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New School Year – a Time for Resolutions?

 Jessica NashIn this blog, Jessica Nash, Head of Special Schools Network and SEN, highlights how the revised SEND Code needs to be aligned with wider school performance guidance… effective change management by SENCos relies on engaging the wider school community

The start of the new school year is often a time when we make resolutions about our working patterns – those individual promises you make to yourself, about working smarter, being better organised and securing greater impact, alongside continuing to build your knowledge and expertise.

At the start of this school year, those leading on SEND will still be absorbing the implications of the revised SEND Code of Practice and setting about implementing and managing the necessary changes. Such ‘new year resolutions’ will be even more significant than usual.

The revised SEND Code signals a shift in thinking around the SENCo role. The Code calls for an integrated, whole school approach for SEND learners, which means that SENCos will need to:

  • inform the strategic decisions made by the headteacher and governors about the development of the SEND policy and provision in school
  • coordinate the delivery of specific provision for SEND learners who will now be in the School Support category, as well as those with a statement or eligible for assessment for an EHC Plan
  • provide professional guidance to colleagues and parents, and work effectively with other agencies.

These strands of responsibility are the non-negotiable accountabilities going forward. But exercised in the spirit of the revised SEND Code, they can also be your resource and support you to implement the changes required across the school. Your first steps of implementation will be critical if the wider resource – the combined professionalism of all staff in the school – is to be harnessed. You might consider the following as you define your approach:

1. Have senior leaders and governors discussed the implications? Have they agreed with the whole staff their role in supporting your change management plan?

2. Has the school information report been uploaded? Have you designed how will it be used to share information with parents/carers?

3. Have you planned how the wider staff group, including non-teaching staff, will be briefed on the changes? Which aspects of existing practice can help shape the graduated response? What are the next steps to ensure it fully develops?

4. How can start-of-year baseline assessments support your review of recipient pupils of School Action and School Action Plus, to make sure that only those with SEND are recorded in the new School Support category?

5. How will middle leaders share their analysis of progress data to reach a consensus regarding the frequently occurring SEND in your school? What is the process for using this to inform staff development planning?

These suggestions are clearly only a selection of what’s on the SENCo’s management plan but they do show how important it is to build a whole school approach to the revised SEND Code from the outset.

SENCos will experience variety in levels of engagement. Some will be enjoying proactive support from across their school community, others will have to work harder for their message to be heard and/or understood. In such instances, it’s probably helpful to think about the broader context of this SEND reform. By aligning the key expectations of the SEND Code with wider school performance guidance, it’s more likely that the significance of the SEND changes will be recognised and acted on.

For example, consider paragraph 193 in Ofsted’s School inspection handbook:

Inspectors will consider how the school uses assessment information to identify pupils who are falling behind in their learning or who need additional support to reach their full potential, including the most able.

This expectation links directly with the first two stages of the graduated approach – assess and plan. It also provides impetus for an integrated approach to data analysis across the school, as well as being a driver against inappropriate or over-identification of a special educational need.

Similarly, paragraph 150:

Inspectors see a range of curricula across schools. Schools may develop their own curriculum to respond to the particular needs of their pupils and ensure that they all achieve their potential.

This promotes a joined-up approach to overcoming barriers to learning. Subject leadership of curriculum design and lesson planning based on trends in pupil level data becomes as important as the possible SEND interventions.

Finally, the SEND Code is itself unequivocal on the centrality of teacher quality – another strand that should support SENCos in bringing the whole staff on board. Paragraph 6.37 of the Code states:

High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN. Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching. Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for all pupils, including those at risk of underachievement. This includes reviewing and, where necessary, improving, teachers’ understanding of strategies to identify and support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of the SEN most frequently encountered.

The constraints of school budgets also reinforce the necessity of teacher quality. Since April 2014, there’s been a national threshold of £10,000 available for individual pupils with additional needs. The financial strain comes where the universal or Wave 1 quality of teaching fails to meet the needs of a significant number of pupils, resulting in them requiring more costly additional interventions. Both the SEND Code and Ofsted now expect transparent and robust evaluation of the impact of SEND interventions. Paragraph 56 of Ofsted’s Subsidiary guidance of April 2014 outlines that inspectors should ‘note whether pupils who receive additional intervention are demonstrating accelerated or sustained progress – this would indicate whether the intervention is effective’. The imperative to improve or enhance the quality of teaching certainly becomes a shared agenda when whole school budget management ‘meets’ school performance evidence and is reflected by the SEND Code guidance.

SENCos, this reform provides a chance to highlight to your colleagues the elements of the SEND Code which rely on collective improvement planning – and in doing so, enable them to help you deliver your responsibilities.

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