This is my last update for 2016 (the chronological year, not the academic year), so you will not now hear from me again until the Spring Term 2016/17.
In this SEN Update, you find sections entitled:
As I always say, I know how busy everyone is, so please feel free to read just the sections that are of interest to you or read everything; the choice is always yours.
Don’t forget, to ensure that you never miss out, you can get my SEN updates by completing your email details below, reading it on our ‘SEN.fyi’ App, or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use, which are at the bottom of this page.
You can also easily share this update with others (please only do so if it may be relevant to them), by using one of the icons to the right of this page (if on a computer), at the top of this page (if on a mobile device), or on our 'SEN.fyi' App (by using the ‘Share’ feature at the bottom of the page).
CH, CH, CH, CHANGES (ASSESSMENT LEVELS)
If you work in a school or are otherwise involved in education (as a parent or professional), you will probably be aware that over the past couple of years there have been a number of changes to assessment levels.
There were a number of changes during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 academic years, with the ultimate aim of there no longer being any National Curriculum levels and schools being responsible for determining their own broad and balanced curriculum.
The idea was to slim down the framework for schools to be allowed to assess pupils’ achievement levels in a more personalised and localised way.
Unfortunately, there were also a number of common misconceptions about the activities that schools were now required to undertake. Helpfully, the Department of Education (‘DfE’) prepared a document entitled ‘Running a School: Myths and Facts’ which was released in September 2015, which you can find in full for yourself, but the point was made that national tests and teacher assessments in 2015/16 would be the last time National Curriculum levels were reported.
Fast forward to now, a year or so later, as the point of this section of my update is not to look at past changes, but to look at potential future changes to assessment levels, particularly for those children with SEN who may fall below more standard levels.
As some of you will already know, the Government recently held a review (The Rochford Review) chaired by Diane Rochford, the Executive Headteacher of John F Kennedy Academy in Newham, to look at statutory assessment arrangements for pupils working below standard National Curriculum levels.
The aim of the review, as set out by the DfE, was stated as:
“The review group brought together expertise in assessment, special educational needs and working with disadvantaged pupils. The purpose was to advise the Minister of State for Schools on solutions for assessing the abilities of pupils who don’t meet the standards required to take the national curriculum tests.”
Last month (October 2015), the review group set out its recommendations in a final report (in December 2015, the review group had already published recommendations for an interim statutory solution at pre-Key Stage 1 and 2, following consultation with representative stakeholders, which schools had used as an interim statutory solution in 2016 to assess pupils working below the standard of National Curriculum tests and above the Performance scales (‘P scales’)).
However, I know that many people will just want to have a quick summary of the review’s findings/recommendations, so I did a little searching around on your behalf and found an article on the SchoolsWeek website that I think neatly summarises things.
Their summary states as follows:
“Taking account of views from Ofsted, Ofqual, the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and the Council for Disabled Children, and 1,700 responses from an online survey, the report makes the following 10 recommendations:
1. The statutory requirement to assess SEN pupils using P scales should be removed.
P scales were “designed to sit alongside, and complement, the old national curriculum, which was significantly different to the new one”. As such, 78 per cent of online respondents felt the P levels were no longer fit for purpose (although 32 per cent thought they should be revised against only 21 per cent who wanted a new framework – see recommendation 2.)
The report said there were “serious concerns” that many schools were using P scales as a curriculum, instead of as an assessment tool, thereby making activities too narrow.
2. The interim pre-key stage standards ought to be made permanent.
While the old 1 to 8 P Levels were given on a “best fit” basis by teachers, the new interim pre-key stage standards require teachers to assess each pupil against specific “the pupil can…” sentences.
Using different codes, teachers assess each child as either “below”, “at” or “above” the interim “pupil can” standard. These will now remain the key measure for all students doing subject-specific learning.
3. For those pupils not doing subject-specific learning, statutory assessment should be limited to the area of “cognition and learning”.
4. Assessing pupils against the following 7 aspects of cognition and learning should be a statutory duty, and reported to parents, carers and inspectors. (See recommendation 9 for more on this).
The 7 aspects are:
5. Schools should decide their own approach to making these cognition and learning assessments.
The members of the Rochford Review did “not feel it would be appropriate to prescribe any particular method or approach for assessing these pupils.”
6. Teacher training – both initially and while in the profession – should give teachers a better understanding of working with pupils who are “below the standard of national curriculum tests”.
7. Schools should work collaboratively to share good practice and should seek support from other schools if needed.
8. Schools should ensure quality assurance of SEND assessment through school governance and peer review.
9. Of the assessment data from the seven areas of cognition and learning, there “should be no requirement to submit this to the DfE”.
But schools must be able to “provide evidence to support conversations with parents and carers, inspectors, regional school commissioners, LAs and governors”.
10. Further work needs to be done on supporting children with English as an additional language.”
From what I have seen, the recommendations seem to have been broadly welcomed, although there are criticisms also; for example, some people have concerns that the recommendations allow for progress to be untracked by the DfE, which seems to imply that it may be acceptable to not chart the progress of children at lower levels, which one critic I saw called ‘unforgiveable’.
