Latest SEN stats raise concerns about impact of SEN reform

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Last September, the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force, heralding big changes to how children with special educational needs (SEN) will be supported in education. The Department for Education made a big promise that no child would lose out of support as a result of these changes. One would therefore expect that the number of children getting legal statements of SEN or Education, Health and Care plans to have remained fairly stable over 2014. Instead though, new figures suggest a 6.8% drop in the number being issued over 2014. 20 local authorities have seen reductions of 30% or more.

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are replacing statements of special educational needs (SEN). They’re both legally binding documents which set out the support that a child with SEN may need to achieve their potential. EHC plans are intended to be an improvement on statements by ensuring more joined-up support. EHC plans are also available for children and young people up to the age of 25. All statements must be converted to EHC plans by April 2018.

The Department for Education suggest that the decline is partly due to ‘non-statutory’ EHC plans being introduced by pathfinders. These pathfinders are local authorities which volunteered to try out the changes in advance and were able to issue non-legal plans to see how they worked. We took a closer look at the stats to see if this was a potential explanation. But actually, when we stripped out the 31 local authority pathfinders, we found that there was still a 6.3% decline across all other local authorities.

One of NDCS’s biggest concerns from the start was that, whilst many of the changes might be sensible, it was a bad idea to introduce these changes at a time of widespread spending cuts and before a proper system had been introduced to hold local authorities to account for not following the law around SEN.

An NDCS survey of parents of deaf children published in 2013 showed widespread concern about the reforms, with only 6% believing that the changes would lead to better support and 72% thinking the real aim was to reduce spending.

Sadly, it now appears those concerns may be justified and, unless swift action is taken, promises to ensure no negative impact from these changes are at risk of being broken.

If you’re a parent of a deaf child looking for more information about the changes, the NDCS website has a range of factsheets and resources. There is also information for deaf young people on the NDCS Buzz website. For further support, parents can contact the National Deaf Children’s Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 (voice and text), email helpline@ndcs.org.uk, or chat online at www.ndcs.org.uk/livechat

Why NDCS thinks the new guidance on special educational needs won’t work

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

Today, MPs will be considering whether to approve new guidance (known as the SEND Code of Practice) on how children with special educational needs and disabilities are supported. NDCS is taking the difficult decision to recommend that the Code be withdrawn and redrafted.

This isn’t because we don’t share the Government’s objectives or that we hugely disagree with what the new Code contains. Our big concern is what is absent.

The Code fails to set out robust quality assurance arrangements that are necessary to promote service improvements and give parents and other members of the public the information that will enable them to hold their Council to account for the quality of support provided for children. Because of this critical omission we’re not convinced there will be any change for the better.

Parents of deaf children regularly bring to us problems about getting the support their children need to make educational progress. When we look into the problem we find that the main cause is a failing by education services to implement existing laws and guidance

We believe that this is due to the lack of accountability and quality assurance arrangements. In other words, it is possible for local authorities to get away with poor provision without proper checks or anyone calling them to account.

Unless this deficiency is rectified, any potential benefit from the recent legislation on special educational needs will not be realised. England will simply be following in the footsteps of Scotland where significant and similar changes were introduced 10 years ago. Despite these changes, research commissioned by NDCS revealed that parents and professionals don’t think there has been a significant change in the quality of service. This was also confirmed by the Scottish Government’s Doran Review.

We have therefore asked the government to make two important additions to help ensure the reforms have a chance of success:

1)   The Government needs to set out measures of success and ensure data on provision and outcomes for children with special educational needs or disability is published by local authority area. This will help parents know whether their local authority is doing a good or bad job.

2)   Ofsted should inspect quality of local authority services and their performance, helping children and young people with SEND achieve good outcomes. Parents rely on Ofsted inspections to know how well their local school is performing. It is equally important for parents of children with SEND to have an independent assessment of how well local authorities and health services are meeting their children’s needs.

