SEND Inquiry: The Baroness, Brian, the man in the middle and much more..

SEND Inquiry: The baroness, Brian and the man in the middle

The first hearings into the SEND inquiry were held before the Education Select Committee this week. Three esteemed witnesses were gently probed for their views on how the 2014 SEND reforms have played out so far.

This post today has two parts - the first is a review of the first session hearing. The second is good news - but as we know all too often in SEND, we need to await the meat on the bones.

On the left, Rt Hon Baroness Warnock, Chair, Committee of Inquiry on Special Educational Needs, who was at the forefront of the previous reforms 30+ years ago. In the middle, former Deputy Director of SEND at the DfE, Stephen Kingdom, who has now come over from the "dark side" to become campaign manager for the Disabled Children’s Partnership. And on the right, sat Brian Lamb OBE, who ran the Lamb inquiry into Parental Confidence in Special Educational Needs in 2011, that was instrumental in starting the 2011 Green Paper for the reforms.

Brian's a big fan of SNJ, he once told me, and this session was very much the Lamb show, with Baroness Warnock offering context with and a Det. Columbo-like sting in the tail, while Stephen trod a somewhat uncomfortable line between being one of the lead architects of the 2014 Act and so defending the government's position, while simultaneously needing to also represent his new charity employers at Contact. I'm sure it's not a position he ever envisaged - or wanted - to be in, perhaps expecting the reforms to play out in the successful way the government had intended. Which is, of course, nowhere near the way it's actually gone since implementation four years ago, when Stephen left the civil service, shortly after implementation.

I don't want to be too harsh on Stephen (our newest columnist on behalf of the DCP) but I do feel the committee could have been. I'm sure he was a little grateful to be sandwiched, as he was, between the Baroness and Brian, as not only was it sometimes hard for him to get much of a word in, he wasn't pressed on any of the questions he should have been.

He could, for example, have been pressed a lot more on the thinking behind the reforms, why it was that they were implemented so quickly without allowing LAs time to realise this really was their new reality. Not even the pathfinder LAs who had trialled the reforms were ready for a September 2014 start. It's one thing batting around sparkly new ideas of a bright future for SEND. It's quite another training your reluctant workforce to do things differently and mean it. The committee could have asked why it was two years before the Ofsted SEND inspections came along and why they weren't integral to the planning of the reforms. They could have pressed on why health and social care were not immediately made accountable at Tribunal so you couldn't appeal against them in one go. Only recently has the trial into making a single route of redress being started.

Ofsted/CQC Inspections

Stephen did however, make a hugely important point and one that we agree with wholeheartedly. The Ofsted/CQC SEND Inspections MUST continue beyond their five-year remit. And, thank goodness, Damian Hinds agrees - more of this later.

Brian Lamb said he thought the inspections,  as a concept, are a “brilliant success”. Though I'm not sure Matt Keer would agree that they are in practice...  Brian also called for automatic re-inspection of an LA who has received a notice to improve – 40% so far have suffered the ignominy of being told to write a statement of action (WSoA) about how they're going to improve and we're not even halfway through England's LAs yet.

Parental Confidence

Brian Lamb's 2011 Inquiry was all about parental confidence in the SEN system, or lack thereof. This was the  key reason for the reforms, said Stephen Kingdom.

"Parental confidence was a key driver and the government did do a lot to engage parents including funding parent carer forums. It is clear a lot of parents still have concerns and it's not working in the way it should be and in the current wider climate including financial there is a real tension." Stephen Kingdom SEND Inquiry July 2018.

The adversarial system's beginnings

Baroness Warnock brought context to the session and reminded us for just how long SEN(D) has been a mess.

In the 1970s local authorities were regarded as benign and parents thought of them as allies on behalf of their children and were trusted to take an interest in their children. They were a source of great support and faith to parents and children. The 1981 Education Act was the very worst year for finances and it was from then on that universities and schools began to feel financial pressure. And from that moment on, LAs gradually became, not allies, but opponents, as they were always trying to save money. 1981 was a significant year when Universities began to feel the tremendous Thatcher cuts, so it was disastrous year for the Act to come out, as right from the start there would be far more financial pressures than we foresaw when we published the report in 1978. So from that moment on, things started to go wrong for financial, not conceptual reasons.  Baroness Warnock, SEND Inquiry, 3/7/18 (précis)

And it has been thus ever since. Something else to pin on Maggie Thatcher. Baroness Warnock also criticised Ofsted for not doing enough to support schools who do their utmost to support children with SEND. These schools can suffer in the results league tables because, once it's known they are an inclusive school, of course, many parents of SEND children want them to go there. But, she said, Ofsted do not recognise this and it's something that needs to change, something that was echoed by Brian Lamb.

