Last reviewed 2 March 2015

Since the flurry of activity to get the new Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice through Parliament in time for September, things have been pretty quiet. Suzanne O’Connell reports on what is happening now in our local authorities (LAs) and schools.

Pathfinder evaluations

It was always something of a puzzle that the date for the implementation of SEND reform came before the pathfinders had finished their pilot. How could you continue to trial suggestions for reform when the reform was already part of the statute books?

Even as schools and LAs should be confidently delivering the new SEND Code of Practice, there is a sense that we are still making it up as we go along. The release of three evaluations from the pathfinder programme paints a very patchy picture and leads us to question just how well SEND reform is being implemented.

The pathfinder evaluation reports include:

  • the Local Offer

  • key working and workforce development

  • 19–25 Provision.

A sustainable Local Offer?

The report on the Local Offer highlights LAs’ varied interpretation of it. Some have conducted their own trawl using templates; others have published general information about provision with links to schools’ own websites.

Some LAs have created their Local Offer by commissioning external providers. Others have created their own teams for the task. What is perhaps most worrying is that with the publication of the Local Offer some of these teams have now been disbanded.

The sustainability of the Local Offer is a major issue. It is not meant to be a finite publication but an evolving collation of help and support. With the team that originally developed the site disbanded, it is hard to see how it will be kept up to date. Resources must continue to be allocated for its upkeep and it seems unlikely that all LAs have built this into their budgets.

Workforce development strategies

Although strategies are in place for workforce development in most areas, the picture is once more of areas piloting approaches as they go along. Preparation for the delivery of education, health and care (EHC) plans is ongoing and most areas indicated that they were intending to devolve responsibility to staff in schools and other educational settings.

School staff could find themselves with more responsibility for the EHC plan process than they had during statementing. Many LAs are also expecting school staff to oversee the translation of SEN statements into EHC plans.

Most of the workforce development evaluation is not so much a review of what’s happening as a blueprint for the future. It provides a framework for workforce development, starting with assessment of need and continuing with the development of:

  • leadership and governance

  • effective teams

  • communication and engagement

  • training and development

  • management and monitoring.

For each aspect, examples of good practice are identified. For example, to build effective teams, appropriate support such as administrative support, needs to be in place.

The evaluation recognises the challenges that remain. Schools are recognised as having a key role in delivery, and special educational needs co-ordinators will need support and require “considerable workforce development efforts”.

There are acknowledged gaps in provision. In some areas, there is significant under-resourcing in services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and speech and language therapy. The report points out that these deficiencies will not easily be remedied, given the breadth of skills needed and the modest salaries that make recruitment of the right people difficult.

Pathfinders out, peer network in

We are perhaps now seeing some of the final publications from the pathfinders. The last entry on the website was for September 2014, and there does not appear to be reference to the new evaluations. Officially, however, the pathfinder programme is expected to continue until March 2015.

What is new on the website, however, is the opportunity to apply for a grant for a SEN and Disability Peer Network Programme to be implemented from April 2015.

This peer network is being publicised as a new model to build on the work of the SEND pathfinder champions. According to the website, this “peer support and challenge programme” will drive improvement around the SEND reforms. It will allow LAs to “further develop their own regional approaches, to share and showcase best practice, and to influence national developments”.

LAs can apply for a one-year grant fund of up to £450,000 in order to be able to act as regional leads. Resource-drained LAs may be keen to apply, but the short-term nature of the funding does not inspire confidence in a long-term commitment to SEND reform implementation. As we can see from the evaluation reports, some LAs are struggling to meet the capacity needed for the reform already.

However, help might be at hand. The Department for Education has also announced that it is currently tendering for delivery support for LAs and their partners. This delivery partner will be responsible for assisting the LAs that have applied successfully to be regional leads. These new appointments might be a little late in the day as we move through 2015.

Does SEND matter?

The legislation and statutory guidance are out and responsibility for SEND has been firmly delegated to LAs. The SEND reform has been described by some as a revolution in thinking and practice. However, meeting the intentions of the new Code of Practice is more than a tick-box exercise. We could argue that insufficient thought has been put into just how these intentions would translate into practice.

As LAs lurch from one responsibility to another, they are providing a mixed level of support to their schools. In turn, schools are doing what they deem necessary. They are changing their terminology and removing reference to School Action and School Action Plus.

In accountability terms, little interest seems to be shown in how schools are implementing the reform. Ofsted does not seem too concerned, provided the results of pupils with SEND are good enough. Barely any reference was made to SEND within the consultation on proposals for its new framework.

At the centre of the reform is co-production with parents, bringing with it a new opportunity for the parental and pupil voice to be heard. There is little indication that this intention is finding its way into practice. Many schools already feel that they work well with parents and are continuing in a very similar way to before.

There is one opportunity on the horizon. The proposal for a national College of Teaching could lead to an alternative source of support for thinking and practice in SEND.

However, with the College under consultation until recently, and not likely to emerge until 2016 at the earliest, schools and their LAs must continue to forge their own approaches in the meantime.