Every school-age child with a special educational need (SEN) should have a written plan of support. Every single one. That is my interpretation of the SEND Code of Practice (SEND COP) and I will explain why.
Published in June 2014, Chapter 6 of the SEND COP describes the provision of SEN Support in Schools. It describes a system that is far removed from the days of Individual Education Plans and from setting targets for children who are not achieving someone else’s idea of ‘good enough’ progress.
The new approach talks about children fulfilling their potential, about achieving their best. It talks about understanding barriers to learning and providing support. Critically, nowhere, anywhere, does it talk about targets. Implied is: ‘make the environment right for the child and they will progress’.
At the Whole School SEND Summit, last week Edward Timpson (Minister of State, DfE) reiterated the importance of identifying pupils that are making “less than expected progress”. Not below average progress, or so many years behind lack of progress – but less than expected progress. There is an important difference and this is outlined in point 6.17: progress should be measured against the individual child’s potential, not someone else’s idea of what they ‘should’ be achieving. For more from me on this topic see here.
So, to the leap that EVERY CHILD with a learning difficulty or SEN should have a written plan of support.
Point 6.44 (page 100)
“Where a pupil is identified as having SEN, schools should take action to remove barriers to learning and put effective special educational provision in place. This SEN support should take the form of a four-part cycle …….. This is known as the graduated approach”.
All children with SEN have barriers to learning by definition. What we need to do is:
- work together to identify them;
- understand them and then;
- allocate appropriate support to remove the impact they will have on learning and on school life.
**Insert sounds of exasperation here** It just isn’t that easy is it?
It is probably important to state here that not all support/provision needs to cost thousands of pounds. I have no doubt that a change in culture to genuine multiagency respect, to a less judgemental approach towards parents and one that lends itself to fewer assumptions (usually wrong), would save thousands of hours of time in dealing with frustrated parents and lead to better outcomes for the children. There are also very many small accommodations that could be made for children that would have no financial impact at all, but that would make a big difference.
The four parts of the cycle referred to in the COP are Assess, Plan, Do and Review. Throughout, there is reference to the INVOLVEMENT of the children and their parents and recognising and recording their views. Also the need to communicate to the parents, the teachers’ views of the child’s needs and details of all provision being offered.
I think some may find it hard to believe that this has been policy for nearly 3 years now.
Every child with SEN will have barriers to learning which should be identified through an assessment.
I think the phrase ‘barriers to learning’ is critical. It doesn’t say ‘make a list of diagnoses’ or identify ‘causes for concern’. I especially dislike the latter as, in my experience, many teachers have been unable to separate their own needs from Peter’s. Their need for a cooperative child, and to demonstrate adequate academic progress for all pupils, was not impacted by Peter’s ASD, Dyslexia, Anxiety (freeze response) and so on. Peter’s needs to not spend the day with a body full of adrenaline and mind numb with confusion didn’t impact on their tick boxes, or their comfort, in any way.
There are many barriers to learning that children with SEN experience:
- Fatigue is a barrier to learning
- Anxiety is a barrier to learning
- Low working memory (or processing) compared to general ability is a barrier to learning
- Pain is a barrier to learning
- Being unable to eat lunch in the dining room is a barrier to learning
- Not being able to record work that accurately reflects your ability is a barrier to learning
- Low ability to understand social communication is a barrier to learning
- Delayed emotional development (whilst presenting as bright and articulate) is a barrier to learning
- Not being able to tolerate the feel of a school uniform on your skin is a barrier to learning
- If your brain and thinking flit about uncontrollably at top speed, if your body needs to move more if because of your neurophysiology, it is biologically more difficult to concentrate.…..
You get the gist. These may not be a ’cause for concern’ for the teacher, but they sure as **** impact on the day of children with SEN: on their ability to learn, to progress and to be happy.
They impact on our children’s ability to enjoy what their neurotypical peers can take for granted. Isn’t that the whole point of equity? To level the playing field?
The SEN COP makes it clear that these barriers to learning should be assessed and understood so that interventions and support can be properly targeted.
So, once these barriers to learning have been identified, support and interventions should be agreed and written in a plan. All with the full involvement of the child and their parent.
What on earth could go wrong?
Have you noticed…. there’s still no reference to targets?
