Five areas the government’s SEND review needs to focus on
by Bart Shaw
6th September 2019
We have been researching the SEND system from a range of different angles over the last five years and are therefore delighted that mounting pressure has pushed the government to take action over a system that has reached breaking point.
We believe the review should focus on five key areas and a number of solutions that we have highlighted in our research.
Great news that this review is taking place and good to see some wise people advising the review. Our 2015 report Joining the Dots showed that whilst reforms may have unleashed pockets of innovation, the #SEND system is full of cracks. @AnneHeavey321 https://t.co/mELfxo6XrN https://t.co/ET5kkzS4VG
— Loic (@LoicMnzs) September 6, 2019
1) Local Authority Capacity
Local Authority capacity is the biggest barrier to proper support. Structural reforms have shifted responsibilities around, but a decade of austerity, combined with central government antipathy towards LAs has made it far easier for young people to fall through the gaps.Central government antipathy towards LAs has made it far easier for young people to fall through the gaps Click To Tweet
Administrative staff such as case workers are drowning in EHCP reviews and producing poor quality reviews that in too many cases ride roughshod over young people and their families’ voices without adequately tackling their needs.
Meanwhile specialist services such as speech and language therapists and CAMHS have been paired back with many schools left to shoulder the burden without the additional capacity, support or training they need to meet young peoples’ needs.
When proposing solutions, calling for more funding is sometimes thought of as a cop out. However, the bottom line is, without more funding LAs simply cannot recruit the staff needed to administer the complex paperwork or to communicate properly with families so that EHCPs can genuinely be shaped around individual young people’s needs.When proposing solutions, calling for more funding is sometimes thought of as a cop out. However, the bottom line is, without more funding LAs simply cannot recruit the staff needed to support young people with #SEND Click To Tweet
The government may not be willing to fund LAs to provide specialist services themselves. However the government has a role to play in ensuring there are sufficient specialists to go round- whoever employs them.
As we argued in our Joining the Dots report, the government needs to back LAs to provide the coordination needed to ensure equitable access to specialist support.
2) SEND and exclusion
As we pointed out in our JRF report, unmet special needs lead to exclusions. Nearly half of all permanent exclusions in 2018 were of pupils with an identified SEND. If the government wants to pursue a “tough on behaviour” agenda that supports for Heads in excluding, then this circle needs to be squared when it comes to “world class support for SEND.”
Schools need support if they are to avoid excluding children with SEND, as our “Pushed out Learners” report showed. This involves earlier identification of need, swift administration of EHCPs, and better training on SEND for mainstream teachers.Schools need support if they are to avoid excluding children with #SEND Click To Tweet
3) Tackling recruitment problems in special schools
Demand for places in special schools is increasing at exactly the same time as teacher recruitment shortages are wreaking havoc in schools across the sector. We hear a lot about recruitment and retention problems as a whole, but because the number of special schools is lower, recruitment issues in these schools do not always make the headlines and promotion of careers in the special sector often lags behind (already inadequate) efforts in the mainstream.
One solution would be to facilitate movement between sectors, much like The Difference is attempting to do for teaching in Alternative Provision. The DfE should therefore explicitly promote opportunities in the special schools sector in recruitment campaigns.
This would have a number of benefits beyond just plugging staffing gaps and in no way implies a zero sum game with the special sector ‘taking’ teachers from the mainstream. Instead, our ‘Why Teach?’ research showed the range of factors that can drive people to explore careers in teaching and different recruitment messages and opportunities will therefore appeal to different audiences. Recruitment campaigns highlighting opportunities in special schools could therefore appeal to individuals who may otherwise not have considered teaching at all.
Secondly, movement between sectors would ensure a range of skills and experiences are available in both special and mainstream schools, with all teachers’ pedagogical skills and professionalism enriched as a result.
4) Specialist teachers in mainstream schools
Whilst all staff working in mainstream schools need enhanced training and development on SEND, it is important that mainstream schools have skilled specialist staff who are able to support some of pupils with the more complex needs who may, in the past, have been educated outside of the mainstream.
Teaching Assistants, as well as SENCOs and other specialist leaders are likely to be part of the solution in many mainstream schools. Unfortunately, current rumours that the government believing there are too many Teaching Assistants could worsen the situation. As Rob Webster of UCL points out:
“Cutting the number of TAs creates much bigger problems not very far down the line. We’ve built our systems of support for children with special educational needs around the employment of these people in schools. TAs are like the mortar in the brickwork. They are what is holding the school together in a way that does not often get seen.”
Any plans to cut back on TAs therefore need to be put on hold until this review is completed and revisited in light of its findings.
5) Linking education and health and social care
Schools cannot respond to more complex SEND alone. It is crucial that schools, health and social care services are better co-ordinated, both at a strategic level in local areas, and on the ground. Teachers, health-care professionals and social workers must be helped to communicate better with each other, and with families, so that each has an accurate understanding of a young person’s needs and abilities.
This review makes a welcome commitment to improving multi-agency working. However too often multi-agency working just involves additional steering groups. This review must look at how practitioners can be given the time to work together in meaningful ways, for example through shared training.
This review is welcome news, however it is crucial that it is insulated from the current political, constitutional and social turmoil.
Any hint of young people with SEND and their families being treated as pawns in a political game would be wholly inappropriate.#SEND review needs to be insulated from the current political, constitutional and social turmoil. Any hint of young people with SEND and their families being treated as pawns in a political game would be wholly inappropriate. Click To Tweet