The Bright Heart directors attended the TES SEN Show, which is the UK’s largest special needs show, on 5th and 6th October in London.

Simon McQueen

Ryan Stevenson

In this post, the directors share what they experienced and learnt at the annual TES Special Educational Needs Show.

Fascinating insights from the TES SEN Show

The Bright Heart directors attended the TES SEN Show, which is the UK’s largest special needs show, on 5th and 6th October in London. The show was packed with exhibitors and delegates and included many interesting presentations and seminars, including a heart-warming opening keynote panel discussion focused on social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties in education, with the highlight being a brave young student sharing his positive personal experiences at a special school.

The start of the TES SEN Show at the business design centre [photo: TES SEN Show]

A common theme highlighted at the show was the struggle for parents and teachers in the current education climate.

In addition to the keynote address, the directors attended a number of excellent seminars focused on specific topics, which included:

  • SLCN and SEMH - understanding the links – Wendy Lee
  • Identifying SEN: how can we be sure that a pupil has special educational needs? – Jane Friswell
  • Making the most of SEN funding and resources – Dr Rona Tutt OBE
  • Emerging effective SEN practice and challenges – Pat Bullen

SLCN and SEMH - understanding the links

Wendy Lee demonstrated the high correlation between speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) issues. Some interesting statistics presented included:

  • 60 % of young offenders have poor language skills
  • 50 % of pupils in socially disadvantaged areas have poor language skills
  • 85 % of students/people with SLCN fail to reach the expected standard in reading and writing
  • 81 % of students with SEMH have language difficulties

A major finding was that language is key to emotional literacy, as behaving appropriately is related to the ability to think through situations and anticipate the emotions generated. Those with SLCN generally have difficulties with interaction, self-awareness, problem solving and self-control. Ms Lee highlighted that there is massive under identification of children with SLCN which affects their emotional health and well-being. To improve language skills is to provide a protection factor against mental health challenges and anxiety, and it is therefore better to focus on preventive health with appropriate language intervention

Identifying SEN: how can we be sure that a pupil has special educational needs?

Jane Friswell spoke passionately about this topic as she drew upon her personal family experiences. Some key points from the SEND Code of Practice highlighted were:

  • Slow progress and low attainment do not necessarily mean that a child has SEN
  • Attainment in line with age should not necessarily be taken to mean that there is no SEN
  • Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviour does not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEN
  • While identifying SEN at an early age is very helpful, some children’s difficulties only become apparent as they get older
  • The first response to slow progress should be high quality teaching targeted at the areas of weakness, with the impact carefully monitored
  • Where progress continues to be less than expected, the teacher, working with the SENCO, should assess whether the child has SEN

Once it has been determined that a pupil has SEN, SEN support should arise from a four-stage cycle set out in the SEND Code of Practice called the graduated approach – the stages of the cycle being: assess; plan; do; and review.

Making the most of SEN funding and resources

Dr Rona Tutt OBE addressed this important topic, providing a comprehensive overview while putting this all into the context of the stretched budgets available, due partly to the increased age range of the new SEND Code of Practice, which covers young adults up to the age of 25.  Some of Dr Tutt’s key points summarising the funding resources included:

  • Schools receive ~£6,000 per pupil for delivering a special educational provision (SEP), which can be drawn upon for both SEN support and those with EHC (Education, Health and Care) Plans
  • Top-up funding can be requested for needs requiring more than £6,000 from the Local Authority’s high needs block
  • The high needs block also pays for base funding of £10,000 for each specialist and alternative provision placement
  • Personal budgets have now been introduced for students with EHC Plans to provide additional support, and can be managed by the Local Authority, a third party, via a direct payment to the young person or their family, or a combination thereof.
  • There is also a pupil premium to raise attainment for disadvantaged pupils of all abilities, which could include those with SEN and includes all looked after children (ranging from £935 to £2,300 for looked after children).
  • DfE support for SEND reforms via 3 new contracts were announced in May 2018 totalling ~£27m – £20m with Council for Disabled Children (CDC) / Contact; £3.8m with Contact / KIDS / CDC; and £3.4m for Whole School SEND consortium – nasen / UCL)

Dr Tutt then stressed the importance of making the most of the limited funding available and highlighted a number of resources to help in this regard, including the EEF Toolkit, which provides an analysis of cost, evidence and benefit of various categories of support – those ranking highly for impact (in additional months’ average progress) include:

  • Feedback (8)
  • Metacognition & self-regulation (7)
  • Reading comprehension strategies (6)
  • One to one tuition, collaborative learning, oral language interventions (5)

Emerging effective SEN practice and challenges

Pat Bullen provided a great overview of what is working and where issues still remain. Clearly most Local Authorities have room for improvement, with 27 out of 61 SEND Local area reviews having a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) as at September 2018. These reviews are carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Although high needs spending has increased from £5bn in 2015 to £6bn in 2018, there has been a strain on Local Authorities with cuts to preventative services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Schools that do strive to be more inclusive are also not acknowledged accordingly, with the Ofsted definition of ‘Outstanding’ not being wide enough to consider these aspects and being too narrowly focused on the level of academic achievement.

When SEN provision was working effectively, some general traits were present:

  • Mapping of provision and tracking of progress
  • Ensuring multi-agency links
  • Whole School SEND reviews
  • Having a SEN Governor role
  • Training of staff

Effective SEN provision was usually found when schools, Local Authorities, alternative provision and parents were all working together. 

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