff may be a little bemused initially, but if you have good lines of communication then this will help prevent difficulties as you move from statements to EHC plans.
Audit your staff expertise
The new SEN regulations will mean that the emphasis is on schools providing increased training and development for staff in relation to SEN. It is not new that children with SEN are the responsibility of the class teacher, but the focus is even more sharply on his or her practice in the classroom. Your class teachers may need additional support and training to help them address the needs that pupils have.
Alongside this you should aim to have a selection of staff within your school who have specific areas of expertise in relation to SEN. Consider who could receive additional training for pupils with communication difficulties or autism. You would benefit from having at least one member of staff for each area who can provide advice and support for others.
Review which members of staff are prepared to issue medicines, and also your policy in relation to pupils with healthcare needs. This is an area that the Government has shown interest in recently, and all of your staff should, as a minimum, be alert to the emergency needs of pupils with epilepsy, asthma, diabetes and other long-term health needs.
Staff awareness of mental health issues is an important area to check your staff training against. There is increasing concern that more children and young people are showing signs of mental health problems and are also suffering from the stigma that accompanies these. Incidents of eating disorders, depression and self-harm would seem to be on the increase, and a basic level of awareness should be shared among staff.
Review those children on School Action and School Action Plus
The old categories of School Action and School Action Plus will disappear, but the children currently identified as these will not. It is likely that those on School Action will lose their category status and will instead be firmly the responsibility of the class teacher. This does not mean that they fall below the radar.
You should find some way of ensuring that these pupils continue to be carefully monitored, at least as the subject of discussion in pupil progress meetings. It is expected that the majority will be defined as needing alternative strategies to catch up, and that your tracking and intervention actions should bring them back on par with their peers.
However, there will also be those who do have SEN, albeit in the early stages of identification, and the aim should be to progress these pupils as quickly as possible to join those on School Action Plus who warrant the title of needing SEN support.
These are challenging times for everyone in schools. With so many proposed changes approaching simultaneously, it is hard to predict exactly what impact they will have on each other. A new curriculum, new assessment and a new Code of Practice are all to be negotiated. The good sense of your SENCO will be vital in the months to come.