Accountability and SEND reform- a guest post from the Dept for Education

Last week we had our very first Twitter chat and our guest was Stephen Kingdom, Deputy Director of SEND at the Department for Education. It was really successful and if you missed it, you can catch the roundup of tweets here.

While most of the questions received an answer, there was one topic that was on the minds of many parents about to plunge into the unexplored waters of SEN reform implementation - that of accountability. In our interview with Ed Timpson, the SEN Minister, he mentioned accountability of local and health authorities as being key and we are very pleased that Stephen has written a guest post today with more details about how local authorities will be held to account over how they put the reforms into practice.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Tania interviewing Stephen Kingdom at an SEN reform conference in 2013
Tania interviewing Stephen Kingdom at an SEN reform conference in 2013

Stephen kingdom writes:

I was really pleased last week to have the opportunity to take part in SNJ’s twitter chat on the SEN and disability reforms. It was definitely a better way to spend an hour than watching the Great British Bake Off, or, as one tweeter commented later, watching Manchester City.

I promised to write a blog picking up any questions that I was unable to answer in the evening. In reading back through the chat blog I think we managed to get to most of the issues raised. But it was clear to me that there was one issue which was a particular focus of the discussion and where it might be helpful if I wrote some more away from the limits of the Twitter format. And that issue is accountability.

Implementing the reforms is a major challenge for local authorities and their partners.  They are working hard to deliver culture change and introduce a whole new legal system. Our role with local authorities has been to help them interpret the new laws as well as introduce new ways of working, and we have done several things to do so, including:

  • Providing local authorities with regular self-assessment so they can judge how ready they are and provide challenge where necessary. Where these have shown that they need additional support, we have ensured that a team of specialist advisers works directly with them;
  • Working with parent-carer forums to access their perspectives on how well a local authority has been preparing for the changes, and using these findings to inform our support offer to LAs;
  • Looking at all local offers, and providing feedback about areas for improvements; as I write this blog (Wednesday 24 September) 99 percent of local authorities have published a local offer and we are pursuing those who haven’t to ensure they do so as soon as possible
  • Undertaking a recent exercise with over half of LAs looking at the development of their EHCP templates, and we are extending this to all other LAs. We have given feedback on that exercise to local authorities both individually and collectively;
  • Contacting some local authorities where we have been made aware of issues around interpretation of particular aspects of the new legal framework, or of issues around their engagement with key partners, and provided appropriate challenge; and
  • Continuing to work with national groups, including parent organisations, to provide helpful materials and training for those involved in the changes.

These activities reflect our commitment to helping LAs introduce the new changes well, and we intend to continue to undertake such activities listed above over the coming year.

As I explained in the Twitter chat, we are developing plans for formal and public accountability systems to come into effect from September 2015. It would not be possible to introduce a system earlier, for example because key data would not be available.

In response to commitments given in Parliament, we have asked Ofsted to consider what more needs to be done to ensure delivery of the new system is not only compliant, but good quality. Ofsted will publish their recommendations shortly and these will be considered as we develop our accountability systems. But notwithstanding these matters, the existing accountabilities and statutory protections from the previous system – such as the right to appeal to Tribunal – remain in place or have been enhanced under the new system.

Wider changes to accountability within the education system are also important – for example changes to the headline accountability measures for schools from threshold measures (such as percentage getting 5 good GCSEs) to progress measures mean that schools will be clearly held to account for the progress of all their pupils, rather than focusing on those on the borderline. And where a local authority is failing in a statutory duty, we will direct them to remedy that.

Local authorities are, therefore, already accountable for their implementation of the new system. We welcome and encourage specific feedback on the operation of the new SEN framework, and will ensure that where things seem to not going well, we work with relevant groups at improvement.

Thus, if you are worried about how the reforms are being implemented, the best way to approach in the first place is to let the local authority know and see if that helps. If you have a concern about the support your child is receiving you can discuss this with your school or college, contact your local authority and can get support from your local Information, Advice and Support Service.* You might want to talk with your local Parent Carer Forum to find out more about the reforms.

But if these steps don't help, then contact the Department and we will look into it.

*IASS is the new name for Parent Partnership

Tania Tirraoro

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