This chapter is entitled learning and achieving and focuses on the training available for teachers and others employed in school contexts, identification of SEN, achievements, special schools and BESD.
One of the issues addressed is that of over-identification of SEN as highlighted in the Ofsted review published last autumn: “We intend to tackle the practice of over-identification by replacing the current SEN identification levels of School Action and School Action Plus with a new single school-based SEN category for children whose needs exceed what is normally available in schools…” para 3.6
The first issue addressed is improving teaching by placing more emphasis on SEN in initial teacher training courses, offering more placements in special schools and specialist training resources for post-qualification CPLD. “We also propose to fund scholarships for teachers to develop their practice in supporting disabled pupils and pupils with SEN, including in specific impairments” para 3.14. This emphasis on training and skill building should extend to FE sector.
The roles of school leaders, governors and SENCOs are discussed. LSAs are identified as an important part of the support structure, but not as “substitute for teaching from a qualified teacher” 3.26 and “Children with SEN need more, not less, time with the school’s most skilled and qualified teachers.” It is unfortunate that there is no discussion of the distinction in role between support staff and teachers and of the range of activities involved in education that are not about subject learning, but for many children with SEN/disability are about social and communication skills and life skills where an LSA may well be more qualified than a teacher to address the child’s needs.
There is a strong statement of intent to move away from a culture of low expectations of children with SEN/disability by developing the Achievement for All programme which “has led to schools declassifying children previously classified at School Action, because with a culture of high expectations and provision of personalised school-based support the label itself is not longer necessary” para 3.30. The pupil premium should be used to provide targeted help, including extra one-to-one tuition or catch-up support. Emphasis is also given to literacy and numeracy through the Every Child a Reader and Every Child Counts programmes.
Para 3.38 recognises that for some children and young people, their SEN may emerge once they go to school or when they move from primary to secondary school. Teachers need to be able to differentiate SEN from other barriers to learning which should be addressed in other ways, and their should be a move away from using the term SEN as an excuse for low achievement.
There does seem to be confusion in the way the document is written as to what is SEN and what is low achievement – possibly because some children with SEN are low achievers. But the plan is to develop new measures in performance tables for disadvantaged pupils and the lowest attaining 20% of pupils.
The reclassification of SEN “will mean fewer children are identified as having SEN, while deterring a low expectations culture and allowing teachers and schools to focus on providing the help that every child needs” para 3.44
Four pages of this chapter are devoted to difficult behaviour, behaviour support and BESD.
26% of pupils at School Action Plus and 14% with statements have BESD identified as their primary need.
Attention is drawn to the needs of other pupils with SEN/disability who may be bullied and the greater likelihood of children with SEN/disability being excluded – why these two different aspects are dealt with in a single paragraph is unclear para 3.50.
Para 3.53 recognises that it can be difficult to identify the root causes of behavioural problems and mentions some children may have underlying communication difficulties, but nothing is said about contested diagnoses and the possibility that some of these children may have underlying and undiagnosed SEN/disability such as dyslexia or autism spectrum conditions. It is recognised though that without appropriate support, these children are more likely to be excluded, achieve less well at school and are less likely to proceed to employment or training leading to wider social and financial costs. The emphasis should be on identifying root causes of behaviour difficulties rather than focusing on symptoms.
It is suggested exclusions will be reduced by making the excluding school responsible for the placement and progress of excluded pupils.
A multi-agency assessment is recommended for children that are subject to multiple exclusions without the cause having been ascertained.
At present, 72% of all permanently excluded pupils have an SEN and pupils on SA+ are 20 times more likely to be excluded than pupils with no SEN. Young people with SEN also over-represented in the offender population. Para 3.56.
Over 40% of children with statements (about 1% of school population) attend special schools of one type or another. Document suggests there is scope for increasing the options for special schooling through flexible placements between a mainstream and special school and the development of special free schools.
The final section of the chapter returns to achievement levels.
One of the things that worries me most in this chapter is the apparent focus on academic attainment without seeing the child holistically. One would hope that the move to a Health, Education and Care Plan might lead to a more holistic perspective, but there is little sense of the child other than in a school context except where respite care or special resources are needed.
A further concern is the section on BESD, where there is almost a suggestion that the children with BESD are bullying other children with SEN/disability. The strongest part of this section is the acknowledgment of the need to identify the root causes of BESD rather than just responding to the symptoms.