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Looking ahead to September 2014: the SEN Reforms

In just under a year’s time, there will be a new system for identifying and supporting children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) as a result of the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through parliament. With so many changes in the pipeline we’re keen to ensure the best possible support for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).  I CAN has been working closely with The Communication Trust to shape the changes. So these past 2 weeks we’ve been busy digesting the updated draft SEN Code of Practice (the guidance which will underpin the law) which came out on Friday 4th October. The good news is that many of the points raised back in March 2013 have been listened to, and we see some positive changes in this version.

Many of our concerns were about whether children with SLCN would be identified, and if there would be appropriate support put in place. The role of schools in this process has previously been hazy, but the current draft Code makes this much clearer. The existing system of ‘school action’ and ‘school action plus’ gives us a ‘graduated response’ to identifying needs – concerns can be flagged and escalated if more specialist support is needed. This 2 step system is set to be replaced with a single school-based category– but with it we risked losing the ‘graduated response’. So we were reassured to see principles of a graduated response retained and a four step process of assessing, planning, doing and reviewing outlined.

Even better news is the attention given to children in the Early Years; there had previously been little detail about the early identification and intervention we know is important for very young children with SLCN. We’re also pleased to see the value placed on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum as a framework for quality, particularly as language and communication is identified as one of the three prime areas of learning.

Both the EYFS profile, and the current system of measuring progress in schools are highlighted as ways in which schools can identify pupils needing additional support. Both provide frameworks for comparing children’s performance against national standards. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the current Primary Assessment and Accountability consultation later this year, which puts both these systems at risk.

We knew that Statements of SEN are going to be replaced by Education Health and Care plans (EHCPs) – we now know more about the process of getting a plan, and what they are likely to include. There’s a stronger duty on health services as well as Local Authorities to ensure that what is described in the plan will happen in practice. We have been more concerned, though, about children who will not qualify for an EHCP – we’re pretty sure that this will be the case for many children with SLCN. The recent Better Communication Research Programme reports stressed the importance of good, quality first teaching being in place to underpin more targeted and specialist support. It’s great to see this reinforced in the Code of Practice: ‘High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN’.

We’d like to see more detail about what ‘high quality teaching’ actually means – we at I CAN have very clear ideas that it includes teaching which supports children’s speech, language and communication in ‘communication supportive classrooms’.

Parents will be anxious to know what will be in their Local Authority’s ‘Local Offer’ – for many children with SLCN this will outline the support they will get in school. Good news again; there’s much more information about what should be expected in the early years – and more guidance of the types of provision to be included for schools such as skilled teachers and adaptations to the curriculum. However, we’re still uncertain about how LAs will be held to account – what safeguards there will be to make sure provision is in place. It’s all in the wording so we’re trying to make sure the legal wording is just right!

So overall there are some good signs  – and it is particularly promising that many concerns have been listened to since the March consultation. However, it’s still important that as many people as possible read the proposals, and get engaged with the consultation process so that we can get as many views as possible represented in these crucial legislative changes. Feedback from parents and practitioners as well as organisations  is welcomed, with a deadline of 9th December for responses.

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