Each year the Government allocates over £5 billion to meet the needs of children and young people with high levels of SEND and we know that even with this, local authorities are struggling to meet needs. Some have to raid other pots of money to make ends meet. This combined with significant changes and raised expectations, means that there must be far greater emphasis on quality assurance and accountability.

It would be a shame to see all of these changes being made at a lot of expense but with little prospect of any real improvement. It’s not too late for the Government to take heed and put in place accountability and quality assurance arrangements that promote the improvement of services and outcomes for every pound that is spent.

What does the reshuffle mean for deaf children?

Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

With Jeremy Hunt remaining as Health Secretary, the headline-grabbing Cabinet move announced yesterday for deaf children was in Education. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, was replaced by Nicky Morgan. The big question is what this might mean for deaf children?

We are unaware of any personal connection that Morgan has to deafness, whereas Gove had a deaf adoptive sister growing up and a mother who was a Teacher of the Deaf. This meant that Gove always had some interest and familiarity in the issue of childhood deafness. Morgan has previously asked questions of ministers on deaf issues, but otherwise there is a question mark over her familiarity with deafness.

Michael Gove at an NDCS event in 2008

Michael Gove at an NDCS parliamentary event in 2008

What can we expect from the Department for Education moving forward? There will be a continued focus on SEN reform. There are positive intentions here, but will it lead to better outcomes for deaf children? We are concerned it won’t unless there is a proper focus on accountability within the system.

We can’t ignore also the impact of cuts. Through our Stolen Futures campaign, we have interacted frequently with local government. Too often, cuts to services are happening at a local level. The Department for Education have said that they have protected the budget, but it’s clear that this hasn’t been backed up by action.

Over the past few years, we have seen a trend of improving attainment for deaf children and young people. With 43% of deaf children achieving five good GCSEs compared to 70% of children with no identified special education needs, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Action is still needed from the government. Let’s hope Nicky Morgan can deliver.

How can Local Government deliver for Deaf Children?

Reema Patel

Reema Patel, NDCS Trustee and newly-elected Barnet Councillor

As we take in the results of the local elections, campaign groups including deaf children, young people and parents will be considering how best to engage with local politicians and local political parties. We know that, despite deafness not being a learning disability, the attainment gap between deaf and children with no identified Special Educational Needs (SEN) is large – with a 28% difference in those who achieve 5 GCSEs between A*-C including English and Maths – and whilst over time this gap is narrowing, closing the gap remains one of the key priorities for local areas, schools and health providers.

There are, however, challenges. Local politicians may feel disempowered in an education system that has recently favoured greater independence for schools in the way they run and deliver services, and in a system where the impact of proposed changes to the SEN system have been less than clear. Whilst councillors may have every best intention to make an impact, it may not always be clear to them how best to do so.

So what are the most important steps that campaign groups, parents and children can take to close the gap between deaf children and non-deaf children?

1)    Reassure local politicians that there is something they can do

Local politicians should begin by gathering more information to find out exactly what the issues are in their area. What does the gap look like in their local area? What support already exists out there? In what areas is our local authority failing deaf children, and can we look at best practice elsewhere to improve the way we allocate our resources? How do we find the money to plug the gap? What powers do local authorities have to deal with these challenges?

2)    Provide evidence and solutions

As a campaigner myself, I know full well that it is often when local campaign groups are quick enough to take the initiative, to do research themselves and put forward concrete recommendations that the most effective kind of influencing happens. Parents getting in touch with local representatives, identifying problems that they have encountered first hand, sharing their story, and offering concrete solutions makes it very difficult for the representatives to say no.

3)    Stay ahead of the game

This week, we have a batch of brand new councillors who have never been local politicians before in a system that has changed a lot in recent years. For example, SEN reform – to be implemented later this year – presents great challenges as well as opportunities for local authorities and campaigners alike. Local authorities will be able to consider granting children personal budgets to meet their needs – balancing this with the need to allocate resources fairly in a world of dwindling resources, and they will also need to think about ways to make the most impact with less resource available. With a system such as this, a vocal, active parent-led campaign group could be very effective in securing improved outcomes and increased support for deaf children – and may well make a difference. Joining with other parents, as you can through the NDCS Campaigns Network, will amplify your voice going forward.

