Firstly, for those of you who have previously read my SEN Updates, you may have noticed that, over the past year or so, I have sometimes tried to put out slightly shorter and a bit later updates.
This is because, from my general perception and from feedback I have received, I have started to see increasingly during these past few years that people’s lives are becoming busier and, with even more distractions around them, they seem to have less time to read things.
I have also noticed that, when schools/colleges now go back in the first week of term, rather than parents having more time available again, or professionals feeling they can now concentrate better as they are back at work, in that first week back, both types of people now seem to need more time to get back on top of things.
I know everybody’s time is more limited these days, so I hope that you enjoy this new shorter and later format a bit more. Don’t worry though, in all other respects, my updates are the same as before.
In this SEN Update, you will 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 on one, you can get my SEN updates personally by completing your email details below, by using our App ‘SEN.fyi’, or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use, at the top of this page.
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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!
(THE SEND CRISIS)
As you may know from my previous updates, the Annual SEN Law Conference that I co-host with IPSEA and Matrix Chambers was held this year, last week, on 5 March 2019.
It still amazes me that, even though we catered for more people this year (almost 300), we still had to turn people away as we did last year (when we catered for just under 250). Please accept my apologies if one of these was you and let me point out that the conference pack, which includes the speakers’ papers/slides, is available here.
If you were unable to make it this year, I want to share with you first some things said by Ali Fiddy, the Chief Executive of IPSEA, who opened the conference. Ali’s presentation was entitled: ‘SEND Crisis’ and split into three parts; firstly, looking at indicators we are in a crisis situation, then looking at the causes of the crisis from various people’s perspective (not only parents/carers, but also others such as Local Authorities (LAs), schools/colleges and SEN professionals) and lastly she made a few suggestions of how the crisis could be addressed. I will not try to tell you everything that she said (particularly if you were there, or one of those people getting the conference pack), but I want to share some things here.
Ali firstly referred to the report from October 2017, from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) where the outcome of 80% of the first 100 investigations they made about SEND were upheld, compared to a figure of 53% in other areas they investigate. She also referred to the Ofsted Annual Report for 2017/18 looking at a number of areas of LAs providing substantive services in relation to SEND provision and referred to findings like: weaknesses in the identification of children/young people with SEND; variation in quality of Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans (including non-implementation of agreed support) and poor SEND provision provided to young people from 19-25. She also made reference to a lot of children and young people with SEND being excluded or ‘off-rolled’.
Ali also raised the fact that almost half of all local area SEND inspections conducted by Ofsted/CQC (the Care Quality Commission) had required ‘Written Statements of Action’ and additionally referred to a number of Judicial Review cases brought by parents and carers. She then referred to there being a significant increase of appeals brought to the SEND Tribunal, particularly the increase in recent years when it was just over 3,500 in 2011/12, but in the last year it was over 5,500. You will recall that the new SEN Framework brought in by the Children and Families Act came into effect in September 2014.
Ali then looked at causes of the crisis, referring to evidence being given to the Education Committee’s SEND enquiry, including LA evidence about having to do a lot of work in relation to transfers from Statements to EHC Plans and dealing with increasing requests for EHC Needs Assessments/Plans, without additional resources and insufficient funding, or the now extended responsibilities in relation to the 19-25 group. She also referred to schools and colleges and their feeling that there was an underestimation of children and young people’s needs in EHC Plans and a lack of support from Educational Psychology (EP) services and insufficient funding being available again (this became a theme throughout the day). She also referred to surveys conducted by schools and colleges, which referred to not enough staff and teaching assistants being available and generally insufficient support being there.
In relation to SEN professionals, such as EPs, Ali said that there was an increase in requests for EHC Needs Assessments, but insufficient EPs being able to manage these. She pointed out a disappointing statistic that there had been a reduction from 1900 EPs in 2010 to 1650 in 2015.
In relation to the question of how the crisis can be solved, Ali pointed that, overall, that there were some good things also, but that she felt that there needed to be more focus on successful implementation, particularly in relation to cultural shifts, the legal framework and better accountability.
Ali also pointed out the fact that there needed to be better guidance from the Department of Education (DfE), more possibilities for 19-25 year olds, more advice and support for parents of young people, improved joined-up working and, of course, more funding!
SOMETHING ELSE THAT MAY MAKE YOU THINK
(FUTURE SEND DIRECTION)
Later in the day, we also heard from André Imich, the SEN and Disability Advisor from the DfE. His presentation was entitled “Future SEND the Direction – Key Priorities” and, like Ali, he split his presentation up into three parts: firstly, looking at current challenges, then looking at successes since 2014 and lastly looking at the direction for future priorities.
André identified the challenges in the delivery of the SEN reforms, highlighting problems with capacity (e.g. high staff turnover, training and changing the culture of the SEN Framework), the pressure on school places (highlighting the increased amount of demand for special school places and the need to keep mainstream schools onboard, (i.e.successful inclusion). He also pointed out the increased financial pressures on budgets, the increase of requests for EHC assessments and for EHC Plans, as well as the increasing number of EHC Plans themselves (which he said was up over 11% from 2016).
