The SEND reforms - still a long way to go

In this article Lorraine Petersen OBE (Educational Consultant and previous CEO of NASEN) explains the new SEND reforms: what has changed, what's new and the challenges ahead.

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The SEND Reforms – still a long way to go!

It has been a long and arduous journey from February 2011, when the DfE published its Green Paper: Support and aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability to March 2014 when the Children and Families Bill finally received Royal Assent. Not all of the aspiration of that original Green Paper is evident in the final Act but there is a great deal that will support children and young people with SEND as we begin to work towards the Act being implemented across the sector.

However, three years on, the end is still a long way off. The SEND journey continues until April 2018 the final date by which local authorities must have transferred all current statements to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP).

The DfE have published statutory guidance on the transition process to support local authorities implement the SEND reforms.

The new SEND Code of Practice was finally given parliamentary approval in July 2014 for implementation from September 2014. It sets out statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to Part 3 of the Children and Families Act.

The implications of the Act and the new SEND Code of Practice are far–reaching and the full impact will not be seen for a number of years.

What’s changed?

  • The Code of Practice (2014) covers the 0-25 age range and includes guidance relating to disabled children and young people as well as those with SEN
  • There is a clearer focus on the participation of children and young people and parents in decision-making at individual and strategic levels
  • There is a stronger focus on high aspirations and on improving outcomes for children and young people
  • It includes guidance on the joint planning and commissioning of services to ensure close co-operation between education, health services and social care
  • It includes guidance on publishing a Local Offer of support for children and young people with SEN and disabilities
  • Social, emotional and mental health needs replaces behaviour, social and emotional difficulties as an area of need
  • A single category called SEN Support replaces School Action and School Action Plus
  • Quality first teaching embedded throughout the identification, intervention, evaluation process
  • SEN provision is that which goes beyond the differentiated approaches and learning arrangements normally provided as part of high quality personalised teaching and uses appropriate evidence – based interventions
  • SEN support in schools based on 4 part cycle of action – assess, plan, do, review
  • For children and young people with more complex needs a co-ordinated assessment process and the new 0-25 Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC plan) replace statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs)

What’s new?

Local Offer

Every local authority must produce a Local Offer which sets out, in one place, information about the provision that is available in their area across education, health and social care to support children and young people who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Each local authority must have published an initial, accessible, Local Offer by September 2014.

Schools also need to produce a SEN information report which will outline what it is that each individual school offers children and young people with SEND. This will give parents and carers a much clearer understanding of what local authorities and individual schools are able to offer their child.

Education, Health and Care Plans

From September 2014 Education, Health and Care Plans will replace statements. All statutory assessment carried out after 1 September 2014 will be towards an EHC Plan. Children and young people currently with a statement will be transferred to an EHC Plan over the next four years. This will take place at a transfer review and each local authority should have produced a transitional arrangements plan setting out how they will go about transferring each statement and a time frame for doing this. This is going to be a huge challenge especially at a time when local authorities are seeing a reduction in their key personnel. During this time schools will have to manage a dual system – all new pupils from September 2014 will be issued with an EHCP whilst all existing statements will remain until their allotted review.

SEN Support

The single category of SEN Support will replace the current school action and school action plus. All schools must establish a graduated approach to supporting those children and young people they have identified as having a special educational need. The first step in responding to pupils who may have SEN is high quality teaching which has been differentiated to meet the needs of all pupils.

Schools should have a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEN. If high quality teaching is taking place in a classroom and regular assessment of progress is identifying pupils making less than expected progress then the class/subject teacher needs to make a judgement about how they are going to support that pupil.

The first response would be to target high quality teaching at the area of weakness through differentiation and adapt their classroom practice to meet the pupil’s need. The class/subject teacher may also instigate a short-term targeted intervention to enable the pupil to “catch-up”. Where progress continues to be less than expected the class/subject teacher, working with the SENCO, should assess whether the pupil has SEN. At this point the class/subject teacher would begin the four part cycle – assess, plan, do, review known as the “graduated approach”. It is at this point that parents must be informed that SEN provision is being made for their child. It is hoped that schools engage with parents well before this point.

In order to ensure that all of our teachers and support staff have the knowledge and skills to support this process we need to ensure that they are offered high quality professional development as soon as possible.

Categories of Need

The SEND Code of Practice identifies four broad areas of need:

  • Communication and Interaction – children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cognition and Learning – children with moderate learning difficulties, severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. This category also covers those children with Specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia
  • Social, emotional and mental health difficulties – these difficulties will manifest themselves in many different ways – withdrawn and isolated or exhibiting challenging behaviour. Anxiety, depression, self-harming may also indicate difficulties in this area
  • Sensory and/or physical needs – vision impairment, hearing impairment or multi-sensory impairment as well as all those children with a physical disability

The category of behaviour, social and emotional needs has been replaced because persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or a young person has SEN. The underlying needs which result in the behaviour are what should be being addressed.

With over 1.5 million children and young people identified with a special educational need or disability it can be assumed that the majority of teachers will teach at least one pupil every day who has an additional need.  This will be much higher in many schools.

The question we need to ask is are the professionals working with our children and young people (education, health and care staff)  trained to meet the needs of children who are identified as having additional needs as well as take on all the other challenges that they face on a daily basis?

As we move to implement the new SEND legislation from September 2014 we are going to have to have a very clear idea of how we are going to meet the needs of these children and young people.

We have been on the SEND journey since March 2011 when the Green Paper was launched. We still have a way to go before we get it right but if we work together there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and we will have a first-class educational system that supports all children and young people especially those with SEND.

Useful organisations



Autism Education trust (autism specific education support)

Author: Lorraine Petersen OBE

Date added: 9 September 2014