In a letter to chief education officers and directors of children’s services (12 January 2006), secretary of state for education and skills, Ruth Kelly, has called upon local authorities to act upon problems associated with SEN-related bureaucracy.

Drawing on advice from the Implementation Review Unit (IRU) outlined in its second annual report*, she urges local authority leaders to: ‘Look critically at your systems of planning, assessing, reviewing and making provision for children with SEN to see how you can remove unnecessary paperwork and demands on schools, whilst maintaining proper accountability that is vital in protecting children’s entitlements and promoting partnerships with parents.’

Specific advice on how to avoid the duplication of evidence when schools are seeking support for pupils through the statutory assessment process is outlined (based on guidance in the SEN Code of Practice, paras 7:47 to 7:49) as an example of how unnecessary bureaucracy should be challenged. Further advice is offered on administration associated with SEN provision: ‘As you develop, with schools, plans for workforce remodelling, I would like you to identify administrative tasks concerned with special educational needs that could be carried out by staff other than qualified teachers.’

What this really means is open to debate. From the perspective of SENCOs, it could imply that the ‘role’ could be carried out by someone other than a qualified teacher, and this is a matter of concern to many educational professionals. On the other hand, it could mean that the role of the SENCO should be more carefully aligned with strategic management and leadership, with day-to-day support for administration provided by non-teaching staff. This latter interpretation would be welcomed by many educational professionals and be in accordance with the very clear advice on this matter provided by the IRU (see this month’s Professional update). However, the absence of any reference to enhancing the role of the SENCO by the secretary of state is worrying and suggests that aspects of workforce remodelling could have devastating effects on the quality of SEN provision in schools.

Ruth Kelly’s letter concludes with reference to measures being taken by the DfES to reduce bureaucracy:

  • The promotion of alternative approaches to Individual Education Plans for effective target setting, planning and monitoring outcomes. These include the use of provision mapping and differentiated approaches to teaching within the National Strategies
  • Work with local authorities and SEN Regional Partnerships (SENRPs) to review the processes for annual reviews of pupils’ statements so that schools have fewer tasks to do. Findings from this development work will be disseminated through SENRPs.

Feedback will be two-way – between SEN professionals in local authorities and the DfES – and facilitated by SEN regional advisers.