The Implementation Review Unit (IRU) reviewed progress made towards reducing bureaucracy and paperwork associated with special educational needs policy, practice and provision in its second annual report published in July 2005. The report noted that despite positive recommendations made by the Cabinet Office/DfES review of SEN, efforts to support schools in reducing bureaucracy had not had much impact. This article outlines key areas identified in the report, where change can impact positively on the work of schools, and the role that local authorities can play in supporting them.

1. Alternative approaches to Individual Education Plans
The DfES has encouraged schools and local authorities to consider alternative planning and recording approaches in place of Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Sources of guidance

  • The guidance in the SEN toolkit on managing IEPs, group planning and alternative approaches to recording and reporting
  • The national strategies guidance on provision mapping as an alternative
  • The Management Guide for SENCOs, produced by the National Primary Strategy in 2003, which sets out when it may not be appropriate to use IEPs
  • Maximising Attainment: ensuring the attainment of pupils with SEN, produced by the KS3 strategy this year, which also sets out clearly when it is appropriate not to use IEPs.

What the DfES is doing

  • working with Ofsted to ensure that the new school inspection arrangements reinforce effective rather than bureaucratic practice
  • raising the issue with local authority officers via their team of SEN advisers
  • continuing to work with national strategy colleagues and SEN regional partnerships to promote provision mapping.

2. Annual review process
Work is under way in four SEN regional partnerships to assess the annual review process, with the aim of identifying ways of reducing school paperwork while safeguarding individual children’s needs and parents’ rights, and considering how best to involve pupils.

What the DfES should do
Make every effort to promote the lessons of this work as widely and as vigorously as possible. Schools to respond accordingly.

3. Strengthening the SENCO role
Dealing with special educational needs is a challenge for every teacher every day. We know that the department shares our view that in general SENCOs are still spending too much time on paperwork at the expense of guiding other members of the school’s leadership and workforce on effective practice. We welcome the department’s intention to reinforce the importance of the leadership role of SENCOs in their messages to schools and local authorities.

DfES plans

  • a series of focus groups for SENCOs to identify effective practice and potential solutions to practical issues, with the results disseminated through the SEN regional partnerships and National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN) publications
  • joint development with the secondary national strategy of a management guide for school SEN and disability managers (to include special schools) which will build upon the results of the review of good practice and include advice on the management of additional adults working with SEN pupils
  • raising this issue with the National College for School Leadership, to ensure that leadership programmes for heads and governors reinforce a better understanding of the benefits of using SENCOs in a strategic role across the school rather than spending time on paperwork.

4. Tackling bureaucracy at local authority level

DfES messages to LEAs/LAs

  • They have a clear responsibility to reduce reliance on statements.
  • By delegating more resources for SEN directly to schools, there will be greater capacity in schools to promote earlier intervention, which should reduce the need for statements and associated bureaucracy.
  • It should mean less paperwork.
  • The overall number of statements has fallen and there has been a significant reduction in the number of new statements, from 36,200 in 1998 to 26,000 (provisional data) in 2004.
  • The SEN advisers(DfES appointed staff with a regional remit) report that nearly all the local authorities they have visited have plans to further reduce their reliance on statements, and the advisers will proactively challenge any local authorities with high rates of statementing that are struggling to make progress in this area.

The comments on ‘work in progress’, and recommendations for further change and development in the IRU report make interesting reading. The secretary of state for education and skills (see this month’s lead story on page 1) has recently offered a government view of progress and identified some priorities for further action. However, major questions remain ‘in the air’. The first of these regards the future role and status of SENCOs. The IRU’s perspective on strengthening the role of the SENCO does not seem to reflect the view currently emanating from within the DfES, one that seems to downgrade the role.

There is also, little or no evidence that SENCOs are being consulted on a systematic basis about aspects of effective SEN coordination. The second question concerns reducing the reliance on statements. Moves towards doing this may well be laudable, but do not always seem to be taking place in accordance with the SEN statutory framework. Both of these questions highlight concerns about the strategic direction of current SEN policy, and it is hoped that the Select Committee of Inquiry into SEN will address these.

The Implementation Review Unit Annual Report 2004-5: Reducing bureaucracy in schools – progress made, challenges ahead is the second annual report produced by Implementation Review Unit (IRU).