Good Quality SEN Support could lead to fewer EHC Assessments and Plans…

Good Quality SEN Support could lead to fewer EHC Assessments and Plans…

… fewer children with unmet need and a reduction in preventable escalation of need. Couldn’t it?

Have we paid enough attention to ‘SEN Support’, or did it become lost in the rush to secure a ‘legally binding’ EHC Plan?  

There have been twitter rumblings of late about more use of SEN Support (and fewer applications for EHC assessments) and I found myself disagreeing somewhat to people with whom my views are usually closely aligned.  

I believe that SEN Support (the details of which start at around page 100 of the SEND Code of Practice) has an important role to play. If it is implemented well, I believe it could lead to: 

  • a culture change that would dramatically change the way SEND is viewed and supported in schools;
  • better all round outcomes for children;
  • a significant reduction in the number of requests for EHC assessments;
  • a better understanding of the needs of children;
  • a reduction in unnecessary escalation of need.  

The barrier to its effective implementation, I feel, is largely twofold.  

Firstly, some parents feel that in the field of education, there is a culture of “doing only what we are legally obliged to do.”  For this reason, parents want a plan that is ‘legally binding as they feel that otherwise their child will not get the support they require in order to have the same opportunities to learn as their peers.  A corollary to this might of course be, if you have to ‘force’ school staff to do the right thing, do you actually want them to be caring for your child? Sadly, the reality for many is that there is no or very little choice.

The second part of this problem, is that due to a lack of support, the new SEND law has been poorly understood and inadequately implemented in schools. I have seen too many plans where ’cause for concern’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘barrier to learning’…

This, it seems, is the only evidence of any change from the old system to the new one for children requiring support in school. It belies the belief that the changes are in name only. In reality the new system describes a significant difference.

The changes to practice described, particularly in Chapter 6, on ‘SEN Support in schools’, require a significant shift in thinking.  Implementing new policy of any kind is time-consuming and can be quite complex (if a culture change is needed); certainly within the gift of educational professionals, but not without the time, ‘headspace’ and support to think it through properly.  

To illustrate the changes required think about John, an 8 year old fidget, who never seems to settle concentrate or work well within the classroom.

Under the ‘old system’ John might be given a ‘target’ to be able to ‘sit quietly and concentrate on his work for periods of 15 minutes or longer without interrupting his peers.’ If this target was not met, the general feeling will be that the failure is his, he didn’t try hard enough… He was not only responsible for learning along with everyone else, he was also responsible for fixing his difficulties – the ones that not even the adults really understood.

Under the ‘new system’, John’s difficulty with managing to comply with the school system as well as other 8 year old’s, might be seen as a barrier to his learning.  After all, if he can’t sit still and work, how can he achieve his best?

When using SEN Support to frame practice, the first thing to do in this scenario is to assess each barrier to learning.  Essentially, to stop and to think what is underlying this difference to his peers.  This is important as missing this step can result in ineffective strategies being used, wasting resources and demoralising staff and pupils:

  1. John may have a biological difference in the way he processes sensory information.  His body may need to move more so that his greater than usual need for biofeedback is met;
  2. John may be neurodiverse with hyperactivity which he needs help to manage so that he can complete his learning in short bursts and his strengths due to this difference developed;
  3. John may have a history of trauma and this could be misinterpreted as a biological or neuro-developmental difference, or his social situation may be causing anxiety. Either way he might be battling with constantly higher than usual levels of adrenaline.

Next, under ‘SEN Support,’ John’s current difference within the classroom would be seen as a ‘barrier to learning.’ He must have help or additional adjustments for these, so that he can have the same opportunity as his peers to achieve his best.  

No longer is John responsible for both learning and at the same time overcoming these considerable barriers all on his own.  No longer should John or his teacher be made to think they are a failure because giving John a target to sit still and learn did not ‘fix’ the issue.

In scenario 1, frequent, regular and routine opportunities throughout the day for additional biofeedback might prevent the need for him to move at times when he is required to sit and concentrate. 

In the second example, to expect John to be able to both overcome his biological need to move, and to learn for long periods at the same time, might be completely unreasonable.  The support he might need to overcome these barriers would look different.  Of course, punishing him for these difficulties is deeply unfair.  Keeping him in at break to finish his work would be madness.  He NEEDS to move.

It’s possible that the third scenario is actually the most difficult to untangle and may need to most sensitive and supportive handling.  The support he needs to overcome this barrier will look very different again. However, if this is John’s difficulty, then this is the one situation where his outcome might just be that eventually he will be able to sit and concentrate for long periods of time.  

True implementation of SEN Support could lead to better experiences for children and for their teachers. To fully realise its potential it needs to be properly implemented and driven by a culture of curiosity and open-mindedness. Any practice of ‘blame’ will prevent its success and needs to be replaced by a relentless drive to find effective ways of helping children to achieve their best.

For more about implementing SEN Support in schools see here.

10 thoughts on “Good Quality SEN Support could lead to fewer EHC Assessments and Plans…

  1. I agree – it’s a lovely theory. Sadly, in practice many schools are stretched to the absolute limit with their resources and so for many children
    no support is put in place unless ‘legally obliged’ (and even then, many SEN parents constantly need to pressure schools to actually do what is in the plan!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not convinced this needs to actually cost money and could save resources. It is about thinking carefully about what might be going on and what interventions are needed. Movement breaks, time out cards etc etc

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it does necessarily cost money because to bring about the culture change needed to implement meaningful, well-considered, whole school SEN support requires first class teacher training and CPD. With budgets stretched as they are too many school’s aren’t investing in this. It should be part of the PGCE and other teacher training courses but it isn’t (unless you count the half day SEN lecture). So much is down to a fundamental lack of understanding and learning cultures within schools that fail to recognise, understand or accommodate differences.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do completely agree with you that the approach is the right one, but I also agree with you that this means it needs to be “implemented well” which requires “time, ‘headspace’ and support”. Unfortunately in my experience so many (and an increasing number of) schools are in crisis. SEND parents don’t just “feel” that their child is not getting the required support without (legal) pressure; it is my and many others’ actual lived experience (over many years),… With 34 children in the classroom, lets say 6 of whom have SEN and some more with challenging home lives, and only a part time TA to help and a huge administrative workload for teachers, the SEN Support system is not working – many schools are simply not able to do it even if they ideally would want to. I don’t think overall the answer is getting EHCPs for everyone as that just blocks the system up elsewhere and is a waste of resources too (especially the huge number of legal processes and appeals), but sadly in individual cases it has proved to be the only way to get support in place for so many children. I dont know how to get a systematic change but before schools can even think about this, they need to be helped out of crisis mode. Less pressure and smaller classes would be a good start,…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely. It is horrendous and I know that many / most dont get what they need and its hard when parents have to try to force the school to do what they should. My son has been in a few schools (…) and where you have to force them its awful, exhausting etc etc. I do get it! Jut trying to write something that is a bit balanced too. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I agree with everything you have added in both comments x

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for sharing. While it is true that school are in crisis especially when it comes to handling SEN(D). As SEN educator having a positive mindset is important. I press the reset button everyday and ensure I do my best for the children I teach (ASC) with the resource given.

    Liked by 2 people

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