SEND and school governance

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in November 2018.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

You can access the full archive of my columns for SecEd here

The foreword to the SEND Code of Practice (DfE, 2015) states that “Our vision for children with SEND (should be) the same as for all children and young people – that they achieve well in their early years, at school and in college, and lead happy and fulfilled lives.”

If we are to achieve this vision, all schools must ensure – as far as is reasonably practicable – fair and equal access to all pupils, irrespective of need. This includes access to the school site and facilities, to the formal curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities, and to opportunities for social and emotional development.

It is beholden on a school’s governing body – perhaps executed through the role of a named governor for SEND – to support and challenge the SENCO and other staff in ensuring this fair and equal access for all.

In practice, this means that the governing body or named governor should work with the school to ensure that pupils with SEND join in the activities of the school.

They should cooperate with the local authority, whether the school is maintained or an academy, in developing the Local Offer.

They should ensure the school produces and publishes on its website a SEND Information Report. And they should ensure arrangements are in place to support children with medical conditions.

The governing body or named governor should ensure that the school’s budgetary priorities reflect the needs of children with SEND, and they should assist staff in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of SEND resourcing decisions within the school. Broadly speaking, there are three sources of funding for SEND:

  • Element 1: This is basic per-pupil funding and is used for the general provision for all pupils in the school, including pupils with SEND.
  • Element 2: This is the notional SEN budget which is additional money to help make special educational provision meet the needs of children with SEND. It is called “notional” because schools can spend it as they think best. Most authorities assign a percentage of their deprivation and basic entitlement funding to notional SEND budgets.
  • Element 3: This is High Needs Block funding which, as the name suggests, is funding for high-need, low-incidence SEND that comes directly from the commissioning local authority into schools. It is aimed mainly, though not exclusively, at pupils with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

In addition to these three funding elements, Pupil Premium monies may also be allocated to pupils with SEND and used to support provision in this area.

It is important that governing bodies understand that the government expects schools to have spent at least £10,000 out of their core and notional budgets before High Needs Block funding can be accessed. As such, governors should challenge their SENCO to demonstrate how elements 1 and 2, plus Pupil Premium monies, have been used before supporting requests to the local authority for additional funding.

It is easy to focus discussions on those with EHCPs but governors need to remember that only a small proportion of supported children for whom they and the SENCO have responsibility will have an EHCP.

While EHCPs are written by the local authority and are legal documents, other children may have a “My Support Plan” or a school-based plan such as an Individual Education Plan or One-Page Profile.

In aiding the review process of any support plans – in any form – governors should consider what reasonable adjustments have been made to ensure fair and equal access to the curriculum. This may include transport, staffing, timetable changes, adjustments to the physical environment, and so on, while also acknowledging that what matters most – and has the biggest impact – is quality first teaching.

The named governor may offer scrutiny in the form of a link meeting with the SENCO, by reading documents including those published on the school’s website, and by conducting learning walks around school. Let’s take a look at some of these activities in more detail…

The link meeting

The link meeting – which should take place several times a year, perhaps at strategic points when decisions need to be taken and budgets need to be set or reviewed – should provide the named governor for SEND with an update on, among other aspects, the following:

  • How pupils with SEND are identified.
  • What – and how much – funding has been allocated.
  • How that funding has been used and to what effect.
  • How the attendance, progress and outcomes of children with SEND are tracked.
  • How support and intervention strategies are being monitored and evaluated and what the evidence suggests.
  • What training teachers and support staff have had, what impact it has had, and what further training needs have been identified.
  • How teaching assistants are being utilised and to what effect.
  • How other resources are being deployed and to what effect.
  • How effectively parents are being engaged and communicated with.
  • What liaison has taken place with external agencies and the local authority and the outcomes of this.
  • What the data shows about the extent to which the school is diminishing the difference in the educational outcomes of pupils with SEN and those without SEN.
  • What information has been published on the school website and if it is up-to-date and accurate.

Scrutinising published information

Schools have a legal duty to publish SEND information on their websites and to review it at least annually. The named governor has a role in checking this information for accuracy and rigour.
The information schools need to publish includes the following:

  • A SEND policy which should set out a school’s approach to teaching and learning, how it adapts its curriculum, timetable and learning environment, what additional support it offers for learning, access arrangements for facilities and extra-curricular activities, and how it supports pupils’ emotional and social development.
  • The name and contact details of the school’s SENCO.
  • The expertise and training of staff.
  • How the school consults with parents and handles complaints.
  • How the school involves other bodies.
  • How the school supports pupils’ transfer from one phase or key stage of education to the next.
  • Information on where the local authority’s Local Offer can be found.

The named governor should review all the above published information to ensure it exists, is up-to-date, and is dated. What’s more, the governor should ensure the information is accurate. For example, many schools market themselves as being “fully inclusive” and yet do not have the physical facilities to support pupils with some medical conditions or severe learning disabilities.

If the school site or facilities prohibit the admission of some children, then a statement like “we aspire to be fully inclusive” or “we are working towards being fully inclusive” may prove wiser. The named governor, with an external eye, is well-placed to observe potential pitfalls or contradictions in published information and to challenge the school appropriately.

Learning walks

The named governor should also conduct learning walks with the SENCO. These should focus on two things:

  1. The physical environment.
  2. Teaching, learning and assessment.

In terms of the physical environment, the named governor should observe classrooms, corridors, playgrounds, the canteen, and other areas of the school to assess access arrangements, hygiene facilities, and any special adjustments that have been made for particular pupils.

They should ensure the physical environment is clean and safe, and that the needs of all pupils are catered for. This may involve providing a distraction-free learning environment for pupils with autism – measures may be taken to reduce background noise and tidy up cluttered displays, for example.

In terms of teaching, learning and assessment, the named governor should observe lessons to see how successfully the curriculum is being differentiated for all pupils, and what adjustments have been made – including tailored resources and the use of additional adults in the room – to support children with SEND.

While conducting a learning walk, the named governor may find it helpful to refer to any EHCPs in place so they can assess whether the needs outlined in these plans are being met.

Useful questions

The governing body or named governor may find the following questions useful in terms of sparking discussions with the SENCO and headteacher:

  • Do I know the number of children with SEND within the school? Do I know the proportion of those children who have an EHCP, My Support Plan or a school-based plan?
  • Do I know the range of needs of children with SEND within the school?
  • Do I know the various funding streams available for SEND and how the funding is broken down?
  • Do I know how the SEND funding is spent, how its use is monitored and evaluated, and the impact it has on pupils?
  • Do I know if the school gets value for money from its SEND budgets?
  • Does the school publish the Local Offer on its website and, if so, is it up-to-date? Are all other documents required by law published, up-to-date and dated?
  • How does the school work with parents and carers of children with SEND? Are parents/carers involved in decision-making as co-producers of EHCPs?
  • Does the SENCO have enough time to carry out his/her duties? Is that time used wisely?
  • How does the school’s SEND actions contribute to improving outcomes for pupils with SEND?
  • How does the attendance of pupils with SEND compare to non-SEND pupils?
  • What progress do pupils with SEND make and how does this compare with the progress of non-SEND pupils?
  • What outcomes do pupils with SEND get and how does this compare with the outcomes of non-SEND pupils?
  • What is the gap in progress and outcomes between pupils with SEND and non-SEND pupils?
  • How does our data compare with other local schools, with similar schools nationally, and with all schools nationally?

 

Follow me on Twitter: @mj_bromley

 

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