But I cannot tell you what is going to happen and I am sure that the question of assessment levels (whether they be National Curriculum levels or P-levels) is a bit ‘Marmite’ (i.e. you either love them or hate them).
So we will just have to wait and see what happens…
IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW (PREPARING EHC PLANS)
As most of you know, the transferring of Statements of SEN to Education, Health & Care (‘EHC’) plans, which started when the new SEN Framework came into effect in September 2014, is due to be completed by 1 April 2018. So we are now more than half way through the process.
I know that there has been some concern recently about some Local Authorities ‘outsourcing’ the drafting of EHC plans and sometimes using standardised wording (see one article entitled: “Not co-production: Was your child’s Education, Health and Care plan outsourced?”)
Earlier this year (in April 2016) the DfE set up a dedicated website entitled ‘EHCP Journeys’, which has a number of resources for people producing EHC plans, such as to find out how to support parents and young people through the EHC process and including checklists to rate and improve delivery.
You can read and watch people’s experiences and journeys through the EHC process. The ‘Home’ page states:
“This website shows the EHC process from the perspective of families and aims to support areas to improve local services.
Please explore the range of content and resources and reflect on the parts of the process most relevant to you or your organisation.”
I am also aware that the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) has been working on an EHC plan project (together with the Independent Support Programme and the DfE’s SEND Advisor Team) to identify examples of best practice in EHC assessment/plans from across the country.
I believe that this is coming very soon and will be on the CDC resources page imminently.
WHEN I NEED YOU (SEN.fyi App)
If you are a regular reader of my updates, you may recall that in my last SEN update for Autumn Term 2016/17, I launched a new free App called ‘SEN.fyi’, which provides SEN News, (these) Updates, FAQs, Info, Law and even (cartoon) videos. As I have said, I have tried to make ‘SEN.fyi’ as easy to use as possible.
Even if I say so myself, it is quite incredible now to have an App on your phone or tablet with so much information about SEN, not only all in one place, but also so easy and quick to access; especially as you can carry it about in your pocket/bag (I do not think that anyone but me would probably spend their time coming up with something as specialised as this and also then give it away for free!)
I am really delighted that so many people have contacted me (either directly, or indirectly through the survey I always have at the end of my updates) to say how much they are enjoying and using the App. I am very pleased that so many people have already downloaded and started using the App (I get statistics about this sort of thing I’m afraid!).
But I thought I would use this section of my update to not only shamelessly plug the App, but to bring to your attention another feature it has, known as the ‘Timeline’, which I myself have been using very regularly and which I am finding extremely useful to know what is going on. This is because it provides the user with a timeline (hence its name) of everything that has been published recently that you are interested in (which you pick in ‘Settings’). You can then easily ‘Favourite’, ‘Share’ or ‘Search’ for things.
As an example, I now almost routinely check the ‘News’ section of the App every morning (when I wake up) and evening (before I go to sleep) to see what is happening about SEN. I must admit that I am continually finding things out which would otherwise have passed me by.
I either read articles/posts there and then (if I have time), or ‘Favourite’ them in order to quickly come back to later (if I don’t have time the time there and then), to keep up-to-date with issues that interest me and to mark them out for future reference (or ‘Share’ them with others quickly and easily). I can also ‘Search’ for particular words, to see what people have said about specific issues.
Of course, this is just the way that I am using the SEN.fyi App, but as it is so helpful, I thought I would share this with you, in case it is also useful to you.
You can download SEN.fyi (for free) through the Apple or Android App stores by clicking on the relevant image below.
As always, I would be very grateful if you would only not only download it for yourself (if you haven't yet done so and I think it could help you), but also recommend it to others whom you think may benefit from having it.
RECENT/FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
In my last SEN update, one of the forthcoming SEN events that I discussed was the Westminster Education Forum being held on 3 November 2016 (yesterday), entitled ‘Policy priorities for SEND - implementing local area inspections, raising educational outcomes and extending support for families’.
So, as I attended myself, I am able to report to you on a few things now ‘hot off the press’.
The keynote speech was given by Dr Adam Boddison, the new Chief Executive of nasen, who previously was director of the Centre for Professional Education at Warwick University. His talk was entitled: ‘The outlook for children and young adults with SEND - remaining challenges and next steps going forward’.
Amongst other things, he said that data from July 2016 obtained by SchoolsWeek (again) found that only 18.2% of Statements of SEN had been transferred to EHCPs by then, so they had calculated that, on this figure if projected forward, it will theoretically take a further 5 ½ years more to complete these transfers, so it could still be going on until March 2020!
(He did also point out that the DfE says that people are getting better by now, so things will get quicker and LAs should still meet their target, in theory, but he also said that there were huge variations between different areas).
I was particularly impressed by two other speakers as well.
First there was Janet Thompson, the Deputy Chair of the Rochford Review and Headteacher of the Dorothy Goodman School in Leicestershire.