"If you look at the way schools are funded on the formula – those schools that are doing the right thing in effect get penalised as parents want their children to go to those schools as they’re doing the right things but they don’t – unless they have a very  enlightened authority that delegates a lot of additional money - get the funding to keep them doing it and other schools get let off the hook.
We’d hoped the schools information report, where every school has to say what it provides, and LA monitoring of that, would create a more even playing field, but it hasn’t done so. To be fair to those schools who aren't doing it are under pressure from the accountability system and the finance system and also under pressure because specialist support systems being cut. We have very good evidence that support for teachers of the blind and the deaf are being cut by LAs and that doesn’t help schools make the right decisions and consequences are that children are excluded." Brian Lamb SEND Inquiry July 2018

More on this below in the speech on Thursday by Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, who appears to be listening (or at least coordinating)

Stephen Kingdom said that the government had hoped that the reforms' ethos of making every teacher a teacher of SEND would have changed the culture of 5 A*-C was all that mattered but this doesn't seem to have happened. I would suggest that only reforming the way schools' performance is measured, as Baroness Warnock said, is the only way this will happen. Maybe if they'd made SEND provision a school's key performance indicator in the first place, the reforms wouldn't have been needed.

Brian speaks up on funding

But it was Brian Lamb's huge knowledge of these reforms from before they even started and his objective criticisms of how they have gone that were the most memorable. He touched on the recent High Needs Block funding changes, saying they had already dramatically impacted the specialist support services such as autism, sensory impairment, speech and language and degraded the capacity of the system. He also said that because local authority special schools are not providing the wraparound social care support that parents want for their children, they therefore push for out-of-county schools, impacting on the budget available for LA special schools.

Brian pointed to a recent Derby University study that two-thirds of parents liked the new EHCP but the health and social care integration was not, on the whole, working. He said he believed where it was working was it was down to leadership and commitment.

Significantly, he said there needed to be a way for parents or others in the system to be able to trigger some kind of investigation where the system isn't working. Good leadership - and therefore good culture - was crucial.

Health and social care duties, teacher training, the '£6k'

Speaking about putting equal duties on health and social care to provide the care specified in an EHCP, Brian Lamb said the challenge was great, as they would always resist because, "doing it for one child would mean they would have to do it for all children that needed it." Stephen Kingdom, presumably speaking in his new role with the DCP, called for better ministerial leadership in government to make tackling the "convoluted" law of health and of social care a priority across departments.

They also touched on teacher training (which can be found 30 minutes in on the video below). While Stephen listed the things the government had done to improve it, both Baroness Warnock and Brian Lamb insisted training in SEND was far from good enough, even with the changes to Initial Teacher Training.

Brian Lamb said the notional £6k (35') delegated SEND budget per mainstream pupil, is actually is very confusing for parents and doesn't really exist. He agreed with the idea that perhaps a SEND premium, similar to the pupil premium, should be considered, putting more money into schools for SEND beyond their delegated budget.

Part Two: Damian Hinds: SEND is a huge priority for my department

I've edited the video of the session from over an hour to 38 minutes and you can watch it below. But first, another happening. As I wrote this, Damien Hinds, the Education Secretary spoke at the ADCS (Association of Directors of Children's Services) conference and outlined his vision for children and young people with SEND, and for mainstream schools and teachers who work with them.

Here are a number of quotes. In it you will see that Mr Hinds has announced that there will, indeed be a further programme of SEND Ofsted/CQC inspections after the current round (Yay!) You can read it in full, if you wish, here.

"We know Children in Need are more likely to have mental health needs but as I’ve said this is a wider problem, affecting too many children. And we’ll soon be publishing further detail on our £300 million plans to improve mental health services for all children and young people – including reducing waiting times and mental health leads in schools."

"And I hear too many stories about off-rolling, with schools finding ways to remove pupils, outside of the formal exclusions system. And of what is, essentially, pre-emptive exclusion, where parents looking at secondary schools are actively or in some way subtly discouraged from applying to a particular school for their child. And I want to be clear right now: this is not okay. SEND pupils are not someone else’s problem. Every school is a school for pupils with SEND; and every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils. This includes working with Ofsted to make sure our accountability system sufficiently rewards schools for their work with pupils who need extra support, and to encourage schools to focus on all pupils, not just the highest achievers."

“Second, I want to look at how my department, working with the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England, can support local authorities and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to more effectively plan and commission SEND provision.

“In addition, I will be asking Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to design a programme of further local area SEND inspections to follow the current round, due to conclude in 2021; and for their advice on further inspection or monitoring of those areas required to produce a ‘Written Statement of Action’.” Education Secretary Damian Hinds 5/7/18

Also on Thursday, this, from the same conference from SEND Minister, Nadhim Zahawi:

The hearing edit

Want to what the whole thing? Find it here.

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Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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