The most recent SEND Code of Practice, released in 2014 and updated in 2015, has been the catalyst for the biggest changes in provision for pupils with special educational needs in a generation.
But how are schools and education settings really managing in attempting to meet all of the new code’s requirements and recommendations?
Here are five areas where schools and those who work in them often struggle:
1. Are your students central to decisions made about their education?
The SEND Code of Practice places the child or young person at the centre of decision-making around their education. In practice, this means that students need to be actively involved in setting targets and evaluating their progress towards them. It also means they need to actively identify what is important to them now and in the future.
Making sure this happens for all aspects of school life is no small undertaking and, in many schools, achieving compliance here demands a real culture change.
2. Do you use the knowledge and expertise of parents and carers?
Parents and carers are the experts regarding their child, so the code recommends that schools work in partnership with them, involving them in decisions and making use of their knowledge.
To ensure this happens, schools need to remember that many educational terms are incomprehensible to those outside teaching and that some processes teachers take for granted may be a mystery to parents and carers. If the latter are not given the tools and information they need, in an accessible way, they cannot contribute effectively.
3. Are you using the graduated approach?
SEND support should arise from a four-part cycle, known as the graduated approach, through which earlier decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised. This will lead to a growing understanding of pupils’ needs and what supports them in making good progress.
This approach might sound complicated, but there’s nothing to fear: teachers follow processes of "assess, plan, do, review" all the time.
Remember that the "do" part is particularly important here. Ensure that you are actually doing what’s been planned and you are allowing enough time for it to have an impact, whether this is running an intervention or trying out a new way of presenting information, before moving on to the review stage.
4. Do you understand the shift from BESD to SEMH?
The 2015 SEND Code of Practice changed the way young people who struggle to manage their behaviour and emotions are referred to. Where before students were referred to as having "behavioural, emotional and social difficulties" (BESD), in the new code this became "social, emotional and mental health needs" (SEMH). The change in wording asks us to look past a student’s behaviour itself to the underlying causes and focus on what that behaviour is communicating.
This requires a change of attitude in schools and a shift in policy. To be compliant, you need a whole-school ethos that emphasises mental health and wellbeing. Start with the premise that everyone in the setting will treat each other with respect and understanding within a resilient and nurturing environment. If you find that there are needs that cannot be met from within your setting, use expertise as recommended by your Sendco.
5. Do you recognise the need to go beyond labels?
When identifying special educational needs, the code sets out four broad areas of need that students may fall into. However, the code also clearly states that “the purpose of identification is to work out what action the school needs to take, not to fit a pupil in a category”.
This means that schools should consider all of a pupil’s needs, not just those with which they have been labelled, alongside their strengths. Target support wherever it is most needed at any one time, remembering that students’ needs may cut across more than one area and may change with time. If you believe that a pupil’s needs are quite different to those described, discuss this with your Sendco.
Alex Grady is education development officer for Nasen (the National Association for Special Educational Needs)
For further advice on working with SEND, you can visit the Nasen website and the SEND Gateway, where you will find lots of resources to support you – soon to include a new section where you will be able to see and upload examples of good practice in SEND from across the sectors.