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Is a generation of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities being short-changed?

31 Dec

A report by the Education Select Committee heavily criticised the government’s approach to the provision it makes for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). Members of the committee agreed with the government’s approach for the SEND reforms of 2014. However, the committee criticised the implementation of these reforms claiming that they were hampered by “poor administration and a challenging funding environment” leading to a “bureaucratic nightmare” for parents.

The Select Committee made a series of recommendations to improve the central administration of SEND provision. These include the following.

  • The health and education government departments should collaborate more to develop “mutually beneficial options for cost and burden-sharing” and prevent opportunities to “pass the buck”.
  • The government should increase the power of the local authorities (LAs) and the social care ombudsman to examine school and academy provision.
  • Provision should be made to bring together special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) in local areas to share best practice, knowledge and training.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) policy should change to allow LAs to open special schools.
  • A system should be set up for parents and schools/academies to report LAs that are acting unlawfully to the DfE.

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Realising the potential of pupils with special needs

12 Aug

In the animal kingdom, the fittest survive whenever the chips are down.   We humans like to think that we are cut above them. However, as reductions in the funding of education have bitten deeper and deeper, the vulnerable – i.e. those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – appear to be suffering more than most.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), a think tank, reported in April 2019 on the outcomes of research in the area. The report mentioned that funding for pupils with SEND had fallen by 17% since 2015.  Northern areas, where the reduction was 22%, had suffered more than the rest of the country.  The funding had not only not kept pace with rising demands, said the research, but also been cut back.  The neglect of pupils with SEND from the incipient stages meant that, if these children had received the right support at the outset, they would not, by now, have such complex needs.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. Jack Hunter, the report’s author, said that since 2015, funding had increased by 11% but demand had gone up by 35%.  In North England, funding increased by 8% but those in need of support by 39%.  IPPR North called on government to view support for SEND pupils as an “investment in our collective well-being and a just economy”.  Hunter wrote about the paucity of support: “This is a moral failure, but it is also a failure to recognise the economic benefits of upfront investment in young people’s futures. For example, supporting one person with a learning disability into employment could increase their (sic) income by between 55% and 95%, and reduce lifetime costs to the taxpayer by at least £170,000.”

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Education, Health and Care Plans replace Statements, but all’s not well with provision for vulnerable children

20 Apr

To comply with the Children and Families Act 2014, pupils who have profound education needs began to be assessed from September 2014 to receive Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).  Since then and till March 2018, EHCPs were maintained alongside statements of special needs – the predecessor system. Statements had been issued prior to the 2014 Act and abandoned on 1 April 2018.   For more on the subject, see the SEND Code of Practice.

Young people aged 16-25, who had severe learning disabilities, were assessed and given Learning Disabilities Assessments (LDAs).   The LDAs were converted to EHCPs by 1 September 2016.

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Pupil Exclusion: Legal Requirements and Good Practice

28 Aug

I           Introduction

The most daunting and challenging aspect of school governance after that of appointing a headteacher, is dealing with the aftermath of a pupil exclusion by the headteacher.  Governors are exhorted to develop policies where all pupils may thrive.  An implicit requirement is the promotion of inclusion. Youngsters should feel part and parcel of the school community, where they are safe and happy.  Yet, it is open to the headteacher to exclude a pupil that does not fall into line with the school’s behaviour policy.   Theoretically, the concept is anathema to the running of an outstanding school.  In fact, Ofsted inspectors raise quizzical eyebrows whenever they make judgements on schools if pupils are ‘turfed’ out routinely.

Yet, there are some pupils, for a multitude of reasons who make it impossible not only for them to thrive but also their peers.  They are disruptive, aggressive, inattentive and, altogether, unwelcome to the school community.   How often have I heard it said that such-and-such a pupil is like a virus or bacterium to the school-body politic and has no place in education.   Yet, we have a legal (if not moral) responsibility to educate all our children – if the parents of a child so choose to have them educated at school (and not otherwise with home-tutoring).

So how can governors deal with this burning issue without getting themselves burnt? At the outset, the governing body has to establish a pupil behaviour policy.  In an academy or a multi-academy trust (MAT), the trust, per se, will determine who is responsible for constructing such a policy.

A good policy will set out the school’s/academy’s expectations of pupils.  It will describe strategies for promoting good behaviour – especially opportunities for children to learn how to live in amity with one another and adults – and the rewards they may expect.

The policy will describe the measures the school will take to bring them to heel where, despite the best efforts of the staff, pupils misbehave.  It will be a hierarchy of sanctions.  In extremis, pupils could be excluded for fixed-term periods, and after that, permanently.

Statutory guidance from the Department for Education states that permanent exclusion should be used as a last resort, when all other methods for promoting the child’s good behaviour fails. It must be lawful, reasonable and fair. The policy should explicitly state the kinds of behaviour which will result in permanent exclusion, such as peddling drugs – in or outside the school – and bringing a weapon to school.

A school may not discriminate on the basis of protected characteristics such as disability, race and/or gender.  It must give particular attention to vulnerable pupils treating them fairly.    It also states that only the headteacher may exclude, unless, of course, s/he is unwell or the post vacant, in which case, the deputy headteacher or acting headteacher is empowered to exclude.  Continue reading

Changes in provision for young people with special needs

25 Aug

I           What are the changes?

Changes in the provision we make to provide for pupils with special educational needs (SENs) in our schools and further education took effect from 1 September 2014.  These arrangements will cover young people from the time they are born to the age of 25 (instead of 18 as it formerly was).

The Department for Education (DfE) issued a new Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) on 30 July 2014 to which all schools, local authorities and health authority must adhere.   The Code is in accord with the Children and Families Act 2014.

The nine important changes in the Code are on pages 13 and 14 of the document. These are as follows.

(a)          There is a clearer focus on the participation of children and young people and their parents/carers in decision-making at individual and strategic levels.

(b)          There is a stronger focus on high aspirations and on improving outcomes for children and young people.

(c)           The Code includes guidance on the joint planning and commissioning of services to ensure the education, health and social care agencies closely co-operate.

(d)          The Code includes guidance on publishing a Local Offer of support for children and young people with SEN or disabilities.

(e)          There is new guidance for education and training settings on taking a graduated approach to identifying and supporting pupils and students with SENs (to replace School Action and School Action Plus).

(f)           For children and young people with more complicated needs a co-ordinated assessment process and the new 0-25 Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan) replace statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs).

(g)          There is a greater focus on support that enables those with SENs to succeed in their education and make a successful transition to adulthood.

(h)          Information is provided on relevant duties under the Equality Act 2010.

(i)            Information is provided on relevant provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Continue reading