Joining the dots in the SEND and AP Green Paper
The government’s long awaited review into SEND and AP promises levelling up opportunities for all children and young people that are no less ambitious for those with SEND.
Many of us will recall the same optimism and aspiration that accompanied the 2014 reforms and the greater disappointment that they did not achieve their founding vision. A year after the reforms had been implement DYT commissioned, what is now, the Centre for Education and Youth to understand how implementation was going and whether there were any early indicators of success and failures.
The report, joining the dots, was the first amongst many subsequent reports and reviews to identify the systemwide barriers to successful implementation. The report noted the many examples of high-quality provision had emerged in response to the reforms, often driven by strong partnerships, well-managed change and skilled, impassioned leadership. However, crucially joining the dots concluded that the ‘fragmented’ nature of the SEND system was leading to difficulties in sharing information and knowledge. As a result, many children and young people do not receive the support they deserve and gaps in the system lead to wasted resources as well as disconnected or duplicated services.
Below I reflected on our findings from 2015 alongside the latest green paper on those issues that matter most to DYT, identification and assessment, teacher training and accountability.
Identification and Assessment
Back in 2015 we found considerable variations in consistency of identification across local authorities. More recent evidence from the Education Policy Institute found something similar within schools. Getting identification and assessment right for pupils with SEND is the issue for the system in my view. The proposals pick this up in relation to early years settings, which is a great place to start.
Government has already set out plans to deliver SENCo training to 5,000 settings but there are questions about how effective this training will be where identification is concerned. Some of the government funded courses which provide accredited training in this area provide, include just 12.5 days of training, which is just not enough.
The EYFS progress check could also provide opportunities for identifying when children meet typical development milestones and responded accordingly. However, if the check becomes just another accountability measure, as with the phonics screening check, settings risk prioritising this assessment over a more holistic view of a child’s starting points.
Having access to the necessary specialist support will also be critical and we are aware of the availability and accessibility of those in other areas.
To strengthen provision in these settings government should:
- Strengthen and clarify national standards required prior to applying a SEND label to a child, for example by making clear that measures with poor validity/reliability are insufficient. This is achievable by making psychometric testing and data analysis central to any future SENCO NPQ programme.
- Ring-fence funding to ensure access to high quality assessment tools and programmes which support young children, especially in relation to speech and language in EYFS.
- Local inclusion plans need to ensure they include information about specialists for all the areas of need, not just those employed in local authority teams.
The extent to which the schools’ workforce is equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills to teach children with SEND is a key determinant of their future outcomes. The proposals, backed by evidence from the EEF and others, embrace this position and as such teacher training will be key to achieving the levelling-up target of 90% of pupils leaving primary school secure in literacy and maths.
In many respects, reforms to teacher training have outpaced those in scope and scale of the SEND system. As far back as 2013 DYT in its Fish in the Tree report have been calling for more time in initial teacher training to be dedicated to pupils with SEND. Further, in joining the dots, we also reflected on the quality of CPD, which is an area that has only recently received the attention it deserves.
The proposals talk about the developments to teacher training in recent years, including in ITT and the ECF and the addition of new NPQs. However, rather than seeing these as complete, government needs to continue to develop its frameworks to ensure they are fit for purpose.
So, the government should:
- Adapt the Early Career Framework so that teachers in every subject and across all phases are secure in teaching core subject areas such as literacy. Teaching literacy across all key stages should be broad, creative and inclusive. Early career teachers should be encouraged to include good quality texts and cultural experiences and able to deploy a range of approaches based on pupils’ starting points, as a more inclusive approach. Teachers will need CPD and resources that help them make the most of talk, books, experiences, culture and local organisations to achieve this.
The consultation document points to other training initiatives but only asks about changes to SENCo training, moving away from the national award for SEN toward school leader-style NPQs. This is a positive move and should give many more teachers the opportunity to take on the SENCo role without fear of ending up in a professional cul-de-sac.
The central theme to joining the dots was the idea that system fragmentation was behind a lot of the duplication and inefficiencies, which also obscured true lines of accountability. The proposals talk about the importance of system and local level accountability continuing a trend of highlighting this as an issue and pointing to new Regions Groups to oversee the performance of local authorities and MATs. Additional layers of accountability are welcome, but it is not clear what ‘teeth’ these groups will have and whether they can proactively encourage system wide innovation.
Government has a variety of mechanism to strengthen system wide accountability. Funding agreements, better data, dashboards and local/national groups of oversight will all help and look to be a positive step forward. But as is the case now, the biggest issue with accountability is the lack of consequences for failing statutory duties. Local authorities have significant weaknesses, as outlined in local area inspections, and there will not be quick fixes. I still believe schools and Trusts should be given a bigger role in the deployment of specialists and the money to pay for them. Dealing with the very real conflict of interest which sits at the heart of the LA led system is the single biggest omission in these proposals.
In my view, there is a great deal in these proposals that could help schools and consequently young people and their families. Of course as with the 2014 reforms all of it will hinge on the quality and clarity of the statutory guidance which will eventually emerge and whether there is sufficient interest in making change happen.
The implementation of reforms has a very chequered history and as we rightly identified in joining the dots it is often wider education and school reform which have the biggest impact on pupils with SEND and the support they receive. The schools’ white paper, educational funding and the quality of our schools and teachers is therefore just as important to improving quality of education. change in unlikely to come quickly and certainly not soon enough for children and their families. As ever, it will be for leaders in schools, local authorities and other agencies to make this happen.