It’s been 18 months since the 2017 general election. This means 18 months have passed since we unveiled the first DYT policy campaign, with our pledge requests to policy-makers to make learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) a priority. With 2018 coming to an end, now is the perfect time to look back on our campaign and reflect on what has been achieved and where we need to continue to advocate.

Since launching the campaign, we have been busy trying to maximise its impact, among our public affairs highlights in this period includes:

  • Sharing a panel with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds
  • Meeting the then Children and Families Minister, Robert Goodwill and two Shadow Education Ministers from the Labour party to discuss our campaign
  • Having all five of our campaign pledges endorsed by the Liberal Democrats
  • Meeting with a further seven MPs to discuss making SEND a priority
  • Giving evidence to the Education Select Committee on Alternative Provision and Exclusions
  • Presenting at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dyslexia and Specific Learning Difficulties on specialist teachers and KS2 assessments.

So, how has this translated to real world policy making?

2018 has been a slow time for education policy as Brexit dominates the political discourse and the Department had to adjust to yet more ministerial changes. I predicted in January that Damian Hinds’ appointment would largely bring stability, and this has largely proven to be the case with his bid to improve relations with the teaching profession and focus on social mobility remaining the central tenants of the DfE in 2018.

However, Hinds has been a welcome ally to the SEND sector. Back in July he made a speech to the children’s services sector making clear that “every school is a school for pupils with SEND, and every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils.” This has been one of many developments in the sector to suggest our campaign to raise the profile of this issue is succeeding.

In addition, the Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into SEND which has seen Parliamentarians raise the issue more often and Ofsted’s Annual Report has placed a significant focus on SEND.

This pledge was in reaction to the government’s policy to expand selective education. Following the loss of their majority the green paper was quietly dropped. However, £50 million has still been awarded to a 16 grammar schools growth fund. We will continue to make the case against selective education.

Another key issue that has dominated the headlines has been the topic of school exclusions, we have been clear about our worry that SEND learners are seven times more likely to be excluded than their peers. In this regard there has been progress in the Education Committee’s punchy report on alternative provision and in the DfE commissioned Timpson Review that will advise the government on steps it can take to reduce the rise in exclusions.

The issue that has most gripped the sector in the last year is school funding. Following the Chancellor’s “little extras” faux pas in his Budget, educationalists have highlighted the lack of funding of both the schools and high needs block. DYT joined 120 organisations in calling for the government to address these issues, although this has not yet had the desired impact, there is some good news to report on.

In early 2019, the DfE will conduct an evidence-gathering exercise on the operation and use of mainstream schools’ notional SEN budget, which pays for the costs of special educational provision up to £6,000. DfE will also commission a long-term research package assessing the value for money of SEND provision.

The DfE’s consultation into Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and career progression allowed us to make the point that SEND needs to be built into teacher professional development. The DfE have committed to build on existing SEND specialist qualifications and to develop a continuum of learning from ITT, through teachers’ early careers and into specialist and leadership roles in support of the upcoming Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. We look forward to seeing this take shape in 2019.

2018 was a quieter year for assessment reform, the DfE responded to the Rochford Review and introduced a new times tables check. The high stakes accountability of exams remains a pressing issue with SEND pupils being marginalised by the focus on reading, writing and maths in primary and the EBaCC subjects at secondary. Although Ofsted’s new inspection framework may make strides to improve this, it is likely to remain a key political point in 2019.

Overall, in the last 18 months we have seen SEND become the pressing issue in Westminster it needs to be, major stakeholders are now recognising the scale of the problem and we have seen some positive actions for change. The next year will require us to keep us this momentum as we have much further to go.