Last reviewed 7 December 2015

The new SEND Code of Practice should now be running smoothly in our schools, yet two reports suggest that this is not always the case. It is time to check up on exactly what is happening out there. Suzanne O’Connell reports.

Accountability and SEN reform

It was never going to be an easy transition from one Code of Practice to another. The 2014 SEND Code of Practice required a culture change in terms of multi-agency working and partnership with parents. This was to be administered at a time of cutbacks and huge changes within local authority (LA) services.

Added to this was the flexibility allowed in terms of local interpretation. LAs were given the remit to devise their own education, health and care (EHC) plans, decide the exact timing of implementation and construct their own Local Offers. It is not surprising that a picture of patchy provision across the country is now emerging.

Two reports published at the end of the last academic year added weight to the view that not all was being administered swiftly and easily in relation to SEN reform. Now, a consultation has been launched into how Ofsted, in conjunction with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), can best patrol the work of the LAs and ensure that implementation meets the spirit of the reform.

SEN funding

Research on Funding for Young People with Special Educational Needs: Research Report was published in July 2015 and provides insight into the way in which funding for young people with SEN is being spent. The researchers worked with 13 LAs and were critical of the extent to which historic spend does not match very closely with current levels of need.

In particular, small schools and schools with a reputation for supporting children with SEND well, appeared to lose out. Schools that are disproportionally inclusive suffer as a result of a formula-based method of allocating funding. The researchers found that: “Many Heads argued that the current accountability system does not incentivise inclusive behaviours.”

Parents backed this claim with some suggesting that the £6000 funding threshold was sometimes used as an argument for not admitting a child with SEN. It was those whose children did not typically meet the threshold for an EHC plan who said they struggled to get the needs of their child recognised.

LAs claimed that having the £6,000 funding threshold did provide greater clarity as to what might be expected from schools before LA intervention. However, the researchers noted that there were still big differences between and within authorities. The researchers concluded that LAs should work with their schools to agree a “core entitlement” of what should be provided as a matter of course and that this agreement should be part of the Local Offer. The researchers would also have liked to see greater direction given from central government in order to provide a consistent national framework.

It was suggested that core provision might include:

  • identification and assessment

  • whole-class teaching and learning

  • differentiation through small- group teaching and learning

  • additional one-to-one adult support

  • targeted therapies and services

  • the physical learning environment

  • on going training and development of staff.

The extent to which the Department for Education (DfE) has allowed flexibility across the country can be seen as a bonus for those keen to adapt national directives at a local level. However, it has created a very mixed menu of provision, something that is also documented in the final Pathfinder report.

The final Pathfinder report

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Pathfinder Programme Evaluation: Final Impact Research Report was published in July 2015. It presents a very mixed picture of how well the SEN reform was being implemented in the Pathfinder authorities. There were positives, with parents indicating that they were being encouraged more to think about goals and the impression that the decisions about their child’s support reflected the family’s views.

However, the evaluation also highlighted some ongoing difficulties. Some families were still reporting that planning was being done separately across services and that they were acting as go-betweens between departments. The intention that only one set of information would need to be shared with professionals appears to be falling short of its target.

What did come out positively however, was the importance of an effective keyworker. A keyworker’s ability and knowledge of the child and the system were crucial in getting the provision that the child needed and meeting the hopes and expectations of the family.

Key workers were most effective when they:

  • provided advice, information and advocacy support

  • knew the child

  • had a good understanding of the system

  • could use their professional status to influence others

  • used their judgment and tailored their approach to different needs and family dynamics

  • were fair and impartial throughout the process, bringing a fresh perspective.

However, the key worker supporting the child and family through the EHC planning process did not always continue to support after the plan was in place. Quite often, responsibility was then handed over to school staff who did not always have the understanding of the system that they needed.

What was clearly not working as well as it should was that of the Local Offer. One of the key findings of the report was that there is need for further improvement around the Local Offer with some families not even having heard of it and many not having used it.

Overall, the impact on outcomes for young people was variable and the researchers noted a lack of evidence of positive findings. Although it seems that there were improvements in transfer, there was little evidence of significant improvements in parental outcomes or in either children’s health or quality of life.

With concern mounting about the effectiveness of SEN delivery following the reforms, it was to be expected that Ofsted would be involved in finding out more about what is going on at ground level.

Bring in the inspectors

A consultation has been launched into the inspection of LA’s SEN provision. Launched in October, the consultation will close on 4 January with a view to inspections beginning in May 2016. The inspections will be the responsibility of both Ofsted and the CQC and it is to be hoped that the two organisations can find good working arrangements and be role models for effective cross-agency practice.

There will be no overall grade given to LAs but it is proposed that they will receive a summary of inspectors’ findings and that this will include key strengths and areas that need further development.

Schools will receive visits from inspectors but there will be no observations of teaching and learning activities. The visits will be to help determine the level of effectiveness of the LA rather than that of the school itself. During their visits, inspectors will talk to senior leaders about how the LA fulfils its responsibilities and look at a sample of students’ files and information about their progress.

It is proposed that inspectors will evaluate:

  • how effectively the local area identifies disabled children and young people and those who have SEN

  • how effectively the local area meets the needs and improves the outcomes of disabled children and young people and those with SEN.

In evaluating these aspects of provision, inspectors will bring together a wide range of information from a number of partners including the views of the children and young people themselves.

There is no doubt that some form of accountability is needed for the implementation of SEND reform. In the current climate it is to be expected that inspection would form a major part of this. The issue will be what measures can and will be taken where inadequacies are identified, and whether these will be soon enough and effective enough to improve children’s lives.

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