What local authorities can best do to support deaf children will vary depending on the needs of the child(ren) involved, the local area itself and what is already available in the local area – all in a rapidly changing local government and public sector landscape. Because of this, good local politicians will understand that part of their job is to make listening and responding to interested groups easier as well as building influence with stakeholders outside of local authorities in the health and schools sector, instead of adopting a ‘top-down’ approach and presumption of what is best for children without engagement.

It is a partnership with deaf children, their parents and advocates that will in the long-term enable local politicians to most effectively narrow and then close the attainment gap.

Deaf young people – three years of policy and campaigning  

NDCS - Ralph Hartley: Supporting calls to improve careers advice

Ralph Hartley, Post-16 Education Policy Advisor

I’ve been working for nearly three years at NDCS focussing on making sure deaf young people get the best possible education and training when they leave school. This post looks back on some of the things we’ve been working on.

England – The Raising of the Participation Age

From next year young people have to stay in education or training until their 18th birthday. Some deaf young people need longer to access the opportunities available, so making sure they stay on at least until 18 will benefit them. The government also wants education to focus on skills in English and Maths and access to work experience. We want to make sure this benefits deaf young people too and we will be working to update our guidance on supporting them in Further Education (FE), take a look at the current document here.

England – The Children and Families Act

The Children and Families Act was passed this summer and there are some positive changes to the way the law works for young people. The new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) will apply in FE Colleges, which is different from the current system. Lots of deaf young people go to FE colleges so this is a good opportunity to make sure they get the right support like an interpreter, a note-taker or a Teacher of the Deaf.

NDCS is working with the government to ensure the SEN Code of Practice, reflects these changes to the law properly. We are also producing guidance with the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP) to help local authorities with the changes.

Take a look at our FAQ on SEN reform for more information.

Wales – SEN Reform

Welsh government proposals also involve giving a stronger legal backing for some young people to get the support they need in FE. Legislation will not be introduced until 2016. NDCS will be making sure that the changes help deaf young people achieve their potential throughout Wales. In particular, NDCS will be making sure that recent changes to the way that colleges are funded are monitored properly.

Scotland – Close the Gap

NDCS commissioned research from the University of Edinburgh on deaf young people’s post 16 experiences. The research shows that deaf young people in Scotland are regularly falling behind at school and college and missing out on opportunities to go to university and get a job. NDCS used the research to create the Close the Gap report which contains 5 recommendations for the Scottish government. It also contains recommendations for local authorities to provide better support for deaf young people – like using our The Template for Success.

Across the UK – Careers Advice

Across all four countries, NDCS is concerned about the access that deaf young people have to good information, advice and guidance to help them make decisions about their future.

We have worked with the Scottish careers service (Skills Development Scotland) on the Template for Success but we are also trying to make sure the information we provide ourselves is as useful as possible to deaf young people and their parents. Take a look at the Leaving School section of our website. Deaf young people will find the sections on Work and Careers, University and College and Apprenticeships on the Buzz really interesting too.

We’ll continue to work with national careers services across the four countries to make sure they support deaf young people properly and we’ll also be producing guidance through NatSIP to help schools, colleges and local authorities.

In my three years at NDCS I’ve worked in these areas and many more, including trying to improve Access to Work, Disabled Student’s Allowances, education funding in England and access for deaf young people to the examinations system. There will be challenges ahead, but I know the NDCS Policy and Campaigns team will continue to work as hard as possible to make sure deaf young people can achieve their hopes and ambitions for the future.

5 articles the Campaigns Team has been reading this week

NDCS, Sam Aldridge

Sam Aldridge, Campaigns Assistant

Every week we’ll be compiling a short list of articles that we’ve noticed in the news and want to share with you. Some of them will be about campaigning and others will be about changes to policy, or relevant policy areas, that may be of interest.

