Special Education – what should Labour do?

Proposals Labour should consider:

  • Introduce a mandatory minimum level of training on high-incidence special educational needs, developmental issues and behaviour management as part of initial teacher training, as well as training for Early Years Professionals. Additionally, at least one In Service Training day per academic year should be given over to upskilling teachers and support staff on issues relating to Special Educational Needs – as every educator is an educator of children with additional learning needs, every educator should be given the skills to be able to do so effectively. This would serve the dual benefit of both improving identification (particularly early intervention, but also at all stages of school), as well as reducing the need for specialist support for those with needs which can be met in an inclusive classroom environment, leading to better outcomes for young people and less stress for teachers. Resources for training should be co-produced and sourced from experts in the sector, and be checked and distributed by the Office for Educational Improvement.

  • Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) to be a member of Senior Management Team – we want the best teachers to take the lead on improving provision for Children and Young People with SEN within their schools, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this responsibility is often given to junior teachers, those whom the school leadership deems to be undeserving of more senior roles, or sometimes taken by the Head as an indistinct role. By requiring SENCOs to be part of the Senior Management Team within a school, this will positively influence the choice of individual to perform the role, incentivise good teachers to work towards becoming a SENCO, and increase the ‘clout’ that they have within schools to drive improvement amongst their colleagues.

  • SENCOs already in post should be required to undertake the National Award within an agreed timeline – the National Award has been ensuring that new SENCOs have the specialist knowledge required to influence change in their schools; we believe that all SENCOs should have this qualification.

  • Teaching schools should be ‘good at SEN’ – to ensure that what training teachers learn at university is reinforce by practice, part of the criteria for designating teaching schools should be that they are recognised by OFSTED as being good or excellent at providing for children with SENs, and that the leadership are committed to inclusive education, including working in partnership with local special schools to support specific needs and upskill teaching staff..

  • Boost the importance of Early Years Area SENCOs – identifying SENs early is crucial, yet the early years workforce is the least qualified in the education sector. With the expansion of free nursery education for disadvantaged two year olds over the next few years, demands on EYASENCOs will increase dramatically, yet due to cuts to Local Authority budgets anecdotal evidence suggests that these posts are being deleted. If we are to use the opportunity that the 2 Year Old Offer will present, we need networks of specialists on hand to help train Early Years workers on identification and provision, so need to ensure that there are sufficient EYASENCOs employed in localities to meet need.

  • Take steps to encourage and support people with SENs to pursue a career in teaching – anecdotes from the evidence sessions raised concerns that aspiring teachers with certain SENDs (including dyslexia or deafness) are being put off or excluded from pursuing teaching qualifications due to the entry requirements and the Medical Fitness to Teach regulations. Labour in government should review these regulations and the application process to ensure that potentially competent teachers are not being excluded from training.

  • Labour should support personal budgets and direct payments, where they are shown to improve provision for all children, and offer value for money – we will also seek the following assurances on the face of the Children and Families Bill:

  • Parents who choose to take up personal budgets should be provided with expert advice on commissioning services.
  • Parents who do not wish to take up personal budgets will not be adversely affected.
  • Local authorities should have a commissioning and ongoing scrutiny role in ensuring that the quality of services (including independent advice services) in their area is high, and that they provide value for money.
  • Providers should be licensed, and therapies and other services they provide should be evidence-based and approved by an independent body.
  • The Department for Education should collect and annually publish information on Local Authorities, including the number of tribunal cases, nature and cost of cases – by increasing transparency, this measure will provide a powerful disincentive for the LAs whose corporate culture is to refuse statutory assessments or obfuscate on statemented obligations to reduce costs, provide an incentive for them to participate constructively and resolve problems in mediation, and give parents a measure by which they can hold their LA and its elected members to account. Other information which could be published includes number of statements completed on time, number of pupils sent to out-of-authority provision (and cost), attainment and destinations. If this does not improve performance, we will explore the possibility of greater powers for tribunals to impose effective sanctions.

  • The needs and competencies of the wider family should be central to drawing up the  Education, Health and Care Plan – having a child with an SEN or disability can be an extremely stressful for parents, and for other siblings or family members, and while the professionals are coming together to draw up the EHCP, it would be an effective use of their time to consider the needs of the whole family, rather than just the child as an individual. Supporting a child’s family to understand how to cope with and cater for a child’s SEN or disability is often the most cost-effective kind of intervention, and should be encouraged. However, over-estimating the ability of a family to support a child with certain conditions can also be detrimental to all concerned, affecting the mental health of family (including other siblings) and child, aggravating certain conditions, negating efforts and resources spent elsewhere, and increasing the likelihood of the need for more expensive residential care later on. Professionals therefore need to pay due regard to the ability of the family to cope, providing or recommending support where appropriate.