Tags: SEN | SENCO | SENCOs | Standards

The reforms put forward in the government’s latest education white paper continue to generate controversy. Below we highlight the proposals which are most directly of interest to SENCOs.

The new white paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, proposes to establish ‘Trust’ schools which will have the freedoms and flexibilities that self-governing (foundation) schools currently enjoy – creating, in effect, independent state schools. Consequences for SENCOs in changing schools include their role in personalised learning, particularly for children who fall behind, and children with special educational needs and disabilities. Proposals for the altered status of LEAs, which currently provide support for SENCOs in assessment, specialist teaching and professional development, are also clearly relevant.

Personalised learning SENCOs will already be involved in some of the processes through which the white paper proposes, in its chapter on personalised learning, ‘to transform the support available to every child’. These processes include: – ensuring that children who fall behind in English or maths receive intensive support to help them catch up, and those that have a particular gift or talent receive extra challenge. – using extended schools to give all children access to extra support or tuition in particular subject areas and other activities where they have a particular interest or aptitude. – providing every school with support and guidance on tailoring their teaching, including using trained, leading teachers. – ensuring that schools have expert advice on how to support pupils facing particular challenges including those from black and minority groups, disabled children, looked-after children, and children with special educational needs.

– widening curriculum choice in secondary education, so that more young people are motivated by study that stretches and interests them.

Personalisation is claimed to be the key to tackling persistent achievement gaps between different social and ethnic groups. For SENCOs, this could help them in encouraging inclusive strategies. According to the white paper, personalisation means ‘a tailored education for every child and young person’, which combines: – extra small group or one-to-one tuition for those that need it, not as a substitute for excellent whole-class teaching, but as an integrated part of the child’s learning. – opportunities for all children to get extra support and tuition in subjects and activities they are interested in, as well as access to a range of opportunities beyond the school day, including weekend and holiday courses and online learning. – exciting whole-class teaching, which gets the best from every child. – setting or grouping children of similar ability and attainment. – a rich, flexible and accessible curriculum and, for older pupils, one that allows them to mix academic and vocational learning

– innovative use of ICT, both in the classroom and linking the classroom and home.

The white paper insists that mastering literacy and numeracy must be the first priority for every child and every school

Children who fall behind The white paper insists that mastering literacy and numeracy must be the first priority for every child and every school. It argues that small group tuition can offer low-attaining pupils coaching and support sessions with an expert teacher or mentor to consolidate their learning from lessons; to agree personal learning targets; and to gain confidence and motivation through working with a small number of their peers. SENCOs are certain to be engaged in helping to meet the requirement that ‘every school will be expected to devote intensive support for those who have fallen behind in literacy and numeracy with small group or, where necessary, one-to-one tuition to provide effective support for catch-up.’

In each chapter the white paper offers brief vignettes based on current examples of good practice. With regard to helping children who fall behind, it cites Leighton Primary School’s investment in specific training for teachers in literacy and reading and the core role played by its special educational needs coordinator. The SENCO now provides small group and individual tuition in literacy for selected children in years 1 and 2, complementing the teaching they receive during the literacy hour. She also trains parents and staff in accredited reading courses and has developed opportunities for community and family learning in partnership with the local FE college. Over time this rigorous focus has reaped dividends. In 2000, only half the children achieved level 4 or above in English in their key stage 2 tests; in 2005 every child did so.

In the foundation stage and at key stage 1, the white paper notes the piloting of new approaches to intensive support with reading based on the experience of the successful Reading Recovery programme and the Every Child a Reader project. The white paper emphasises the priority which needs to be given to children aged between 11 and 14 in key stage 3, because of the real danger that children’s motivation and confidence can drop and their learning stall.

The white paper indicates that by no means all children with special educational needs are falling behind: many are meeting and exceeding expectations. However, some children who have fallen behind do have SEN: 65% of pupils at age 11 who do not attain the expected level in English, and 55% of those not attaining the expected level in maths, are identified as having SEN.

Children with SEN SENCOs will be encouraged to find that the white paper accepts that children and young people with SEN already benefit from the personalisation inherent in the SEN framework, which ‘provides an individualised assessment of need and tailored provision’. In addition, statements ensure, where appropriate, access to the school and to other services, which can best meet the needs of the pupil. The white paper acknowledges that children and young people with SEN already benefit from the personalisation inherent in the SEN framework, which provides an individualised assessment of need and tailored provision. The white paper aims to build on the SEN strategy, Removing Barriers to Achievement, in promoting a more effectively tailored education for all children with SEN by proposing to: – increase the sharing of expertise between special and mainstream schools, using programmes such as Building Schools for the Future, to enable special and mainstream schools to work more closely together, offering specialist support, high standards of teaching and effective social inclusion, irrespective of where pupils are taught;

– equip the school workforce with appropriate skills, knowledge, awareness and confidence in working with children and young people with SEN; and promote more effective measurement of and accountability for the progress made by pupils with SEN across a wide range of abilities, facilitating early intervention and high expectations.

