Will the SEND Inquiry report be drowned in the maelstrom of Brexit? UPDATED

Will the SEND Inquiry 
report be drowned in 
the maelstrom of brexit?

I wrote this post yesterday in the wake of the leak of Government schools funding. This evening, Boris Johnson has made the announcement official - more than was expected for schools at £14 billion -- and for SEND £700 million .

The total is enough, says the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) to restore school spending to pre-austerity levels, although a 10-year period of no net growth in school spending per pupil, is still a "significant squeeze on school budgets when considered in historical terms." I’ll have more of this later - but it doesn’t change the thrust of the post about what a mess we’re still in with SEND. And there is no more information about the SEND figure than just that.

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SEND “reforms” five years old

This weekend marks five years since the implementation of the Children and Families Act. But instead of celebrating the anniversary of what should have been the day SEND started to work for disabled children and young people, we're eagerly awaiting the SEND Inquiry report from the Education Select Committee about just how bad the system is.

The inquiry had a mammoth amount of evidence, both submitted in writing and from the hearings from parents and professionals alike. The Inquiry report is almost certain to draw the same conclusion we already have - that the SEND system is indeed broken. Committee chair, Robert Halfon MP, has made no secret of his disgust with those who are failing to ensure children and young people with disabilities are given the help to which they are entitled.  

Will the SEND Inquiry report be published before Brexit?

The worry now is that with the prorogation of Parliament, the publication of the report may be delayed even when it’s ready. However, according to the recent tweet from the select committee itself, the report isn’t expected to be finalised until the autumn, which would be from late September/October by my reckoning. 

So what else is happening in October? Ummmm… 

From now until the end of October, it’ll continue to be one long melt-down of public anxiety, political fury, perhaps mass protests, triumphalism, fear of shortages etc, depending on your political perspective. 

The publication of the SEND Inquiry report, when it happens, will quite possibly be squashed out of the headlines by Brexit, or the fight to stop it, or at least stop it without a deal. And, if the pundits are right, there may even be an election not too long afterwards. 

So this doesn’t give the committee much of an opening to aim for a big splash for its SEND Inquiry publication, rather like diving into a paddling pool from the top of Big Ben. Will it even get a mention in Parliament, let alone the serious debate it deserves? Mr Halfon's Twitter feed shows he's a big fan of Boris, so who knows, maybe this will count in the report's favour.

We saw the recent Exclusions Review by Ed Timpson effectively kneecapped by the Government releasing its response the same day the review was published. Although, of course, it had reportedly already been eviscerated by the DfE before publication. While a select committee report shouldn’t suffer the same fate, I’m sure BoJo will want to take the sting out of it as much as possible. 

Billions for education in the spending review—and perhaps a head-lock

As I said, in the past few hours, £14 billion for schools has been announced with £700 million for SEND.

The money is over the next three years, in an announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The funding package for 5-16 schools includes £2.6 billion for 2020/21, £4.8 billion for 21/22, and £7.1 billion for 22/23 compared to 19/20. This will bring the schools budget to £52.2bn in 22/23.
This delivers on the Prime Minister’s pledge when entering Downing Street to increase school funding by £4.6bn above inflation, levelling up education funding and giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed – regardless of where they grow up or go to school.
As part of this, every secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year, with every primary school getting a minimum of £4,000 from 2021/22.
The deal includes £700 million extra for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in 2020/21, so every pupil can access the education that is right for them, and none are held back from reaching their potential. Next year schools will receive a £2.6bn uplift, rising to £4.8bn the following year - with schools spending £7.1bn more than at present by 2022-23.

...As part of this, every secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year, with every primary school getting a minimum of £4,000 from 2021/22.

Department for Education 30 August 2019 (my emphasis)

The announcement wasn't expected until the spending review next week, but after the leak, BJ clearly wanted to get ahead of the headlines sayins it, "...gives schools the certainty they need to plan their budgets."