She was clearly very knowledgeable about SEN issues and responded to criticisms of the report), such as that it would allow for lower aspirations (which she said was wrong, but the key was to focus on 'stage' not 'age'); that it was disruptive (which she said was missing a trick, as it was important to input when the whole assessment system was changing as well for subject-specific learners); and that data was not going to be reported widely enough (where she said that P-scales were not a curriculum, but had become that way and it was not just about ticking boxes and we needed to look at thing leading to supported living, obtaining employment, etc.
The second was Anne Heavey, an Education Policy Advisor at ATL, who spoke about ‘Assessing SEND provision for pupils in mainstream schools - current state of play’.
She gave us a number of statistics from surveys, which seemed to show that 72% of people feel that things are not yet working and 56% of pupils with mental health problems are not having their needs met. She ended by saying we need more time, more money and more training.
In terms of forthcoming SEN events, the only things that I have noticed coming up soon are the:
I am sorry that all these events seem to be being held quite soon, but there aren’t many things being held in December 2016 (probably because of Christmas!).
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU
Let me first thank those of you who have contacted me (mainly through my surveys) after my last few SEN updates, where I have shared some of my (hopefully) humorous stories about was has happened to me as a disabled person using a wheelchair in recent years.
I was particularly touched by comments about my last story: ‘If I Fall, Will You Catch Me?’ – about my falling out of my wheelchair once when I hit a bump in the pavement (on just one of many occasions), including one comment from someone who said that they found it to be ‘heart-warming’.
Given the fact that most of the responses I receive are anonymous, it really means something to me to know that I am now also touching people on an emotional level, not just a legal or educational level.
So I am going to share another funny story with you in this update about what happened to me once.
A few years ago, my wife (Erica) and I were staying with some people in a hotel overnight for professional purposes; where its open-plan restaurant/breakfast area was slightly sunken on a lower floor a few steps below the ground floor, which you could see clearly from the reception level.
As I could not access it easily in my wheelchair, unlike the others who could just walk down the few steps to it, I had to go around the breakfast area and down a long corridor by myself where staff had told me that I could access it via a ‘platform’ lift (a ‘platform’ lift is a more lightweight lift which buildings can put in place more easily than a fully-blown traditional lift and helps people avoid using the stairs between different floors or levels – you also need to keep the floor/level button pushed down until you arrive otherwise you stop moving).
The ‘platform’ lift was contained in a ‘shaft’ like a normal lift, but with hinged glass doors, although it only needed to travel a few metres.
So far, so good.
My diversion took me a few extra minutes to negotiate (by which time Erica and the others had been seated at a table where they could see the lift, waiting for me to arrive and join them) and I managed to call it up successfully (it must have been used previously by someone to get down to the restaurant/breakfast level – probably by staff taking something down and then coming up again via the stairs as, if it was another wheelchair-user, I am not sure how they had got back up again and I hadn’t spotted anyone other than me that morning using a wheelchair?).
I got into the lift alright by myself and then pushed (and held) the button in it, to allow me to go down. However, unfortunately the lift stopped working about half way down and, as the lower lift door which opened out onto the breakfast area was in glass, Erica and the others could then see that I was stuck, but could now only see my legs, seemingly dangling, behind the glass door!
They must have thought at first that I had taken my hand off the button, so the lift had stopped moving. But, after a few minutes, when I appeared to be stuck there, they realised that something must be wrong and Erica came to ask me if I was alright; from outside the lift through the glass door, probably looking like she was speaking to just a pair of legs!
When I told her that I was stuck, she summonsed assistance from a member of staff, who also then came over and spoke to my legs through the glass door! He told me that I needed to keep my hand on the button to make the lift move, as if I didn’t know this already, since I have been using ‘platform’ lifts for years and probably hundreds more times than he had ever used them!
(I always have to keep smiling and allow myself to be patronised in these type of situations, as some people just assume that because I am physically disabled and using a wheelchair, that I must also be mentally impaired in some way. So sometimes I have to allow myself to be spoken to very slowly and gently, so that the person talking to me this way can feel that I properly understand something – I put it down to their having a disability not me! [Although, to be fair, remember that he was speaking to a disembodied set of legs through a glass door.])
The problem was easily rectified by someone going to the top level and re-summonsing the lift, which allowed me to then successfully do the trip again and move between the floors (it actually only took about 15-20 seconds). But, unfortunately, it took staff quite a while to get the lift working again and get me down to meet the others in the breakfast area, by which time many people were now clearly aware that there had been a problem for me – the poor disabled guy!
I am sure that Erica and the others thought nothing of it and have already forgotten about it, but I often think of that occasion, especially when I am using another ‘platform’ lift somewhere.
I can see the funny side of something like this and I’m sure that you can also imagine it visually for yourself and realise that it was probably quite a bizarre sight for not only Erica, the staff and our colleagues, but also for the other hotel guests who, before I arrived at breakfast, could only see my legs through the glass door...
See, some things that happen to me, whilst perhaps not amusing at the time, are often very funny to reflect on afterwards!
With best wishes
by Douglas Silas, specialist SEN Solicitor