SEN Support: Poorer outcomes when needs aren’t thoroughly assessed

Last week I wrote about the problems facing parents of children in mainstream school whose special needs have been persistently overlooked. While the troubled roll-out of Education, Health & Care Plans has been extensively covered by Special Needs Jungle, little has been published anywhere about the outcomes for children and young people who have special needs but who do not have an EHCP. In other words, those who are supposed to receive “SEN Support” in their school or college.

SEN Support: Poorer outcomes when needs not thoroughly assessed

The SEND Code of Practice describes a special need in the same terms, whether the child or young person receives SEN Support or an EHCP:

6.15 A pupil has SEN where their learning difficulty or disability calls for special educational provision, namely provision different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age.

Generally, the progress made by these pupils follows one or more of these patterns (s6.17):

  • is significantly slower than that of their peers starting from the same baseline
  • fails to match or better the child’s previous rate of progress
  • fails to close the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • widens the attainment gap

But the reasons for placing a child or young person on SEN Support may also include (s6.18):

progress in areas other than attainment – for instance where a pupil needs to make additional progress with wider development or social needs in order to make a successful transition to adult life.

Upcoming insights

The next couple of weeks will provide real insights into the experience of children and young people entitled to SEN Support. On Thursday (22 June) the Department for Education will publish the school workforce data, allowing us to see whether the number of support staff fell last year. The following Thursday (29th June) they will publish the annual report on numbers of pupils with special needs.

The number recorded as being on SEN Support has been falling throughout this decade, while the number with a Statement/EHCP has been very stable. We can argue about the drop in SEN Support numbers – is it a sign of better practice in basic school provision or is it widespread denial of needs? Do schools accurately identify needs these days? As my piece last week showed, there is often inadequate assessment, monitoring and planning for them.

Compare the way in which children’s special needs are described (their “Primary Need”) between those on SEN Support and those with an Education, Health & Care Plan. The most common Primary Need at SEN Support is ‘Moderate Learning Difficulties’, a label which tells us (and teachers) nothing. Among those with an EHCP, however, this label drops to third most common, overtaken by Autism (the most common Primary Need among EHCPs) and Speech, Language & Communication Needs.

There is a simple explanation: when children labelled with Moderate Learning Difficulties at SEN Support are fully assessed for an EHCP, autism or language needs are often identified. This means that the intervention they receive while on SEN Support is frequently inappropriate or inadequate and parents realise the importance of getting a multi-disciplinary assessment.

Source: DfE SFR 20/2016 Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics
Source: DfE SFR 20/2016 Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics

SEN Support and Outcomes

What else do we know about outcomes for children and young people on SEN Support? The largest attainment gap in Key Stage 2 (Year 6) national assessment is between pupils with SEN and those without. Only 14% of pupils with SEN reach the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, compared with 62% of those who do not have special needs. So children are more than four times as likely to reach national standards if they don’t have special needs.

That suggests that “Quality First Teaching” and targeted intervention need to improve an awful lot before children with special needs will be able to leave primary school with anything like the knowledge and skills of their peers. That data puts pupils on SEN Support and EHCP together, but we know that the vast majority of pupils with SEN entered for the national assessments are on SEN Support, not EHCP. The gap between these children and their peers is more than twice the gap between those who receive Free School Meals (FSM) and those who don’t. Socio-economic disadvantage is a factor in the inequalities of school life, but SEND is a much bigger factor.

We can also look at exclusions: pupils with SEND account for just over half of all permanent and fixed-term exclusions. Between SEN Support and EHCP, those on SEN Support have the highest exclusion rates and are over seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers with no SEND.

No EHCP can have long term effects

How about their destinations after GCSEs? The latest data available shows pupils on SEN Support are less likely to continue in education (83%) compared with those who have a Statement (88%) and those with no SEND (92%). But pupils with special needs who do not have a Statement/EHCP are almost three times as likely to drop out of their post-16 destination as those with no special needs. They are more likely to give up on education and go into employment than others of their age.

So children who have special needs without the full assessment of an EHCP fall behind or out of education far more than their peers and far more than they should, even in a cash-strapped education system.

We need to do so much more. I have written to the Department for Education about it and I recognise that they have a number of new initiatives to address this. I look forward to reading the outcomes of the Whole-School SEND consortium which has now trained 300 people to review the quality of SEND support in schools.

But as I continue to help parents battling with a support system that refuses to be pinned down, that has no precise criteria, that has little legal status, that is anything the school wants it to be or nothing at all, I am seriously worried about children. I train teachers to support SEND better; last Friday a group of them worked with me from 1.30pm till 6pm in London and were still queueing up to ask questions. But they need a system that works: a system that is clearly-defined, that is consistent across schools and Trusts, that is transparent and accountable and that guarantees a trained SEND Co-ordinator will take responsibility for each child’s needs and for each parent’s concern AND WILL NOT LET THEM DOWN.


Coming next...

On Thursday, we will have Barney's Key Points for SEN Support in Schools. It will be a post you won't want to miss and one you will definitely want to share!

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Barney Angliss, @AspieDeLaZouch
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  1. Planet Autism

    Very interesting. Notice the focus of SEN support and EHCPs is academic levels but it doesn’t mention *reaching potential* or the fact that so many high-functioning autistic children don’t, even if they get by at at least average, that doesn’t mean they have reached their potential. Because so many are failing to cope, overwhelmed and riddled with severe anxiety and sensory issues that prevent them accessing their education on an equal footing with typical peers. So the SEN Code of Practice isn’t fully addressing the specific needs and rights of autistic children by the looks of it.