1)    Children and Families Act: Budget cuts will undermine SEN reforms warn charities , Laura McCardle, Children and Young People Now

Special educational needs (SEN) charities fear cuts to council budgets and inadequate guidance for professionals will undermine reforms made under the Children and Families Act.

2)    Striving to be heard in a world without sound , Henry Hepburn, TES Scotland

Deaf students must contend with ignorance, bullying and poor provision, writes Henry Hepburn. Yet they are entering further education in large numbers – when will the sector catch up?

3)   Ofsted inspections: ‘you’d be better off flipping a coin’ Padraic Flanagan, The Telegraph

The schools watchdog is criticised over the quality of its inspectors in a report by a right-leaning think tank founded by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.

4)    How does money influence health?, Michaela Benzaval et al, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

This study looks at hundreds of theories to consider how income influences health. There is a graded association between money and health – increased income equates to better health. But the reasons are debated.

5)    No make-up selfies: women on Facebook and Twitter post bare-faced photos to help raise breast cancer awareness , Kashmira Gander, The Independent

The no make-up selfie craze has divided users online, with some arguing the trend is not the best way to help to fight the disease.

Have you spotted any good articles around this week? Leave a comment below to share them with us!

Working to influence the Children’s and Families Act

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Last Thursday was a big day – Her Majesty decided to give her “royal assent” to the Children and Families Bill, thus turning it into the ‘Children’s and Families Act’.

This Act sets out a whole new range of laws on special educational needs (SEN). A National Deaf Children’s Society FAQ for parents has more information but it’s been described as the biggest shake up of the SEN system in 30 years and will have big implications for how deaf children are supported. So no pressure on us here at the National Deaf Children’s Society…

We’ve been working to influence these reforms right from the very start. It’s been a long hard slog. There have been many meetings, countless consultations and plenty of parliamentary debates – all to make sure that the needs of deaf children were considered.

Before all of that though, we needed to find out what parents of deaf children thought. We ran a series of focus groups and surveys and then wrote up what parents thought of the proposals. Politicians and civil servants were then reminded repeatedly about what our members want. It really helped bring our arguments to life.

So what’s been achieved along the way? Some key achievements include:

  1. A review is now taking place into whether Ofsted should have a greater role in inspecting local SEN provision.
  2. It will be harder for local authorities to end support to a young person just because they’ve turned 19. Now local authorities must consider if they’ve achieved the outcomes set for them and not just “have regard to age”.
  3. At one point, parents would be required to undergo mediation with the local authority if they wanted to take any issues to a Tribunal. Now they must consider mediation, but now have the option to say no.
  4. Not every disabled child has ‘SEN’ but many will still need support. This created a risk that some children would fall through the net. The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) and Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) pushed hard for more strategic support from local authorities for both disabled and SEN children.
  5. Recognition of the essential role of Teachers of the Deaf has been kept – for example, the Act requires that Teachers of the Deaf be involved in any statutory assessments of deaf children.

Key to our success has been the way the sector has worked together. The National Deaf Children’s Society has worked closely with our counterparts at RNIB and Sense to raise common issues in relation to children with sensory impairment, as well as with EDCM and SEC.

Not everything has gone our way. Some of the above changes have been hard fought right to the end. Other times, it’s felt like we’ve been banging our heads against brick walls…

And there’s still plenty of work to be done. Whilst the Act provides the overall framework, a lot of the practical requirements will be set out in guidance, called the SEN Code of Practice. We’re expecting this to be published this spring and Westminster will again get the chance to debate this. Also, it’s great that Ofsted are reviewing the SEN inspection framework but we will need to monitor it closely to make sure they take action after this review.

And, of course, all of these changes have to be implemented. Our biggest concern remains that these changes are going to be made in a context of massive spending cuts, as we know from the Stolen Futures campaign. There is the potential for massive upheaval for services for deaf children. The National Deaf Children’s Society’s team of Regional Directors will now be working to influence implementation in each of the 152 local authorities in England and to challenge any cuts where they arise.

Overall, the Bill becoming an Act is a big milestone. It feels like a good moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come… and then start to get ready for the next phase of this big SEN shake up.