Long-term strategy

27th February 2004 at 00:00
The newly published Removing Barriers to Achievement: The Government's Strategy for SEN should be seen in the context of the earlier "Programme of Action" (1998), several rounds of education legislation, and the Audit Commission's report of 2002, Special Educational Needs: A Mainstream Issue.

In effect, the strategy is the Goverment's response to the weaknesses identified in this report.

Teachers are likely to find the Government's latest strategy a more interesting and relevant document than the 1998 "Programme of Action". It is a long-term strategy, described as 10 years - a bold timescale for any government.

A welcome feature is the explicit co-ordination with other Government plans. The development of the Early Support Pilot Programmes could mean young children start school with better support in place and early experiences that enable them to fulfil their potential. There is also a clear intention to make sure that schools have the delegated funds to address children's needs as soon as they are identified.

The SEN Code of Practice asserts that "All teachers are teachers of children with special educational needs." The question raised by the Audit Commission was how adequately teachers felt prepared for this responsibility. Under the new strategy, training will be organised at three levels: core skills for all teachers in all schools; advanced skills for some teachers in all schools; and specialist skills in some local schools.

The strategy also emphasises the role of senco in co-ordinating provision across the school and linking class and subject teachers with SEN specialists.

An Inclusion Development Programme will develop evidence about what works and build a consensus about how to implement good practice. Removing Barriers to Achievement will also set minimum standards in advisory and support services, some of the key considerations being quality, availability and cost-effectiveness of services.

Another welcome element in the strategy is a review of school performance information. There is a commitment to a greater emphasis on value-added measures that are better designed than at present to reflect the progress made by children with SEN. There is also a commitment to widen the information that is published.

A longer-term strategy has the potential for developing a more coherent approach. While this makes good sense, there are likely to be several frustrations for teachers. First, the starting point for the strategy is further back than we might wish, perhaps because it's honest about where we are. Many of the measures outlined are about what teachers need now, yet will have to wait for. Second, in seeking to reduce bureaucratic burdens, there is a risk of removing the very bits of paper, the IEPs, the policies, that enable schools to share their approach with parents and discuss how to proceed. The shared approach will pay dividends in the long run and avoids the bureaucracy arising from conflict in the system.

Third, there is a risk that the appointment of consultants to develop good practice across all schools will reduce expertise in individual schools - this has happened with the primary and the key stage 3 strategies and developing support for the SEN strategy carries the same danger. Finally, how can the strategy be developed without drawing funds from the very parts of the education service that it seeks to help: schools and support services?

The strategy is one of the best chances we have of convincing the Treasury that we can make a difference in outcomes for disabled children and children with special educational needs.

Philippa Stobbs

Philippa Stobbs is policy officer to the Special Educational Consortium

Removing Barriers to Achievement: www.dfes.gov.uksen

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