Culture shifting

There has been a decent bit of chatter appearing on my Twitter whatever-you-call-it-inboxy-type-thing regarding the drop in numbers of children identified as having SEN since the SEND reforms. I think one of the most important points is that the definition of SEN has not changed, in fact it is potentially wider. Yet numbers are dropping. Why?

There has always been an argument for over-identification and one I would not personally dispute, based on anecdotes and observations. Over-identification may also result in over-issuing of statements. Yet statements, while based on an individual child, also reflected the support existing within the child’s school. Quite a perverse part of the system, issuing a statement based on the skill set of a school’s staff. It is quite ridiculous that a school can refuse to train up staff, or employ staff with certain skills, so that they could either access the additional funding that statements used to bring and/or refuse to take children with SEN. In effect, ‘good’ schools for SEN may find themselves a) penalised for having well-trained and knowledgeable staff and b) fall victim to their popularity as word spreads.

Short scenario.

A child is issued a statement in primary school. At that time, this was correct for the needs & young age. S/he is now looking at high school transfer.

In tribunal, school A (LA choice, local) has 20 pupils with ASD and no ASD qualified staff, school B (parent’s choice, 10miles away) also has 20 pupils with ASD but all staff regularly undertake CPD in ASD. Tribunal finds that school A cannot meet need. School A has been ‘let off the hook’ due to, arguably, disability discrimination by the back door. Additionally, the LA has been left to pick up the tab for transport for the next five years – which is likely be a taxi in a rural area.

To add to the perverseness, school B is ordered because school A cannot meet need and because the child has an existing statement. Yet, because school B has the necessary skill set, a statement may no longer be needed – but the statement is needed purely because without, s/he will no longer be eligible for transport and would have to attend school A. Catch-22. Children without a statement in school A may then need to apply for, and receive a statement. Perhaps perverse is too subtle a word. Anyway, when considering the argument for over-identification, the story is far from simple.

SNJ expressed concern that 2.5% of children suddenly dropped out of the system It seems that a new category of children have emerged – SEN support with no specialist assessment of type of need. It may be fair enough if this was, in reality, a ‘placeholder’ for those students who have yet to undergo assessment, but are likely to require one. A year into the reforms, I’m wondering whether or not this category still exists – if so, why?

I try not to be negative, but I hear a lot of what parents say – and from a wide variety of sources. SNJ wondered if this category was a ‘CBA’ one (can’t be arsed). It seems that the main recipients were those transitioning between Yr 6 and 7, and CBA is effectively what I have been hearing. Many parents are told that they must suck-it-and-see – that high school may be fine, that the child must start there first, that the school must decide, that evidence must be collected and so on and so forth. This is only partly true, based on what I have said above – school’s skill set. I also fear there are a couple more emerging sub categories of CBA – the failure to complete EHCPs anywhere near the statutory time frame and the failure to transition between a LDA and the EHCP.

It is no wonder that parents seek out statements and EHCPs, that they become the Holy Grail, or that LAs are resisting issuing them. Some LAs are resisting with a vengeance. When Dame Warnock produced her report, way back in 1978, we did not have the (identified) range of specific learning difficulties as we do now – dyslexia, Asperger’s, ADHD and so on, these were on the peripheries of the radar. The Warnock report was mainly aimed at the many, quite able children in special schools that could be taught in mainstream with support, perhaps those with cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome for example. And yet, I hear of children with these conditions being refused assessment. I have even heard of parents being told that as the diagnosis of DS was over 12 months ago, it is out-of-date and they must get another one!! On the other side, many children who ought to be supported without a statement or EHCP (many with SpLDs) require one because their school does not have the necessary skills….. and around we go again.

The thing is, in my mind, it should not be about LAs dragging their heels over assessments and issuing EHCPs, it should be about schools skilling up and developing better flexibility within the system. A young child entering school may need an EHCP to get them supported and get their education on track. There may be middle years when no EHCP is required, due to their needs being well-supported, but they may need an EHCP again later, as their ability to learn and move forward falters due to the curriculum/social/emotional demands placed on them. For example, a child with dyslexia may need intensive support early on which allows them to develop good strategies to learn, and intensive support later to cope with subject-specific vocabulary and organisation of their GCSE work. This may also include teaching to use assistive technology and developing ‘normal ways of working’ for exam concessions. These students need more than a 30 minute session with a SENCo once a week/fortnight or an LSA to read and scribe for them. Dyslexia does not disappear/reappear as you walk out of or into an English lesson, it pervades the entire curriculum. The same can be said for other SpLDs. However, once a statement or EHCP is issued, it is closely guarded for fear that the child will no longer be supported. Fair enough, there is a lack of money in the system I hear.

It has been said many times of the reforms that a culture shift needs to happen to make them work. How quickly is this culture shift going to happen if there is no money, or incentive, to skill up?


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