As an example, let’s take a child who struggles to write, whose ability to produce written work that properly reflects their level of ability is impacted. Of course, they want: ‘their work to be recorded to a level that reflects their ability’. Practising writing for 5 minutes a day is unlikely to level the playing field anytime soon is it? It may be important and this provision may be considered beneficial, but a truly equal chance for this child to achieve their best will require more imaginative support.
How about anxiety? Working with the child and parents, and possibly additional experts, the triggers in school for anxiety should be identified. If anxiety (as a barrier to learning) is to be reduced to a level that means the child can learn on par with their peers then a number of accommodations may be required. These might include:
- support during key transitions;
- additional preparation for change;
- opportunities to avoid busy and noisy parts of the school on the days they feel they need to;
- and many, many, more.
For Peter, being believed and understood was the one intervention that would have had the biggest impact. He would have felt safer and his anxiety would have been reduced. Barriers to learning would have been dissolved and his chance of enjoying his time at school and of learning would have been dramatically enhanced.
An important note here is to say that children with low muscle tone, or with impaired social communication skills, (and so on) cannot amend their physical make up any more than a diabetic child can grow a new pancreas. A child that fatigues easily cannot decide to get less tired anymore than a deaf child can sort themselves out a new cochlea. These barriers to learning will need to be considered and supported in the long term. Whilst the impact they have on everyday life may fluctuate, they will not be fixed by a 6-week intervention group.
I don’t think interventions should be about becoming less disabled, but more about bridging the gaps so that their chances of achieving their best are as close to their academic peers as is possible.
Children with additional needs should not be set additional targets. See here for more on that.
Implementation and Review
It should go without saying that for the plan to have any chance of helping it needs to be implemented, but I have recently heard stories that make it clear it does need to be stated. Putting a plan in an office drawer will not lead to a child’s need being met, no matter how well it is written.
The helpfulness of the interventions in reducing barriers to learning must be reviewed at times agreed by the school and the parents, however, school staff should meet with the parents at least three times a year:
“6.65 Where a pupil is receiving SEN support, schools should talk to parents regularly to set clear outcomes and review progress towards them, discuss the activities and support that will help achieve them, and identify the responsibilities of the parent, the pupil and the school. Schools should meet parents at least three times each year.”
So what are the points that we are missing, referred to in the title? I believe these are:
- that it is all about ‘barriers to learning’, that a shift in thinking towards understanding these and bridging the gaps, whilst supporting development, where appropriate, should be normal practice by now;
- that every child with SEN will have barriers to learning, so;
- every child with SEN should have a plan of SEN support.
- that if all children with SEN had a plan that was effective then the numbers of children developing AVOIDABLE BARRIERS TO LEARNING would be reduced.
- AVOIDABLE BARRIERS TO LEARNING come about when a child’s needs are unknown and unmet in school and therefore are allowed to escalate and become entrenched.
- many readers will know that the failure to recognise and meet Peter’s needs led to him needing a long admission to an inpatient psychiatric unit at just 9 years old:
“In just ten months Peter went from a boy who attended mainstream school unsupported, costing the taxpayer nothing in additional school resource, to being so broken by his school experiences he needed to be admitted to a psychiatric unit at just 9 years old. As a result, he is unlikely to ever return to mainstream education again and needs support costing in excess of £100k per year”.
Some things to consider:
- Make a list of your child’s barriers to learning for yourself.
- Draw a timetable with your child and go through it with them asking them to talk about each bit in their own way – I did this with an 11 yo last term and it revealed loads of ways that free adaptions could make his day more tolerable.
- Expect to have a written plan that is developed with the full involvement of you.
- Expect that it will be reviewed at least three times a year.
- Expect that out-of-date school documentation possibly won’t lend itself to this approach and prepare to think about how you will talk about that(!).
- Don’t expect the teacher to know chapter 6 of the SEN COP as well as you do – it is hard enough getting the day job done without reading up on SEN policy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for an early review of the barriers to learning if more crop up and need thinking about or if the support that is in place isn’t having the desired impact.
A different way of thinking
I nearly called this post ‘A Different Way Of Thinking’. I honestly think that this chapter in the SEN COP lends itself to dramatically improving the way that children are supported in school. That if it was wholeheartedly embraced within the spirit in which it is intended, within the context of the culture laid out by the whole policy, then without a single penny of extra funding the lives of many children and their family would be improved.
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