Pippa Whittaker is currently Curriculum Leader for Inclusion at a large and diverse inner-city secondary academy. She has previously worked as SENCO in two other large secondary schools and as an Advanced Skills Teacher for SEN, and has run Nurture Groups for learners with SEMH and MLD. She is a member of the nasen Publications Advisory Board and regularly runs local and national training sessions for SENCOs, teachers and TAs. She is co-author of Understanding and Supporting Pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties in the Secondary School, published in 2015 by David Fulton/nasen. Pippa has kindly provided the following article for us:
The Big Changeover
Reflections on our first year transferring old-style Statements of SEN to new-style Education, Health and Care Plans: A View from the Front-Line
For many colleagues working in SEND and Inclusion, this year will have flown by in a rapid whirl of teaching, meetings, briefings, planning, implementing and reviewing practice in light of the new Code of Practice for SEND. Every year is busy but this year seems to have been particularly so; there has barely been time to take a pause and to breathe deeply, yet alone to take time to reflect on the changes we’ve made, how well it’s all gone, and where we’re heading next. Now that the crucial first year is over, we have a chance to stop and really think about how far we’ve come since the new SEND Code came into effect.
My own school is a diverse inner-city secondary academy, with a majority of students speaking EAL and being entitled to pupil premium. My team and I started the new school year full of optimism about the potential for the new code to have a positive impact on practice, approaches and attitudes in schools, and I am pleased to say that, although these are still early days, our sense of optimism about the new SEND Code remains.
At that stage, though, this optimism was accompanied by many questions as to how the new SEND Code would be realised in practice, and within our own local context. Many of these related to the new EHCP: Which students would meet the criteria for an EHCP? Would other agencies engage with the process? And how seriously would they take the requirements of the new code – would they be trained on it? What about switching our statemented students onto EHCPs – how would this work? Would it mean a big increased in workload for us? What would the final EHCP look like? At that stage there were many more questions than answers!
It was a huge relief for us to find out that our Local Authority, like manage others, was transferring Statements to EHCPs on a three-year rolling cycle – meaning that we weren’t expected to transition them all at once. Each year, we were to transfer students who were at points of key stage transfer – Year 6 into 7, Year 9 into 10, Year 11 into 12, and Year 12 and 13 students who were moving on to FE. This was a welcome decision because it allowed us to spend more time ensuring really high-quality transfer reviews than would have been the case if we’d tried to transfer all our statements within one year.
One thing soon became clear: planning for an EHCP Transfer Review takes many more hours than it did for the old-style Annual Review! The Transfer Review requires a much more detailed perspective on a young person’s experience – it includes an in-depth exploration of all aspects of them and their life, ranging from their family story, their strengths, passions and interests, the provisions and support then need, right through to their future aspirations (and short/medium term outcomes to help get them there. We are talking about a genuinely broad and holistic approach, and one which is much more positively-framed, person-centred and future-focused than the old-style Annual Review. Therefore, there was an inevitable amount of groundwork to be completed before the meeting, in order to keep the Transfer Review itself to a reasonable length. This included multiple opportunities for parents and young people to contribute their views in advance of and during the meeting in order to ensure that their voices were captured in as detailed and authentic a way as possible.
This level of pre-planning did have an inevitable impact on workload – particularly as I myself was new to role and so still in the early stages of getting to know our young people, their families and involved professionals. Nevertheless, we pressed on in our efforts to complete all our Year 9, 11, 12 and 13 reviews by the local deadline, and also to squeeze in our attendance at Year 6 reviews in between times. With such time pressure, I decided to try something which I had never before attempted in my life as a SENCO – to run three transition reviews back-to-back on a single day. I could see some definite advantages to this model, such as only needing to invite key professionals for one date rather than three separate dates.
The day before was a frenzy of last-minute paperwork, ringing and reminding attendees, and frantic photocopying. By the time I realised that everything was finally ready, and was about to breathe a huge sigh of relief, I was shocked to discover it was so late that site staff had locked up the building – with me in it! It had taken me so long to do my ‘last minute preparation’ that all my colleagues had gone home and the school had been secured for the night with me and my precious paperwork still inside. (I did manage to arrange to be let out and I did eventually make it home that night, fortunately!)
The Transfer Review meetings themselves were generally very positive. Young people and their families seemed to value their views being so central to the process. There was a sense that we were ‘starting afresh’ with a new document, that we could take this as an opportunity to word the new plan to accurately reflect where each young person was right now – as a learner and as an individual. This felt like a marked contrast to the rather rushed statement annotations that often took place towards the end of an old-style Annual Review meeting.
The opportunity to spend quality planning time was really welcome. The meetings had a focus on high-quality future planning, with smaller-stepped outcomes clearly marking the way towards the young person’s own goals. There were reviews in which these conversations were challenging and emotional for families, with some families concerned about what adult life might hold for their children, but the transfer review seemed to help by taking some of the guesswork out of the future, and by together laying down the short-term outcomes as ‘stepping stones’ towards the young person’s long-term goals.
Throughout all of this we were lucky enough to be guided by an excellent LDD Advisor who attended Transfer Reviews, guided and developed the quality of conversation in these meetings, and occasionally gently challenging us to ensure we had all the right planning in place. This support was invaluable to us. Over time we have also been made aware of other agencies who are available to support with the transfer process; we are looking forward to being able to draw on their expertise in the future.
By Spring, the first EHCPs were sent to us and it felt as though all this collective hard work was paying off. The EHCPs themselves were of high quality and reflected the shift in emphasis of the new SEND Code. They were much more detailed than the old-style statements, much more person-centred, and clearly outline strengths and personal story as much as needs and provisions. The potential for these documents to support the social model of person-centred practice in the future is significant.
So, as we reflect over the year that has passed, it is clear that we have come a long way. This has been a real journey – exhilarating, intense, challenging at times, but also full of learning for us as professionals. I am looking forward to building on this work during the year ahead.
Pippa Whittaker is co-author of Understanding and Supporting Pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties in the Secondary School, published 2015 by David Fulton / nasen.