Advice – implementing the 2014 SEN policy reform

  • Advice – implementing the 2014 SEN policy reform

The government has recently concluded its most comprehensive revalidation of SEN for over 30 years - Lois Addy runs through some of the key changes…

The government has recently concluded its most comprehensive revalidation of SEN for over 30 years - Lois Addy runs through some of the key changes…

The education of pupils with learning differences has been long and eventful, culminating in the radical reforms of 2014. The journey to our current position shows how far we have come to make the inclusion and acceptance of all children a reality. It also reminds us why we may continue to be apprehensive when new procedures are put in place.

The practical outworking of the legislation relating to children and young people with SEN contained in the Equalities Act 2010 and the Children and Families Act 2014 is explained in detail in the SEN Code of Practice (CoP) 2014 which became law in September 2014, although a period of three years has been allowed for the development and transfer of certain processes. A transition period of up to three years has been allowed to transfer statements into EHC plans, for example, during which time statements will continue to be valid, unless they are agreed to be no longer necessary.

The guidance applies to all mainstream and special schools, academies (in all their forms including free schools and studio schools) and further education (FE) institutions. The CoP begins by defining SEN as continuing to refer to those who have:

  • a greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other children
  • a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided in the area.

This definition applies to pre-school children also.

Key changes for pupils with SEN

Previously Now
Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and CoP 2001 Children and Families Act 2014 implemented through the SEN CoP 2014
Reliance on ‘diagnosis’, leading to lowered expectations Focus on learning need establishing aspirational targets
Categories of need: School Action School Action Plus Removal of these categories and emphasis on a ‘graduated approach’ to supporting pupils with SEN
Statutory assessment of SEN Introduction of Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans
Recommendations by health and social care professionals not legally binding Health and social care contribution to EHC plans and implementation through joint commissioning of services
Assessment by many different professionals Collaborative assessment
EN budget allocated according to a very complicated funding formulae Schools have control of notional SEN budget, based on simplified formulae
SEN budget controlled by local authority Top-up budget available for pupils with complex needs
No option for personalised budget Option of a personal budget (for some pupils, not all)
Information about support available to pupils and parents of children and young people with SEN must be found from multiple sources Requirement to publish a central Local Offer (LO) of support available from all agencies within the local authority, including charities and support groups
Encouragement to involve pupils and families in decision-making process Explicit requirements to involve pupils and parents in SEN provision
Remit: children and young people from 2-18 years Remit: children and young people from 0–25 years
Young people over 16 described as having ‘learning difficulties and disabilities’ Young people over 16 now referred to as having ‘special educational needs’

The CoP places the child or young person securely at the centre of every aspect of service delivery and planning, and while this may, for many, be commonplace, the reality has differed enormously. Difficult decisions regarding the allocation of a finite budget has led to many services being cost-led; based on what can be afforded, rather than what the child or young person actually needs. The Children and Families Act 2014 provides the legislative strength to turn the rhetoric of person-centred practice into a reality.

Previously services were established, and parents and carers, children and young people were asked their opinion of them. The new CoP turns this around by encouraging educators and service providers to ask:

  • What do you need?
  • What would you like to achieve?
  • How can we help you?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What can we do to help you realise your goals?

This approach is being used to rethink many services. For example, parents and carers, young adults and children are now expected to be involved in developing the content of the LO. This provides clear guidance on the services available to meet the needs of those with SEN in a local authority. In all settings, staff must take into account parent/carer preferences when applying for, and participating in, pre-school nursery, schools or FE/HE establishments. Schools must highlight the individual’s aspirations when establishing education objectives, and any EHC plan must reflect the individual’s aspirations and hopes for their future.

The emphasis is on person-centred planning involving pupil and parent. This may require creativity and flexibility to acknowledge the wishes of parents/carers who may themselves have learning difficulties, a sensory or physical impairment, cultural differences, or whose first language is not English. The resulting published plan must reflect these differences.

The CoP echoes the need for inclusive practice and removing barriers to learning expressed in the Equalities Act 2010 and Children and Families Act 2014. Educators are discouraged from identifying children and young people with learning difficulties too quickly, and are instead encouraged to view all children as having learning needs that warrant Quality First Teaching. The removal of the terms School Action and School Action Plus will reinforce this, with the intention that only those pupils with highly complex needs will require an EHC plan and high needs funding. The remaining pupils will have their needs met using the school’s own resources.

Less emphasis is now being placed on the identification of SEN and labelling of the learning difficulty, preferring instead to refer to the pupil’s functional or learning need. Section 1.24 of the CoP encourages teachers to provide ‘high quality teaching that is differentiated and personalised, that will meet the individual needs of the majority of children and young people, and pupils with additional learning needs.’

There is a strong view that it will increasingly be those children/young people with an EHC plan that have highly complex needs that will be able to access special schooling. Section 1.27 of the CoP states that ‘where a child or young person has SEN but does not have an EHC plan they must be educated in a mainstream setting except in specific circumstances’.

The further emphasis is on ensuring that any intervention is based on the best available evidence, with clearly measurable outcomes. This requires the teacher to become scientific practitioners and critically analyse the interventions they are using from the perspective of its research base. Often, interventions are judged by the difference they make to a pupil’s learning with a focus on levels of improvement and ratio gains. The CoP has extended this by encouraging teachers to be more cognisant of the origins, development and parameters of interventions so that teaching becomes more clearly focused and cost effective. This approach may be new to many teachers, and therefore further training may be required to ensure that evidence-informed practice permeates the curriculum.

About the author

Lois Addy is the Specialist Lead for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) in North Yorkshire, a SEND Pathfinder. She is the author of How to understand and apply reforms in SEN policy, from which this feature is an edited extract. How to understand and apply reforms in SEN policy is due for publication by LDA in October 2014, and TS readers can get 10% off* orders, by visiting and quoting GCAU628.

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