SEND reform: how ready are local authorities – and how ready is your school?

Jessica Nash, Head of Special Schools Network and SEN, writes…

Ofsted released its Evaluation of local areas’ readiness for the implementation of the disability and special educational needs reforms on 17 December, along with Edward Timpson’s announcement of £31.7m further funding to help implement the changes to the SEN and disability system.

Although this document reports on Ofsted’s survey of local authority progress, it highlights key issues which I think are relevant for school practice. It’s reasonable to suggest that the recommendations for local authorities also signal priority areas for SENCos leading on implementation in their schools.

The key issues for LAs – which will also be high on the DfE radar – include participation of children and young people, and their parents and carers. Together with effective monitoring of outcomes, early intervention and timely support, and a clearly communicated local offer.

These key issues link to specific areas of concern highlighted by Ofsted which certainly have direct implications for schools, namely:

  1. monitoring the impact of early intervention
  2. developing a shared understanding of what constitutes ‘good progress’ for the lowest attaining children and young people and in personal and social skills development
  3. how early years providers, schools and colleges work in partnership with the local authority and social care and health services to identify and effectively meet needs
  4. ensuring improved outcomes in health and social care
  5. the development of personal budgets

It’s not a huge leap to make the links, especially between a and b, in terms of whole-school performance improvement planning and indeed Ofsted’s current evaluation schedule.

Successful schools have long been including some groups of learners with additional needs in performance review and improvement – those described as FSM, low attainers plus other groups identified by school data analysis. How explicitly do those with SEN (additional) needs feature alongside these vulnerable groups?

This Ofsted report, though focused on local authorities, actually provides the impetus for SENCos to reassert a whole-school response to the SEN reforms: rather than seeking to modify the SEN arrangements in place since the 2001 Code of Practice, they can use the school development activities underway, largely in response to curriculum and assessment reform.

For example:

  • What are the predominant special educational needs in your school population? What are the characteristics of teaching and the learning environment that can support low level needs across the four broad areas in every classroom in your school? There are a range of downloadable toolkits that can inform the debate on the quality of Wave 1 provision in your school:
  • What adjustments need to be made to ensure that the systems for evaluating the quality of teaching and learning (observations, learning walks, coaching conversations etc.) report on these components to support pupils with additional needs across Wave 1 provision?
  • When is it appropriate to analyse staff appraisal summaries to identify the priorities for knowledge and skills development in relation to your school pupil population, based on achievement and attainment?
  • Will the data on achievement and attainment for all learners with additional needs regularly inform subject and senior leadership reviews on improvement priorities?
  • How does the advice available nationally via the toolkits on meeting special educational needs actually influence curriculum re-design?

Explore questions and responses to SEN reform at SSAT’s SENCo Conference – Squaring the new SEN Code to be inspection ready, Friday 27 February, The Studio, Birmingham.

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