At Axcis, we have been working with Rona Tutt for a number of years now. As a well respected figure in the field of SEND Education, her blog is always popular and we are lucky enough that she has written a piece for Axcis on Embedding the SEND Reforms. I take no credit whatsoever for the contents of this article which Rona has kindly written for us. In the meantime, for those not familiar with her works, here is a quick overview:
Rona Tutt has taught students of all ages in state and independent, day and residential, mainstream and special schools. She is the former head teacher of a primary school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, where she opened the first of Hertfordshire’s provision for children on the autism spectrum.
- In March 2003, she was the winner of the Leadership in Teaching Award.
- In February 2004, she received an OBE for her services to special needs education.
- From 2004-05, she was President of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the first head teacher of a special school to be elected to this position. She continues to be involved with the Association as an SEND Consultant.
- In 2007 Rona was Chair of NAHT’s Commission of Inquiry into Assessment and League Tables.
- In 2008 she was a member of the Expert Panel for British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) Policy Commission.
- In 2009 Rona was a member of the Westminster Education Commission.
- She was on the government-funded Expert Group for the Salt Review (2009/10) and on the Steering Board for the Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project (2009-11).
- In 2011, Rona was involved in writing training materials for the government. Known as the complex needs materials, this online resource grew out of the work of the Salt Review and was influenced also by the findings of the CLDD Research Project.
As a result of the work on CLDD, which had brought to the fore an obvious need for neuroscientists and teachers to work more closely together, during 2011, Professor Barry Carpenter, Professor Francesca Happe and Rona, created the Neuroscience and Special Education Forum, which was launched on 10th February 2012, with Professor Ute Frith as its patron.
Rona has published 4 books. Her first book ‘Every Child Included’ was published in 2007. With Winand Dittrich, she has co-authored a second book,’ Educating Children with Complex Conditions; understanding overlapping and co-existing developmental disorders’, which was published in 2008. Her third book, ‘Partnership Working to Support Special Educational Needs and Disabilities’, came out in October 2010. In May this year, her fourth book, which was co-authored with Paul Williams, was launched at NAHT’s Annual Conference in May 2012. It is entitled: ‘How Successful Schools Work – The Impact of Innovative School Leadership.’
Embedding the SEND Reforms
For those of us who have been frustrated by successive governments’ inability to consider the needs of children and young people who may be less academically able than their peers, or who have other barriers to their learning to overcome, the overhaul of the SEND Framework has meant that special needs has emerged from the shadows and had its time in the sun. The reforms that began to be debated in 2010, and resulted in Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014, are likely to continue to attract attention until they are fully in place in 2018. It may not have been ideal to bring in these changes at a time when so much else is changing in schools and when finances are particularly tight, but if we waited for a more opportune moment, it might never arrive.
Although the main differences between the previous system and the new one are well rehearsed by now, there are still some areas of confusion. Firstly, the new Code of Practice, on which early years providers, schools and post-16 provision rely to interpret the Act for them, has had a convoluted history. This is the first time we have had an SEND Code, rather than an SEN Code, but for the last few months, we have had to juggle three editions:
- The SEN Code of Practice 2001, which will remain as a source of information on statements until they have all been replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC Plans);
- The July 2014 SEND Code of Practice which was in place between September 2014 and March 2015; and
- The SEND Code of Practice which was published in January 2015 and came into force on 1st April this year.
There is not much difference between the two SEND Codes, but the version that is now in place has additional information in chapter 10 about young people in youth custody who may also have SEN.
Some confusion remains about the relationship between a school’s SEN Policy, the SEN Information Report and the school’s contribution to the local authority’s Local Offer. The legal requirement is for schools and other settings to have on their website their SEN Information Report, with the answers to the 13 points itemised in the Code of Practice. In the same way that the Local Offer sets out what the LA expects its local schools to provide, the SEN Information Report sets out in greater detail the provision each individual school makes for pupils with SEN.
The Code gives greater prominence to the needs of pupils with medical conditions and this includes both physical and mental health needs. Of the four broad categories of need from the 2001 SEN Code of Practice, only one has been changed. First of all Behavioural, emotional and social development (BESD) was going to become Social, mental and emotional difficulties (SMEH), but this was changed in the later versions to Social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH). The notion of looking beneath the way a child behaves in order to explore why he or she is behaving in a certain way, is a step forward. If we have an idea of the cause of their behaviour, it is easier to provide the type of support that may ameliorate that behaviour and make it easier for them to learn – and also those around them!
To help schools, settings and services get to grips with dealing with a wide range of medical needs, including mental health issues, the Spring Term ended in a flurry of publications. The DfE updated its advice on Mental health and behaviour in schools and also issued Counselling in schools: a blueprint for the future – Departmental advice for school leaders & counsellors. The Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce which was established last September, published Future in mind: Promoting, protecting & improving children & young people’s mental health & wellbeing (DoH / NHS England). Alongside this, the PSHE Association published Teacher Guidance: Preparing to teach about mental health and emotional wellbeing. These documents all appeared at the end of March in time for Easter holiday reading!
Whatever happens at the general election, it is encouraging to know that there is a large measure of agreement between the main political parties, that the changes being introduced are the right way forward for children, young people and their families, as it places them at the centre of being involved in the decisions that affect them. NAHT is very grateful for the support Axcis provided for its hugely successful and dynamic Special schools, specialist and alternative provision conference, which demonstrated that, despite all the changes hitting schools, school leaders are determined to be at the forefront of improving outcomes for all their pupils, not least those for whom learning can present particular challenges.
Dr Rona Tutt OBE
Former head teacher and Past President of the NAHT