André shared with us a number of graphs regarding assessments/appeals/school placements and said that the fact was, that whilst there were a number of difficulties, there were also a number of things to celebrate, in relation to ‘co-production’, ‘compliance with statutory duties’, ‘increased satisfaction with local services’ and ‘timely identification of SEND’.
André also referred to LAs where there had been ‘improved attainment’ for those children and young people with SEND, where there had been stronger focus on SEN support and where more young people were going onto post-16 education, training and employment.
In fact, he even went as far to say that there was improved parental confidence in a number of areas and that the DfE are encouraged by early evidence of the impact of the implementation of the SEND reforms and how they have improved the lives of children and young people, but they also recognise the challenges and that there was much more work to do to achieve consistency across the country.
André also made reference to a number of the studies that Ali had previously referred to and pointed out the fact that we did not know the statistics for this last year yet and these would be coming out in May (which I will refer to in another SEN Update later this academic year).
I know from speaking to people afterwards (both professionals and parents) that they felt that André was perhaps putting too positive a spin on what has actually been happening on the ground. I will not express any personal or professional views about this, but think it is better just to set out the different perspectives of Ali and André here, as to what seems to be happening in the SEN world and then let you make up your own mind.
I hope that this is something else that makes you think…
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
In terms of forthcoming SEN events that I think might be worth going to are:
YOU CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING...
Most people know that I am physically disabled and use a wheelchair to get around, so those who hear me say this each time in this section of my update have my sincere apologies for repeating myself; but I am always conscious that each update there are more people subscribing since the last one, who may not know this.
New subscribers may also not know the fact that I have become well known over many years for doing international bike rides to raise money for Norwood, a charity for children and young people with disabilities.
Anyway, you may recall that, in the ride that I did a couple of years ago, I was quite upset to find when I arrived at our destination, that the airline we had flown with, had bizarrely failed to bring my electric wheelchair from London and I therefore had to spend the first few days of the ride having to struggle around with an old-fashioned and uncomfortable manual wheelchair lent to me by the airport, until I got my own wheelchair back again.
I wonder if you can realise just how difficult it was for me to be without my electric wheelchair and therefore not being as independent as I like to try to always be by being able to ‘control’ my wheelchair (which I often refer to as being my ‘legs’!)
So, I decided on this next ride, after the fiasco of what happened the previous year, to try to be a bit clever.
During the past year, after misplacing so many things (not helped by my sight deteriorating), I have been investing in a number of ‘Tiles’ which I have attached to my keys, briefcase and other possessions that I can then locate easily from my phone.
(Just to explain a bit from the 'Tile' website: 'Tile uses Bluetooth to communicate with a companion app on a smartphone or tablet, whereby the Tile app "discovers" a Tile and establishes a connection to it using the Bluetooth signal. While competitors are restricted by Bluetooth's typical connectivity range of 100 feet , Tile's range can go far beyond that by using the Bluetooth connection of neighbouring smartphones running the Tile app to cast a wider search net.')
Anyway, this time, as I realised I could not afford to lose my wheelchair for a second time, I wanted to ensure that it made it onto the plane, so I bought a new Tile to attach to my wheelchair. Unfortunately, though, I did not have time to attach it properly to my wheelchair, before I left for the ride So, at the airport, I quickly attached it to my wheelchair, by way of a strong plastic tag attached to one of the push-handles and then tucked it inside the back rest.
When we boarded the plane, I had been sure to tell the ground crew who brought me on the plane that I really needed them to make sure that they put my wheelchair on the plane this time. I then did not check my phone, because another rider I was with saw out of the window on the plane whilst we were waiting on the tarmac whilst the bags were being loaded and told me that they could see that the ground crew had put my wheelchair on this time.
(I was not the only person who was nervous this time, as a number of other riders had witnessed me first-hand the previous year being without my wheelchair and were really upset for me, so did not want me to have to go through this again).
When we got to our destination (in Greece this time), my wheelchair was waiting for me when we arrived, so I felt quite relieved and even a little smug that everything was alright and that, even though I had not ultimately needed it, putting the Tile on as a precautionary measure had paid off in the end.
We collected our bags (I had even purchased a Tile and put it in my main bag and another in my ‘day bag’ (i.e. my rucksack with me), went out of the airport and boarded the coach who was taking us to our destination for the night. I was pleased again to be told by someone who was sitting above where they were loading the luggage onto the coach (which is below where you sit), that they saw my wheelchair put onto the coach.
Imagine my surprise and concern though to then see and hear the last person who came on board, hold up my wheelchair ‘Tile’ still attached to the plastic tag, but no longer attached to the wheelchair, and ask:
“Has anybody lost this?”
See, don’t try to be too clever!
With good wishes
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