Be careful what you wish for: parents, professionals and the new SEN system

Some interesting thoughts here, makes me think mainstream schools may need quite a bit of pragmatic support in the year or so to come.


 Rob Webster

The long-awaited Children and Families Bill has now achieved Royal Assent, paving the way for new reforms that will overhaul how the needs of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) are assessed and met.

In September, a new accompanying Code of Practice comes into force, initiating a three-year process of replacing SEN Statements for those with the highest level of need with more comprehensive Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

Families deserve a responsive and efficient SEN system. The changes to statutory assessment (the process leading to an EHCP), which expressly places the child at the centre of consultations with local authorities (LAs), were prompted by, and are designed to address, long-standing concerns relating to parents’ expectations and confidence in the SEN system.

However, parents are still likely to enter the assessment process in the hope of securing one-to-one support from a teaching…

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What should Special Schools do with the Pupil Premium?

Within the context of Mainstream provision, the focus of spending the Pupil Premium funding is firmly on the recommendations of the Sutton Trust’s research.

Now everybody is doing meta cognition.

But Special Schools don’t appear to be included in the research, so who has evaluated the effective use of Pupil Premium in Special Schools, what is considered to be economically sound, high impact practice for children with learning disabilities?

One of the questions that we in Special Education should be considering regarding the use of the Pupil Premium, is the extent to which the socio-economic background of the children is either a greater limiting factor than their learning disability, or the extent to which it provides different barriers to those posed by the learning disability.

The reason for this is that there are questions regarding how, within the context of Special School provision, the additional funding can be utilised in such a way as to have a meaningful impact on individual achievement for those pupils at which it is targeted. This is because the barriers to learning may be primarily developmental rather than socio-economic, and those developmental barriers affect all pupils within the school, not just those from particular social backgrounds.

In essence, learning disability is a social leveller and whilst incidence may be affected by social background, social background does not necessarily influence the impact of the learning disability.

In exploring how we could make best use of the Pupil Premium, how we could add value, we should consider looking beyond the school and beyond the notion of achievement being focussed on the acquisition of skills and knowledge, but also about the application of that which has already been learned, in particular within functional contexts.

This is where the pupils’ socio-economic background may begin to influence their ability to maximise their potential, particularly around the further development of socially appropriate behaviours and socially based communication.

As one example, access to effectively staffed, developmentally and age appropriate social opportunities can be limited, expensive, and potentially logistically challenging for families without private transport. Yet without access to these types of social experiences, there is a risk that children may not be enabled to functionally apply the social and communicative skills being developed in school.

Therefore if we consider that access to suitable social experiences is a barrier to fulfilling pupil potential, then how can we use the Pupil Premium funding to overcome it? Where is our ‘Toolkit’ to guide us and how can we be better held to account for the impact of the funding we are allocated?

Why doesn’t Michael Gove talk about Special Schools?

On the DfE website a search of speeches delivered by the Secretary of State came up with 33 different occasions. It may not be an exhaustive or necessarily complete list and if I have missed some crucial event I’d be delighted to know.

The speeches started with one to the National College on June 16th 2010 and finished with one at the London Academy of Excellence on February 3rd this year.

The speeches themselves are cleverly constructed and quite entertaining. They are well informed, often quite reflective and peppered with references to a wide range of sources both formal and informal. Michael Gove is clearly well read, intelligent and articulate. He covers a wide range of issues relating to a variety of socio-economic groups, geographic locations and school structures. Which is why it is staggering that during the course of reading the 33 speeches the following was the only comment I found which made reference to a Special School.

“For the first time we called for groups to set up special free schools so that children with SEN could have access to more excellent state special schools.”

20th June 2011 at Policy Exchange

He also once referred to the fact that Charlie Taylor formally worked in a Special School and does pass comment on children with SEN in mainstream settings, but having read through 33 speeches covering the last three and a half years, this is the only comment I have found where he shares a view relating to the schools which meet the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable learners,.

Five speeches taken at random were composed of approximately 20,000 words. If we use that figure as a crude average it would mean that the speeches read were made up of nearly 140,000 words. 28 of them were used to comment on Special Schools.

We are the 0.02%

It is not as if the Secretary of State likes to stick to generalities and broad observations. Michael Gove is very keen to reference individual schools and school leaders, bloggers, thinkers and commentators of all kinds and of all political persuasions. He draws on evidence of attainment and opportunity relating to a wide range of disadvantaged groups and make suggestions regading to how their lot can be improved. He talks at length about the importance of educational equality and having aspirations which are inclusive of all, but he doesn’t talk about Special Schools.

Now it is possible that this area is perceived as being the responsibility of Edward Timpson whose portfolio includes the current SEND reforms, but for the state’s educational leader to be so reluctant to comment on an entire sphere of state funded education is deeply concerning.

So why is it that Michael Gove doesn’t talk about Special Schools?

I don’t know the answer to that question and I’m not going to speculate on it, even though I am very tempted to do so. What I do know is that for Michael Gove to so consistently fail to acknowledge the individuals and institutions that work so hard to meet the extremely complex needs of some of society’s most vulnerable people, does not reflect well on him personally or on Government more broadly.

After all this is a man who is skilled in sharing his views and articulating them effectively. I would love to know what he thinks of what we do and the extent to which he values our contribution to the society which he has been elected to serve.

Speeches read in order of delivery:

National College Annual Conference
Westminster Academy
Local Government Association
National Conference of Directors of Children’s Services
Policy Exchange
Royal Society
Durand Academy
National College
Edge Foundation
OFQUAL standards summit
London Early Years Foundation
Twyford C of E High School
Cambridge University
Pension Reforms at Policy Exchange
Education World Forum
Schools Network
Newton Centre for CPD
Brighton College
National College
Spectator Conference
Institute of Public Policy Research
Brighton Conference
Policy Exchange
Mayor of London Education Conference
London Academy of Excellence