The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

SEND reforms implementation: for better or worse?

A humble SENCO's honest appraisal of the progress we've made over the last four years.

1 April 2018 was a significant date, circled on calendars and etched into memories, for one reason: the end of the implementation period for the SEND Reforms. Or so we thought…

There are many ‘old’ Statements of SEN that have not been transferred to EHCPs and, more worryingly, numerous illegal EHCPs that haven’t been lawfully transferred as part of the transition process.

No child or young person should lose their Statement of SEN and not have it replaced with an EHCP simply because the system is changing.

'The vast majority of local authorities are using EHCPs to cut provision from what was in a child's SEN statement,' Imogen Jolley, head of Simpson Millar’s education and community care team said in an article for the Law Soviety Gazette.

‘There appears to be greater use of generic approaches so there is less consideration of the child’s individual needs. I was also told by one council that its policy is only to issue plans that don’t accrue any additional funding.’

A history of reform

Early on the in transition process I was quite upbeat, buoyed by the thought that a renewed approach to SEND provision, along with good quality health and social care being delivered as part of joint responsibility through EHCPs, would improve outcomes for learners. We worked really hard with families to develop a collaborative approach and worked on establishing a co-produced model working with tighter budgets and reduced resources.

The initial promise of the SEND reforms has been replaced with confusion, frustration and delays. The system works well for no one, least of all our children and young people.

More recently I have considered at great length how we might improve this ‘broken system’ and tried hard to remain solution-focused and ethical in my approach to supporting families and advocating for young people.

I have a positive outlook to most challenges, which could be one of the reasons why young people with EHCPs at my school achieve so much and NEETs figures demonstrate purposeful preparation for adulthood.

However, we need to be realistic and recognise the compounding pressures on schools and families, such as:

Progress so far

I have personally chaired over 70 EHCP transition reviews during the past years of implementation. I am pleased to say that as of 1 April, we have 52 EHCPs and only two Statements remaing, for both of these we are awaiting draft EHCPs from a neighbouring LA.

Perhaps most important though is that all these have been lawful transitions (including EP advice). Something I take great pride in saying we have been able to achieve for our young people and their families.

However, this has been down to a reallocation of our resources, which in turn means pupils identified at School Support Stage have reduced access to the level of assessment, provision and services we would like. Improving outcomes for these pupils is a renewed focus for us as a school over the coming term and year ahead – look out for future posts detailing our approach to this work.

This is a significant issue for schools in England, often overshadowed by EHCPs and the wider reform issues highlighted above, but in essence means that our EP service can now refocus work for the wider cohort of SEND pupils, not ‘propping up’ the reform processes in ensuring lawful transitions.

One can argue about the responsibility of LAs (as I have many times) but during these last few years of implementation, our priority was working hard with families in securing the best possible outcomes. Trying to ensure we influence what makes a real difference for young people here and now, as part of this system, has been incredibly hard.

Steps forward

I am conscious of my limited influence, and of the time it takes to effect change. As a SENCO we are always prioritising and making tough decisions – there simply is never enough time. However, I remain focused on high impact provision and improved outcomes and in doing so have been thinking hard about my priorities and how this personal experience can support other colleagues at this time.

My five recommendations for SENCO action are as follows:

  1. Tell Special Needs Jungle about what funding cuts look like where you live/work.
  2. Remember that the law trumps all, and knowing the law will help you in working with families – securing better outcomes without the need for tribunal.
  3. Work closely with your link SEND governor to make sure that SEND remains high on the school's agenda.
  4. Invest in positive co-production – joint approaches with families is a strong position to work from, not forgetting seeking the views of the young people themselves.
  5. Look at how you can undertake a SEND review at your school using my free three-stage plan.

There is no doubt that the current picture is bleak, but through this blog and the amazing work of others we can share ideas, focus on the reality of the situation and, perhaps most importantly, prioritise our time for maximum impact.

Over the next few weeks, more practical and ‘real-life’ examples of what I think we can do will follow, make sure you keep checking the blog for updates. After working with many families, speaking at national events and hearing directly from SENCO colleagues and headteachers, securing good outcomes for SEND pupils has, arguably, never been so tough.

But it is always important to remember that working together we are strong, and being able to prioritise as a SENCO has never been more important.

Further reading

Mythbusting SEND: why the law trumps all

Transition resources from IPSEA

‘SEN: learning to fight’ (Law Society Gazette, 2018)

How to use the law to fight LA SEND cuts

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