SEN - a shared responsibility

The coming months are key in the provision of services for children with Special Educational Needs and with disabilities.

The Children and Families Bill, which is widely recognised as the most significant reform to special education provision in the last 30 years, will move to Royal Assent.

The draft Code of Practice relates to Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill providing advice to schools on how to carry out a range of statutory duties to ensure the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are met.

The Bill, and most of the communication around it, is broadly around how resources are allocated and how services are accessed. This is important.

As an SEN campaigner for many years, as a teacher and as the parent of a child with significant specific learning difficulties (SpLD) I know the challenges that parents face on getting appropriate provision for their child. Some examples are available here

It should not be that hard for parents.

Whether the Bill will address these challenges is still up for fierce debate – with some broadly welcoming voices and some less convinced.

Recognising the difficulties facing parents, the Minister last week announced £30million programme to provide support to help families navigate the system

However, what this Bill does not address are two things that remain essential to the best possible outcomes for children from their time at school.

The first is around hearts and minds. Legislation can’t make people care. It can police and encourage but it can’t win over how people feel. Moral purpose - the desire to do best for all children - comes from some place else.

In a system that is on occasion adversarial and often adversarial in perception, the truth is that teachers and schools are not the enemy of progress for children with SEND.

Much of the discussion that I have read on the Bill is on how you force teachers to do the right thing by children; how you ensure that heads allocate resources; how you make teachers do the ‘right thing’.

I am not denying that bad practice exists. I’ve seen it. It needs to be addressed and the sanctions in the Bill and Code can help.

But what my work in this field has shown me is by far the majority of heads, teachers and school staff are driven by an absolute desire to do the right thing by all their children and young people including, and often especially for, those with SEND.

To continue to imply that this is not the case is an injustice to their work and further creates a culture of blame. Those involved in SEND must find time to recognise, acknowledge and reward this commitment and we must continue to raise aspiration, celebrate and share success.

Secondly the Bill, even the Code of Practice, speaks little to where the biggest difference will often be made - in the classroom. Many children with SEND make excellent progress without additional resources because of wonderful differentiated classroom practice that meets their needs.

Where extra resources are needed,and allocated, schools across the country are using evidenced approaches to ensure the best outcomes for the learners that need this additional help.

The Bill may help direct these resources more effectively when they are needed but it will still rely on the school leadership, the teacher and the school staff to deploy them well.

At London Leadership Strategy we are working to address these gaps. Our principle is that knowledge to support school staff to do the best for children and young people with SEND is in the system. It sits within schools, across schools and in the partnerships that schools form with parents and the third sector.

And it is this focus on ‘what works’ – and on celebrating the moral purpose that drives our school leaders – that underpins our first SEN National Conference

Held on 4 March 2014 the event will balance input from policy and politicians (with a keynote from Edward Timpson MP – the Minister in charge of the reforms) with the voice of parents, young people and serving teachers and school leaders.

The conference is led by LLS Director of SEN, David Bartram who has supported over 100 schools to improve outcomes for children with SEN over recent years and worked closely with schools and our third sector partners Scope and National Autistic Society.

The workshops are focused around how to make a real difference – too many events focus on how to help schools tick the boxes around reform without encouraging schools to grasp the nettle and make reform a revolution in provision.

With inspirational input from Jean Gross – government SEN advisor – and chances for schools (school children, school staff and parents) to learn from each other the event looks at SEN from a different perspective combining input from special and mainstream, primary and secondary, third sector, public and private provision and parents and young people.

David’s work on defining the 10 Characteristics of Effective SEND Provision underpins the work of LLS.

Further examples of how schools are making a difference will be published by LLS directly, and in partnership with others over the coming months.

More resources are needed to support children and young people with SEND. More clarity is needed for parents on how they find their way through the system. But once the resources are deployed and provision found, making it work is a team event.

Anita Kerwin-Nye
Managing Director

21st January 2014

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