More special schools will be encouraged to apply for a curriculum specialism, with a view to being able to designate around a further 50 special schools by 2008. An evaluation will compare the respective strengths of special schools with a curriculum or an SEN specialism to inform the roll-out of programmes beyond 2008.

An additional SEN role may be especially attractive to some mainstream schools. High-performing specialist schools would be able to take on additional functions to lead the way in system-wide reform.

Supporting children with special educational needs and disability SENCOs, who are often a school’s main contact with support services, should be aware of the white paper’s chapter on supporting children and parents. This emphasises the importance of ensuring that different services working with the same child do so coherently, with parents and teachers able to draw on appropriate specialist services outside schools, through the stronger links being established by the new children’s trusts at local level.

Children’s trusts are seeking to shift resources to preventative work to help ensure an earlier and more effective response. Many are trialling a common assessment framework, designed to enable practitioners to identify additional needs and intervene early. They are also developing a lead professional role as a single point of contact at local level to coordinate services where more than one agency is involved.

The white paper notes that individual children’s SEN or disabilities can present significant barriers to learning. As part of annual self-evaluation, schools will need to show how all their pupils are achieving, including children with SEN and disabilities. This process will help to fulfil the duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people and develop and publish a disability equality scheme.

Other proposals of interest to SENCOs In considering the school workforce, the white paper promises to develop new professional standards for teachers, supported by high quality in-school training and mentoring and effective performance management linked to rewards. It identifies a key role, ‘essential for one-to-one and small group tuition’ for leading teachers in every school to coordinate catch-up and stretch activities, within and beyond the normal school day.

Other intentions for the workforce of interest to SENCOs are: – more support staff trained to a high level in literacy and numeracy. – health and welfare staff ready for the new roles they will play in full-service and other extended schools.

– trained specialists able to deal with disruptive behaviour, truancy and pastoral issues.

In its proposals for improving school discipline the white paper draws on the recommendations of the Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline, a group of experienced headteachers and senior teachers led by Sir Alan Steer. It promises to implement their recommendations by: – introducing a clear and unambiguous legal right for teachers to discipline pupils, including reaffirmation of the right to restrain pupils using reasonable force, backed by an expectation that every school has a clear set of rules and sanctions. – extending parenting orders, so that schools can use them to make parents take responsibility for their children’s bad behaviour in school. – expecting parents to take responsibility for excluded pupils in the first five days of an exclusion, by ensuring their children are supervised doing schoolwork, with fines for parents if excluded pupils are found in a public place during school hours. – expecting headteachers collectively to develop on and off-site alternative provision for suspensions longer than five days, with all exclusions properly recorded. – requiring local authorities to make full-time provision for permanently excluded pupils after five days.

– making discipline a key factor in evaluating school performance.

The white paper cites examples of good practice in pupil referral units, learning support units and in whole-school policies for managing behaviour, dealing with bullying and tackling truancy. It acknowledges the existence of a small group of pupils with severe or complex behavioural, emotional and social difficulties and accepts the Steer group’s recommendation that further investigation is required to determine how to improve provision for this group.

No more LEAs The white paper proposes to drop the term ‘local education authority’. There will still be a continuing role for the ‘local authority’ in leading partnership across education and other children’s services. In relation to children with special educational needs the local authority will remain central to ensuring any necessary specialist provision. Local authorities are intended to play a commissioning role in relation to the new school system. The Every Child Matters: Change for Children programme, the 10-year child care strategy, the Youth Matters green paper and the 14-19 education reforms all reflect this commissioner role. Under the Children Act 2004, local authorities already have the lead role with local partners in setting up children’s trusts, focused on improving the wellbeing of all children and young people, and integrating services around their needs.

Local authorities will set out expectations concerning special educational needs provision, the pattern of childcare or extended services, the needs of particular groups, collaboration with other schools and services. They will work with new schools to ensure they continue to meet community needs, including any specialist SEN provision.

Higher Standards, Better Schools For All: More Choice for Parents and Pupils HMSO Cm 6677 can be downloaded from: www.dfes.gov.uk.

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Dec 2005

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