Last reviewed 11 May 2016

The DfE’s White Paper is far-reaching. Although its plans for compulsory academisation have been put on hold, there will be considerable impact on children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). Suzanne O’Connell, Education Consultant outlines the details..

Introduction

The White Paper sets out the Government’s intentions for education for the next five years. In many respects, it is the completion of the job they started in 2010. Although the compulsory element has been suspended, it is clear that the Government would like the majority of schools to become academies. The impact that local government might have will be considerably reduced, as we move towards a school-led system with clusters of multiple academy trusts urged to replace many of the services that local authorities (LAs) previously provided.

However, there are some services that the LA will still retain responsibility for. The LA’s duties will be focused on three areas.

  1. Ensuring every child has a school place.

  2. Ensuring the needs of vulnerable pupils are met.

  3. Acting as champions for all parents and families.

These three areas perhaps encompass some of the most difficult tasks when it comes to educational provision across schools.

Supporting the vulnerable

In ensuring the needs of vulnerable pupils, LAs will still be required to:

  • identify, assess and make provision for children with SEND and looked-after children

  • promote school attendance and tackle persistent absence

  • ensure that alternative provision is available for Heads to commission for children and young people excluded from school or otherwise unable to attend a mainstream school

  • lead on safeguarding responsibilities for all children, including those in unregulated settings, educated at home and children missing education

  • lead on children at risk of radicalisation

  • work with schools to ensure that they understand and discharge their safeguarding duties

  • support vulnerable children and using the Virtual School Head role to work with schools and other agencies on promoting their educational achievement and progress

  • decide on how to spend the Pupil Premium Plus.

Safeguarding, SEND, attendance, looked-after children and extremism will all remain the responsibility of the LAs. What is not clear is what powers they will be given in order to enable them to carry out their duties, if eventually all schools are academies.

There is also a lack of clarity around what will happen when LAs fail to be able to carry out their duties adequately. We are now anticipating the first rounds of LA inspection of SEND. There is no doubt that these inspections will reveal some of the difficulties there are for schools and LAs implementing the SEND Code of Practice. It will be interesting to see how these difficulties will be remedied.

Alternative provision

With a school system increasingly dedicated to a focus on standards, it is inevitable that some children will fall through the net. Schools are looking to alternative providers to help educate those that do not fit in the current system, specifically those who have:

  • significant behaviour problems

  • complex medical or mental health conditions

  • extreme vulnerability due to personal and social issues.

What the DfE does not want, is schools taking Alternative Provision (AP) as an easy option for those who are holding their results back. The answer is to make schools more accountable for those they exclude, formally or not. The White Paper is clear that schools will retain accountability for all pupils’ educational outcomes, including those who have been excluded if they are not attending another mainstream school.

The DfE wants to see schools more closely involved in the education on offer at the AP including ensuring that they deliver a broad and balanced curriculum and through sharing curriculum and subject specialists and facilities. Schools will be responsible for the budgets from which AP is funded and will construct a detailed individual plan for each pupil they are jointly responsible for.

SEND

In a Paper full of commitments to change, the proposals surrounding SEND are a little woolly. In some respects, this is understandable given the relatively recent publication of a SEND Code of Practice. The main concrete development is the introduction of LA inspection starting from May 2016 conducted by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

Underachievement of SEND pupils is part of the agenda, but only as part of the general push for raising standards. The DfE considers that changes to the assessment system will better reflect the progress of SEND pupils, too. It considers that schools will be required to focus on all their pupils rather than just borderline children.

The White Paper commits to supporting professionals in schools and colleges to achieve better outcomes for pupils with SEND. There is the promise of greater access to training and support on specific impairments, such as autism and dyslexia. However, the plans for how this might be done are a little vague.

New teachers will be trained to deal with low-level disruption that stops pupils learning. The new behaviour expert, Tom Bennett, has been recruited to review behaviour management in initial teacher training (ITT) and to produce a second report into how to prevent and tackle classroom disruption. Following on from Charlie Taylor, it is hard to see what new revelations there could be.

Character and mental health

It was not surprising that British values, building character, and resilience should receive mention in the White Paper. Concerns about the mental health of pupils have reached the DfE and its response is to build a more resilient nation with a form of national service.

The National Citizen Service (NCS), is a favourite of the DfE and the White Paper, includes plans to expand it. It is proposed that every pupil in the country should have an opportunity to take part and to enable this, £1 billion will be provided over the next four years so that by 2021 it will cover 60% of all 16-year-olds and will become the largest programme of its kind in Europe.

However, they will have a difficult task to make these numbers. Recruitment targets to date for the NCS have regularly been missed. In 2014, there were fewer than 58,000 participants out of a target for the scheme of 80,000 participants. Not everyone completes the course either according to the annual report.

While embracing autonomy, the White Paper also proposes introducing some interventionist projects. It is proposed that 25% of secondary schools extend their school day to include a wider range of activities, such as sports, arts, scouting, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and debating. It is a shame that so much of the expertise developed around extended schools during the previous administration has now been lost.

Provision for all

The DfE has always been clear that provision for SEND is largely an issue of improving what is on offer to all. The White Paper confirms the view that if the education system as a whole advances, then the lot of those with specific needs will follow suit. However, there is evidence from other sources that there are side effects to the standards agenda that are particularly hurting those with needs greater than the rest.

Admissions and exclusions of pupils with SEND are causing concern. It would seem that some schools are using over-subscription criteria and lack of oversight of the LA as an opportunity to change and manage their intake. Not everyone can fit within the DfE’s vision of educational excellence everywhere. The solution seems to be one of either NCS or AP for those who cannot. Solutions that perhaps do not convince us that the White Paper is in the true spirit of an inclusive society.