    Also notice the Primary Need categorisation. This is arbitrary according to the LA’s whims too. Having two autistic children with almost identical diagnoses, one child’s primary need was stated by the LA as ASD and the other’s was stated as social, emotional and mental health. They both have ASD diagnoses and co-morbid mental health issues. They both mask in school and explode at home. They both have severe anxiety and socialising difficulties.

    If you look at the list of primary need categories:

    1) Specific learning difficulty – Asperger’s syndrome is a learning difficulty (as opposed to a learning disability) so some with AS could have been lumped under this category;

    2) Social, emotional and mental health – again, ASD is most definitely likely to be lumped under this as those can be the primary needs and this is what the LA did with one of our children – and also undiagnosed autistic children (of which there are likely many females especially) and misdiagnosed with attachment disorder, probably end up under this category because they are undiagnosed;

    3) Speech, language and communication needs – as these can be the first difficulties that are recognised in an autistic child, that may or may not result in a diagnosis further down the line, there is also a good chance some autistic children are being lumped under this one too;

    4) Multi-sensory impairment – although strictly speaking this category probably means things like deaf/blind, an autistic child (who may or may not have been diagnosed) may have been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and lumped under this (LAs have caseworkers who don’t usually have a clue about ASD).

    So all of those categories, if accurately audited, would likely decrease in size thereby largely increasing the ASD category.

    And the awful thing is, as you state about children with SENs without EHCPs, it happens for those with EHCPs that the provision is simply not provided for the child by the school, despite it being legally required. Some EHCPs are a mockery. Our eldest child’s EHCP for the last year stated several things which they knew were impossible to receive in her placement (because it was an alternative provision) and she didn’t receive any of what was stated. The EHCP was a paper exercise only, just the LA showing it had done what was required of it by producing one. Staff at the placement were clueless despite having had regular cohorts of autistic children and she had to muddle through, with failure to cope.

    1. Barney Angliss

      Sadly, I agree with everything you’ve said. We need the DfE or Ofsted to sample EHCPs across the country, interview the child and parents, then interview the school and see whether everyone agrees on what is happening. Lee Scott’s research last year did some of that but it was a one-off exercise.

    2. Christina Cramsie

      In our L.A. they have half the amount of children listed as having ASD as areas of a similar size and cohort, and double the amount of children with speech language and communication needs. This was brought up in a meeting with various health proffs, one explanation was that as a borough we were very good at identifying SLACN’s!

      1. Planet Autism

        It’s very odd. There is definitely an agenda here I’m just not sure what. I just don’t think it’s down to confusion or ineptitude (and if it is, that’s even more evidence of how much autism training LA staff need!). You know how NHS doctors will address the symptoms so often without looking at the underlying cause (which in ASD is critical to diagnose). Well there is an issue with diagnoses being withheld on the NHS if they don’t believe the individual requires resources. I wonder whether there is something related going on within LAs, where they will just lump things as characteristics of a condition and ignore the condition. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment (being an honest person I don’t think deviously so something may escape my attention!), is to do with statistics. LAs are required in law to record numbers of adult autistics, I don’t believe there is the same requirement with children (there is no children’s Autism Act after all) and methinks there might be massaging statistics possibly at the root of this. Deny how many autistics there are. The UK autism statistics still state 1 in 100 (approximately) but it’s well over 2% and probably about 3.5%. I’m no mathematician but Simon Baron-Cohen’s research here: shows those figures are way out-of-date. There is a lot of autism denial going on. High-functioning autism is being touted increasingly as a difference and not a disability for these very cynical reasons. It’s the same reason the DSM has converted all the subtypes to ASD and got rid of Asperger’s and tried to siphon off as many as possible Asperger’s cases into Social Communication Disorder. This is a cop-out for financial reasons (access to resources). “Evidence weak for Social Communication Disorder”
        And the people who lose out diagnostically are autistic females and those who mask in school and other public places, because SCD is not classed as autism spectrum. And the really concerning thing is that the ICD11 looks likely to be going the same way. There is always a lot more than meets the eye with everything, Governments do have agendas!

  2. Matt Keer

    This is unpleasant, but essential reading. Thank you for shedding more light on a part of the SEND system that doesn’t get the attention it should.

    Here’s a question for you: there are a lot of LAs out there who serve children & young people on SEN Support with a pseudo-EHCP – sometimes, they’re called ‘My Plan’ or ‘My SEN Support Plan’. LAs sometimes try to market these as having (almost) all of the assessment & provision benefits of an EHCP, plus extra flexibility… obviously downplaying the fact that these plans have no legal force.

    Is there any evidence out there to suggest that outcomes are better for kids on SEN Support who have ‘My Plan’ arrangements like this, compared with kids on SEN Support who don’t?

    1. Barney Angliss

      Matt, it would be great if we had some evidence. I suspect that “My Plan” arrangements only delay the inevitable. When I worked for a LA 20 years ago I introduced them under the old law. The help could be given quicker and with no battle lines drawn. But the majority required formal assessment eventually. They were mostly children awaiting a formal diagnosis or with medical needs.

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