New guidance aims to ensure special needs children are treated the same from Surrey to Salford, reports Karen Thornton.
SPECIAL needs pupils will be involved in decisions about their education under the Government's first update of the code of practice since its introduction in 1994.
The emphasis on working in partnership with parents and pupils sits alongside a new focus on the difference schools can make by refining their own practices, procedures and teaching methods.
Most of the advice on meeting special needs in mainstream schools is now covered in chapters on early years, primary and secondary. The step-by-step approach of the old code has largely been removed, although chunks of the original text survive - particularly on statementing children with complex needs.
There are new chapters on involving parents and children in the special needs process and multi-agency working. Throughout there are cross-references to recent or pending education initiatives, such as parent partnership schemes, Sure Start in early years, curriculum flexibility in secondary and Connexions, the planned youth and careers service for over-14s.
Officials say the changes had been signposted previously in the 1998 action programme for special needs and the more recent consultation document on the (now delayed) special needs and disability rights Bill.
The code emphasises consultation and joint working. It says all teachers should regard themselves as teachers of pupils with special needs. Schools are already adapting teaching to a wide spectrum of need within the classroom and SEN teaching should build on this approach. Schools should be aware that their own procedures and practices may be creating needs. The draft code says: "Schools should not assume that pupils' learning difficulties always result solely, or even mainly, from problems within the young person. Pupils' rates of progress can sometimes depend on what or how they are taught."
The code emphasises the need to take into account the child's views. "All children should be involved in making decisions right from the start" and later: "Practitioners should ensure that the child is involved in the development of an individual education plan and in setting targets."
Ministers' intention of replacing the old five-stage process for dealing with progressively more complex needs has been well publicised. But they have decided to call the two new stages "school (or early years) action" and "school (or early years) action plus", instead of using the more passive "school support".
Elsewhere, the new draft emphasises that additional support for children with special needs does not necessarily mean extra support staff or one-to-one teaching. Other actions - such as using more effective teaching strategies or materials, or greater differentiation within classes - may be more effective.
The code says children's progress - or lack of it - should be the main trigger for each new stage of action, including statementing. But there is more detailed guidance available in SEN Thresholds on when schools should move to action or action plus.
Based on research carried out by Newcastle Unversity, it offers case studies and good practice for LEAs and schools. This guidance is related more specifically to particular needs, such as emotional and behavioural difficulties, and outlines the range of learning difficulties teachers might encounter and how to relate action to the level of need.
The aim is to ensure there is a more consistent approach nationwide to meeting the needs of children with similar difficulties - so that provision is comparable from Surrey to Salford.
The code says that, where a child's needs are obviously complex, staff should consider skipping the action stages and going direct to statementing. The guidance here is more familiar, although there is new advice on ending and amending statements, lapsed statements, and on when residential provision might be considered appropriate.
Apart from the changes to the stages, the other major content change is to the definitions of categories of special needs. The old eight categories - spelling out everything from visual impairment and specific learning difficulties - have been replaced by five groupings: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; behavour, emotional and social development; sensory andor physical needs; and medical conditions. These mirror the categories used by the Teacher Training Agency in its standards for specialist teachers.
Consultations on the code and the thresholds document close on October 13. The final version of the code, to be implemented in autumn 2001, will be accompanied by a welter of additional good practice guidance. Separate guidance is expected on parent partnership, pupil participation, writing statements, annual reviews, transition planning, and multi-agency working. There will also be a new guide for parents.
See www.dfee.gov.uksen for copies of the "SEN Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Pupils with Special Educational Needs", and "SEN Thresholds: Good Practice Guidance and Provision for Pupils with Special Educational Needs". For telephone orders, ring 0845 60 222 60, quoting Department for Education and Employment document reference 01202000.
WHAT'S NEW IN THE CODE OF PRACTICE:
* Parents - need positive attitudes from local authorities and schools, user friendly information and support.
* Pupil participation - children can be encouraged to make choices from an early age. Parents may need support to see their children as partners in education.
* Early years - special educational needs co-ordinators could be shared between individual childminders in an approved network.
* Primary - SENCOs should collaborate with curriculum co-ordinators. Secondary transfer decisions for statemented pupils must be made by February 15.
* Secondary - flexible subject planning, liaison with new Connexions service for older pupils.
* Residential provision - guidance on when it might be needed.
* Statements - advice on when to stop maintaining them.
* Paperwork - shorter individual education plans and reduced reporting and assessment requirements in some cases.
'All teachers should regard themselves as teachers of pupils with special needs'