Last reviewed 7 February 2017

In his report, Lee Scott highlights some of the difficulties that councils and schools are having in implementing the aspirations of the special education needs and disability (SEND) Code of Practice. Now the Department for Education (DfE) has announced that more money will be available. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell summarises Scott’s findings and what the implications for schools might be.

It was a welcome news from the DfE that seven contracts are to be issued to provide additional special education needs (SEN) support in 2017/18.

  1. Additional money to help local authorities (LAs) embed reform (£2.3 million).

  2. Supporting culture change in the voluntary and community sector organisations (£400,000).

  3. Appointment of a lead SEND advisor to provide advice on policy to the DfE (£113,000).

  4. Increase awareness and understanding of autism (£750,000).

  5. Improve support in relation to speech, language and communication needs (£650,000).

  6. Support for those with physical disabilities (£300,000).

  7. Support for access to employment for young people with SEND (£300,000).

But why is this coming now? First, it is the final year of funding support and we would expect, perhaps, a last cash injection before schools and LAs are expected to have the transfer sorted. However, there are also some worrying signs that more money is needed.

There is mounting evidence that LAs are having difficulties embedding the SEND reform. Personal experience aside, the first indication that all is not well comes from the letters issued following LA inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The second is the document, SEND: The Schools and Colleges Experience: A Report to the Secretary of State for Education by Lee Scott.

LA reports

Joint local area inspections are now being carried out by Ofsted in conjunction with the CQC. The inspection reports come in the form of a letter and there is no overall grading as such. However, reading the letters, it is clear how some LAs are struggling to implement the reform in the manner expected.

The picture is mixed but common areas of difficulty include:

  • local offers that are functioning poorly with parents still unaware of the provision that is available to them

  • LAs struggling to meet the needs of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism

  • imbalance between the contribution of education and health and social care to the plan — with little input from health and social care

  • speed of implementation of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) at the expense of quality and breadth.

From the early days, it was evident that there were big differences between councils’ abilities to implement the new Code of Practice. This lack of consistency across the country is commented on by Lee Scott too.

Scott report

The SEND: The Schools and Colleges Experience: A Report to the Secretary of State for Education by Lee Scott was originally commissioned by Nicky Morgan. It is not a comprehensive research project but rather presents a snapshot picture of some of the experiences of parents and schools across the country.

It is a little unclear whose experience exactly this report seeks to establish. Although entitled The Schools and Colleges Experience, the brief given in the opening paragraphs of the report suggests that it was the views of parents of children with SEND that Nicky Morgan was keen to find out more about.

Either way, it seems to be a blend of views and cannot be used as a clear criticism or otherwise of the SEND experience. However, Scott does feel confident enough from his research to highlight some key themes and points that arise from these. Areas for improvement include the following.

  • Better communication across all agencies and, in some cases, within agencies.

  • More training for all staff in relation to SEND.

  • Greater transparency over funding so that families are more aware of how money is being spent.

  • Improved support for children and young people with medical needs.

  • Improvements in bringing employers, LAs and colleges together, increasing the amount of training and employment opportunities.

The SEND reform allowed for interpretation across LAs and schools and this, along with the different capacity to implement, has meant a patchwork of provision that was evident from Scott’s meetings and discussions. Experiences vary enormously across the country, a conclusion that is of little consolation to those still battling to get the support they need.

Messages for schools

LAs must take the lion’s share of the criticism. However, Scott also refers to inconsistencies in practice between schools and even within schools. He raises concerns about the following.

  • Insufficient knowledge of particular types of SEND among staff and staff not having enough expertise and experience.

  • Over-stretched special education needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) who are not adequately supported by senior management.

  • Insufficient training opportunities among staff.

  • Lack of knowledge among staff in relation to the impact of trauma, loss and separation — particularly in relation to adopted children.

SEND reform placed more emphasis upon the teacher in the classroom and his or her knowledge and expertise. It is perhaps not surprising to see that in some cases the subsequent training to enable this has not happened. Similar conclusions can be drawn from two surveys recently published by the DfE.

The omnibus survey of pupils and their parents/carers and teacher omnibus survey and a Senior Leader Booster Survey include statistics relating to SEND. These have been usefully analysed by Tania Tirraoro on her Special Needs Jungle website. The teacher survey would seem to back up Scott’s comments on training with only 55% of all teachers believing that there is appropriate training in place to support SEN pupils.

Scott drew attention to the role of SEN support in schools. This is now a key stage in the identification of and assistance for pupils with SEND. However, there are concerns that once placed at this stage, the regular reviews which are indicated in the Code of Practice are not being carried out. He refers to inconsistent approaches being taken and a lack of transparency surrounding monitoring of SEN support. Schools should check their own processes for keeping pupils at this stage in the spotlight.

Scott is critical of the level of assistance provided in schools for pupils with medical needs. This has always been a difficult area as staff are not obligated to carry out many procedures. Although schools have now begun to issue contracts that specify the level of support that individual staff should give, practice is inconsistent.

Scott refers to examples of children being sent home and emergency services called because staff were not trained or insured. He refers to staff not being allowed to administer medication and medical needs being omitted from SEN support plans.

What can schools do?

Many of Scott’s concerns are out of the jurisdiction of individual schools. Perhaps the LA inspections will bring some changes in those LAs who are not fulfilling the spirit of the reform.

However, it is also time for schools to reflect on how well they have implemented the new Code of Practice within the capacity that they have. Checking on staff training and confidence in relation to SEND is a good starting point. Reviewing the effectiveness with which SEN support level is being administered and the schools’ approach to addressing medical needs could also be beneficial.

There are many tales of hope too in Scott’s report. He makes the point that with these examples of good practice in both LAs and schools, it demonstrates that getting it right is possible. Perhaps sharing the good practice that does exist will be facilitated by the new contracts and the Government’s SEND spending spree.