On 20th January 2022 schools are required to share SEN pupil data as part of their submission for the census. The census collects up to two rankings for each pupil with a clear indication of what the primary need is (1) and if there are any secondary needs (2). This deadline provides us with an opportune moment to discuss the different needs within the school setting, how they have been identified and categorised and what is being done in order to support these learners?
SEND figures have risen over the past few years, in 2015/16 learners at SEN support was 11.6% and those with EHCPs was 2.8%. Skip forward to 2021 and those figures are 12.2% and 3.7% respectively. In Surrey the picture is slightly different with 2015/16 figures being 11% and 3% rising to 12.5% and 4.2% in 2021. In terms of headcount this means that in Surrey, over that five year period, EHCPs have gone from 5,694 to 8,459 learners and SEN support has gone from 20,951 to 24,962 learners. So, statistically there are more learners being recognised with SEND both nationally and across Surrey.
Does this mean we are more adept at recognising need or should we explore the statistics further, to challenge our understanding of what a truly inclusive education system could be in Surrey?
We might also consider how those figures could possibly change in light of the pandemic. It all depends on whether schools decide a learner has SEND or whether they have gaps in learning which can be addressed through High Quality Teaching.
The Code of Practice Chapter 6.15 states: ‘A pupil has SEN where their learning difficulty or disability calls for special educational provision, namely provision different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age.’
This is an interesting starting point in that there is not really any objective national guidance as to what provision which is ‘different from or additional to’ looks like or constitutes. This ‘different from or additional to’ can very much be interpreted in a variety of ways with varying degrees of inclusivity.
At a Local Authority level there are often documents that outline what an LA would reasonably expect to be in place with regards to support from a universal level to a targeted and specialist level. Surrey has the SEND Profiles of Need (Surrey documents can be found on this link) which aims to provide clear and consistent guidance as to Surrey’s expectations of the different thresholds for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities as applied in an education setting.
It can be seen that deciding what is available for every learner and then what is different from or additional to is very much down to the context, culture and beliefs in a setting. For some schools, making reasonable adjustments to practice is just ‘good practice’ whereas in other settings some staff may feel that making adjustments to their practice constitutes additional to or different from provision for a learner.
As a leader of learning it is worth reflecting on some of the following points:
- What you would expect to see happening in the classroom which is simply good practice?
- How are staff using pedagogy to improve access and engagement within their classrooms?
- Do staff understand the needs of learners so that they can adapt and adjust their teaching accordingly?
Equally, if additional resources help a learner to access the curriculum, do they constitute something different or are you simply making reasonable adjustments for the individual in line with The Equality Act 2010?
One consideration focuses on the idea of what is actually ‘different from or additional to’. If there is a particular intervention or type of support that the majority of learners need to access, then is that an additional provision or is that (given the needs of the cohort) something that has to be in place so is it part of the school’s core offer? An example of this might be a speech and language programme where the majority of learners in the school have speech, language and communication needs which require support. If the intervention is accessed by the majority of learners then in effect does it form part of the school’s curriculum? Is this something that forms part of the school’s core offer which is necessary to support learners so that they can access the curriculum? If, however there is an intervention that is only accessed by a few learners then this might be seen as something that is different to normal school provision.
Another consideration is whether accessing an intervention means that a learner has SEND or whether they just needed a boost to get back on track. This might be the case for some learners returning to normal school routines after 18 months of disruption caused by the pandemic. Time may be an influencing factor here in terms of a one-off or short and timely intervention which may help a learner to better access the curriculum, however, if they need sustained support and several successive interventions then that might well mean the learner should go on the SEND list.
EPI Report findings
It is worth having a look at the EPI Report Identifying pupils with SEND which explores how SEND identification varies across the country and can be impacted by the school they attend.
“The most important finding from this report is that which primary school a child attends makes more difference to their chances of being identified with SEND than anything about them as an individual, their experiences or what local authority they live in.”
Other findings were that:
- Children who attend academies have reduced chances of being recognised as having SEND.
- Attending school in an LA with high levels of disadvantage also reduced the chances of being identified as SEND compared to other children of similar backgrounds in more affluent areas.
- Children who frequently moved schools or neighbourhoods were less likely to be identified as SEND compares to those children who stayed in one setting.
- Children with frequent absence were also less likely to be identified with SEND.
- Children on child protection plans were also less likely to be identified as SEND.
- Long term disadvantaged – learners who have been PP for more than 80% of their school life – less likely to be SEND.
The report also goes on to state some recommendations which may help support some leadership thinking in outlining what actions may be necessary in order to reduce any variability in how SEND is identified within your setting. One action could involve analysing the whole of your list and reviewing the evidence that was gathered before identifying the learners as having SEND. This is an opportunity to gauge whether you have robust systems in place for identifying SEND.
Confidence in the Graduated Approach
Start with a focus on systems for gathering evidence and gaining a clearer understanding of the needs of individuals.
- How confident are we that the graduated approach is consistently applied within our setting?
- Do all our staff apply the assess, plan, do and review model when working with learners?
- Are our staff using a variety of teaching strategies before seeking further advice?
- Do SEND referrals reflect an understanding of where a learner is finding it difficult to access the curriculum?
How does our SENCo work with staff to promote the graduated approach and discuss strategies for engagement?
Are parents aware of the graduated approach so that they are confident in how their child’s needs will be met after sharing key information?
We need to understand how the model is adopted in everyday practice so that rather than starting with labels we start with an outline of what an individual has difficulty with. What is important is that we understand where difficulties occur so that we can adopt strategies that can help them access the curriculum. As we apply the model, we can then get a better understanding of needs which then help us to make more informed decisions regarding the primary need and subsequent needs for the learner. Parents and learners can also play an important role in contributing to this knowledge base.
It is worth remembering that not every learner who has difficulty or who is not making progress necessarily has SEND. Equally, learners with SEND will not struggle in every subject so high expectations need to be in place for every learner.
One of the things to explore is the number of learners on the list who are categorised as ‘NSA’. The ‘No Specialist Assessment’ code should only be used with learners where the school is still assessing what the primary need is. In effect ‘NSA’ is a short-term code to use whilst the school gathers evidence and carries out assessments to better understand underlying difficulties. Even if a learner has been categorised as ‘NSA’ the school should still ensure that additional SEN provision is in place.
So where to, from here?
The following questions may help you to explore your school’s approach with colleagues, to validate your processes and have confidence in your systems ahead of the January deadline.
- How do school figures compare against the national picture for SEND?
- Are there any differences in identification as a % of school population?
- Are there any differences in identification of need type?
- Is there anything unique about your setting that might explain differences? (a specialist centre which caters for a specific need)
- Do we have certain assessments that might influence how we recognise SEND e.g. dyslexia screener resulting in higher % of SpLD?
- What evidence do we have to demonstrate that additional to or different from provision is in place for each learner with SEND?
- How confident are we that the identified primary needs are accurate?
Our thanks to Kenny Wheeler, SAfE Inclusion Lead for contributing this article.