This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in November 2019. You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.
You can access the full archive of my columns for SecEd here.
A governing body’s responsibilities for SEND are often delegated to a sub-committee or single named governor. For the purposes of this article, I will offer best practice advice on the role of the named governor.
It is in the SENCO’s interests to ensure that their link governor is provided with accurate, honest and appropriate information because that governor may prove crucial to any future inspection and may be able to support the school in difficult discussions with the local authority or should a case go to tribunal.
Although the SENCO will be skilled enough to understand complicated data, their link governor may not. As such, the SENCO would be wise to turn data into information that the named governor can understand and act upon. Ideally, this data should be accurate and lead to clear actions. It would also be helpful if such data – as well as any progress reports – was made available in advance of any link meeting so that the governor had time to absorb its contents and formulate any questions.
The link meeting
Link meetings are not obligatory but may be a helpful means of keeping the named governor and therefore the governing body informed. The link meeting – which might helpfully take place several times a year, perhaps at strategic points of the calendar when decisions need to be taken and budgets need to be set or reviewed, and ideally at the end of the school day to help the SENCo manage their time – could be a means of providing the named governor 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 staff – including teachers and support staff – have had, what impact this 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.
- What information has been published on the school website and if it is up-to-date and accurate.
Let us explore some of these in more detail…
The link meeting might helpfully involve a discussion about how the school identifies procedures for pupils with SEND. It could review the current numbers of pupils with SEND, differentiating between those children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), a My Support Plan, and other, non-funded, school support recorded in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or One-Page Profile.
The meeting could also be used to review the provision being made for pupils with SEND, including whether or not the needs identified in EHCPs are being met (the EHCP is a legal document and schools are required by law to deliver against this).
The meeting might provide an opportunity to discuss staffing arrangements. This could, for example, include an update on the recruitment and use of teaching assistants as well as the impact of any SEND training given to staff (and their future training needs). In addition, the named governor might use the meeting to ascertain how much time the SENCO is afforded to carry out his/her duties and establish whether that time is enough and is being used wisely. It might also be an opportunity to enquire whether the SENCo has the National SENCo Qualification (if they were appointed after 2016). If not, the governor could report back to the governing body to ensure money and time are allocated for the SENCo to complete it.
The meeting might also include discussions about how pupils are afforded access to the curriculum, including any adjustments that are being made to pupils’ timetables and the physical learning environment. Access to extra-curricular activities could also be discussed, as well as access arrangements for unstructured time such as before school, during break and lunch times, and after school. This may include a discussion about transport arrangements.
The school website and SEND
Schools have a legal duty to publish SEND information on their websites and to review it at least annually. The governing body – perhaps via the named governor – ha a role in scrutinising this. The information schools need to publish includes:
- 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 SEND named governor might take the opportunity to review all the above published information in their meetings with the SENCO to ensure it exists, is up-to-date, and is dated. What’s more, the governor, as a critical external eye, could help to ensure the information is sound.
For example, the Equalities Act (2010) makes it clear that a school cannot refuse a place if a child has additional or different needs but has not yet been assessed or does not have an EHCP. It is a school’s duty to make sure they are accessible “so far as is reasonably practicable’’.
However, not all schools are able to offer a place to children with more severe needs – for example, they can refuse a place if they judge that a child’s attendance would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education of other children at the school, or would not prove an efficient use of resources (see Section 39(4) of the Children and Families Act 2015).
If this is the case, then schools need to be mindful of the wording they use on their website and in prospectuses – not least when using terms such as “fully inclusive”. The SEND named governor might feel well-placed to observe potential pitfalls or contradictions in the published information and to challenge the school appropriately.
Finally, the named governor may find the following questions useful in terms of planning or sparking discussions during a link meeting:
- Do I know the number of children with SEND within the school? Do I know the proportion of those children who have 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 do 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?