Yesterday saw the publication of the Schools’ White Paper, Opportunity for All (Opportunity for all – Strong schools with great teachers for your child (publishing.service.gov.uk)). This will form the basis of new legislation for schools and part of a package of reforms along with the SEND review.
This paper outlines our initial response to the contents of the document. Many of the key proposals in the White Paper have been discussed in the mainstream media, we will not focus on these broader proposals here, rather we will focus on those elements that are most relevant the children and young people with SEND.
Some key points include:
- We are pleased that a strong multi-academy trust is defined one that provides a “high quality and inclusive education.” The review, regulation and enforcement of this will be key.
- The target for 90% of children to meet targets for reading, writing and maths could be a very strong incentive for schools to focus on getting SEND provision right – if approximately 15% of children have SEND, it will be impossible to reach this target without strong SEND focus. However, we do have strong concerns about unintended consequences of this:
- because this is across the whole system and will not apply to individual schools or trusts there may be incentives for individual schools to schools to off roll or discourage SEND pupils from attending. The accountability, inspection and regulatory framework will need to be strong to counter this.
- a purely academic measure of success and focus on tests may be harmful to the mental health and well being of many pupils – we would like to see wider definitions of what success looks like for pupils.
- The “Parent Pledge” may offer additional rights to parent-carers of children on SEN support to get support more quickly. However, the paper is silent on a more diverse range of support such as therapy services.
- Likewise, the emphasis on targeted support is very welcome – however, the focus remains very strongly on tutoring – we would like to see more about the other non-academic support (e.g. speech and language or occupational therapy) that many SEND children need.
- We have repeatedly called for greater clarity in the accountability of mainstream schools and in particular academies when it comes to SEND (see our post on our discussions with Baroness Barran NNPCF Steering Group meet with Minister on Schools White Paper – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C.). The White Paper goes some way towards tidying up the current confused accountability in the schools system. However, the responsibilities for ensuring that schools and trusts meet the needs of SEND children remains unclear – it is vital that the role of DfE Regional Directors and Local Authorities are clarified. At the moment, SEND children risk falling through the gaps again.
- There remains a strong focus on behaviour and attendance throughout the paper – if implemented crudely, this may again prove a disincentive to inclusive schools. We would like to see more said about a requirement on schools to meet children’s needs promptly and an understanding that much “bad behaviour” results from unmet needs.
- There is no mention of SEND in the remit for the new curriculum body that is proposed – the relationship between this and the minimum standards for SEND proposed in the SEND Green Paper requires greater clarity.
- Finally, there are several welcome proposals for the SEND community such as the additional training of SENCos, the mention of school mental health teams, the continued focus of Ofsted on off-rolling and the steer towards a broad curriculum featuring sports, music and culture.
We will be working with the Department for Education as these proposals are further developed and we will be organising events for parent carer forums to gather your views over the coming weeks.