On a day to day basis, I see how colleagues and other professionals work to improve outcomes for children with SEND but ultimately are governed by funding, resources and decisions in central government.
I, like so many others, work tirelessly every day to improve the outcomes and education of pupils with SEND. My colleagues' plan, differentiate, make resources, deliver interventions, listen, review, and care deeply that these pupils have their needs met. However, over the last four or five years, I have watched as schools have crumbled under the pressure of ever growing and more complex needs coupled with a diminishing budget and vanishing external support. The crisis is real!
It was branded as; “The biggest education reform in a generation for children and young people with special educational needs”. These much talked about reforms became law on Monday 1 September 2014.
The new Children and Families Act also offered simpler, improved and consistent help for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. However, having lived and breathed these reforms I can honestly say that the world as a SENDCo has not changed in the way I was promised.
Pupils and families to have more of a say
The new system aimed to put each young person and their family at the centre of discussions about the support offered. They were indeed right in their thinking about parents knowing their children best and it is without a doubt invaluable to have families sharing their knowledge about how their child is developing. However, why then are parents of children with SEND increasingly locked in prolonged and costly disputes with councils across England who are too often failing to deliver on their legal obligations.
According to the most recent figures, parents are successful in 89% of tribunal hearings, prompting concerns that some local authorities are making poor decisions and delaying vulnerable children’s access to education.
Over the years, I have also seen parents battle with the local authorities to secure the right provision to meet their child’s needs. Appeals heard by the special educational needs and disability tribunal have nearly doubled in the past two years.
Education, health and care plans to replace statements
SEN statements have been replaced with education, health and care (EHC) plan taking children and young people up to the age of 25. From September 2014, new assessments of SEN followed the new rules and support is now provided through an EHC plan. In my experience of annual reviews for these EHC plans it is a rare occurrence for health and care to be represented in person during the annual review.
I fully understand the commitment and hard work displayed by health and social care workers and appreciate the demand on their profession, but the lack of presence during these meetings does often halt progress to the plan. It fails to do what the new reforms set out to do; which was to join up everyone’s support for the child.
It is also my experience that the new EHC plans have new budgetary alignments which in my authority have not been replaced with ‘like for like’ funding and actually have decreased in figures for each child that had a statement and who now has an EHCP. It is without a doubt that young people’s needs are recognised up to the age of 25, but yet again I am not sure budgetary figures were really in a place to deliver this support successfully.
School Action and School Action Plus to end
School Action and School Action Plus intervention schemes that tracked progress, were removed in the new reforms. There is currently a single school-based category for children who need extra specialist support. This in itself was not too much of a change for me as a SENDCo or my school in general.
In fact, it has made me reflect more about how good Quality First Teaching (QFT) was being delivered and gave me a focus for observations and learning walks. It does though make the spectrum of need wide and the level of some support is far weightier than others.
Optional personal budgets for young people
To this day I have never seen a pupil receive a personal budget on their EHC plan, this could be for one of a few reasons; 1. I work in the primary sector and perhaps the secondary EHC plans utilise this new addition more or 2. I work in the mainstream sector and personal budgets may be more prominent in special educational settings. I have never really felt the need at the primary level for the child to need a personal budget but do see the benefit of this as the new reforms deliver support up to the age of 25.
A personal budget was also something that parents could utilise to buy in their own support services and professionals – but as stated earlier I have never seen this being used in either the mainstream setting or specialist provisions I have worked in. My question would be does anyone utilise this system? Was/is there a need for this? Where is it used; does it work? I imagine buying in bulk is cheaper, so if money from personal budgets is pooled, children may receive better quality support in the long run.
Teachers must make sure every pupil makes progress
The new reforms and the new code of practice, make teachers more accountable for the progress of all pupils, even those supported by specialist staff. As part of performance management, teachers are now expected to be judged on how well they teach pupils with SEN. I check my teachers know how to identify SEN and support pupils with different needs, I have also offered far more specialist training as a result of the new code to help with this. However, this was a practice that I completed before the new reforms and was not something new to me in my role.
So, why is the crisis real? If I reflect again on my daily life at school performing the tasks of a SENDCO, I am drowning!
Not because my school are unsupportive, not because the tasks are too difficult, not because I am not working hard…. For me these are the reasons:
- The SEN category of SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health) is growing at an alarming rate.
- The referrals to professionals have extremely long waiting lists.
- The recommendations written in reports by professionals are not always able to be delivered by schools due to constraints on budgets and ‘in-house’ capacity.
- Local authorities are not funded well enough by the central government to allow parents to access the specialist schools and provisions that their child needs.
- SENDCOs and schools are often the ones at the chalk face dealing with all of the issues and at times feel unsupported by local authorities and the system as a whole.
About our Community Expert
Rachel has over 21 years of teaching experience in a range of primary, junior and special provision settings. Rachel has held various leadership roles including Deputy Head Teacher and is currently Head of Inclusion in an outstanding Junior School in Maidenhead. Rachel has held the title of SENDCo for over 20 years and is passionate about helping every individual reach their full potential.
Recently recognised by Ofsted as having the skills to ensure staff take ownership of the support and progress of pupils with SEND, they also praised her ability to imbue staff with a desire to do the right thing for these pupils.
Her drive and ambition continue to improve the exceptional support within her own setting and Rachel’s satisfaction comes from seeing children with SEND thrive.