The Government claims it will:

  • Ensure that per-pupil funding for all schools can rise at least in line with inflation
  • Progress the implementation of our National Funding Formula, delivering promised gains in full for areas which have been historically under-funded.
  • In addition to this package, schools will receive £4.4billion over three years to cover rising pension costs and ensure they can focus their resources on the front line.

I said in the earlier version of this post that the extra money for SEND would give the Department for Education (DfE) the  opportunity to do some ‘sting-neutralising’ ahead of the SEND Inquiry report. But it doesn't address the other plans mentioned in the leak of more emphasis on exclusions and allowing teachers to use “reasonable force” to improve behaviour. So, other than to keep Mr Timpson’s bank account in the black for a while, the exclusions review was a complete waste of money, wasn't it?

And “reasonable force” WT actual F? Are the government now going to issue guidance on what constitutes “reasonable” and what is actual physical abuse? How is this going to improve respect in schools? Not that Boris has a leg to stand on there (see below his lack of respect at a very posh and presumably well-disciplined school…)

I expect BJ would like corporal punishment brought back too. He probably thought a good caning was entirely “reasonable” in the “good old” days (his sister certainly did). 

There are plenty of great examples, reports and evidence (all links repeated at the end of the article) of how to to improve behaviour in schools that do not include wrestling a kid to the ground or putting them in a head-lock to get them out of the classroom. The web has many resources from across the world .

Maybe the Government should do some research into the causes of poor behaviour (including undiagnosed or un-provided for special educational needs and poverty). Then start to tackle it from there, with suitable funding, instead of looking at headlines and “clamping down”. Meeting fire with fire may work in the bully-boy world of politics, but it does not work with often-vulnerable children, some of whom, let’s face it, may regularly get the same treatment at home. 

I’m not saying this is an easy route, but it’s the only one to choose if we want to turn out modern, productive, thriving young adults. You have to look at and appreciate their whole environment; what one needs will not be the same for another child. Nurture plays a huge part in this. This article in The Times about alternative provision underlines this:

“I ask Stone, who has had a 15-year career working with excluded children, if there is such thing as a naturally naughty child. “I don’t think so, no,” he says. “Bad behaviour and violence is just misplaced anxiety and fear.”

I repeat the question in every school I visit. The answer is always no. Every teacher, professional and parent says that bad behaviour is an attempt to communicate pain, isolation, rejection, frustration, grief, anger, hunger, tiredness, anxiety and depression. That the more a young person is told they are bad, the worse they become. That the most crucial part of rehabilitation is letting them know they have the ability to succeed, giving them a reason to be good.”

Excluded from mainstream: the last-chance schools for lost kids, Megan Agnew

Is £700 million enough to fix SEND or just electioneering?

Five years on, more families than ever are fighting to get support. Maybe it's that there's more information to tell parents what their children are entitled to, but the truth is that cuts to schools have led to children not getting the support they need. Indeed, the children's communications charity, ICAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) say that far from a less adversarial system, for families of children with SLCN, nine out of ten parents still have to fight for support. They say since the "reforms", support for children and young people with SLCN has not improved; in many areas it has worsened.

Headteacher Jules White of the WorthLess? schools funding campaign doesn’t think £800 million is enough and I agree - not even close to sufficient, especially when it's now £100 million short of that. Jules believes SEND by itself needs a multi-billion pound commitment, “to put right the wrongs of the past

Let's not forget, this cash (if it's all new, which remains to be seen) has been rushed out to quell the justified anger of teachers before term starts next week. The DfE think if they announce the money now, the rest of the leak will be conveniently forgotten. Additionally, promises of chucking dosh at areas deprived of funding has long been seen as a pre-election ploy, and this seems to be no different.

However, Boris still hinted at the plans to clamp down on behaviour:

My government will ensure all young people get the best possible start in life. That means the right funding, but also giving schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so pupils continue to learn effectively.

Boris Johnston

It’s certainly doesn't seem to be a serious attempt to tackle the SEND crisis. That would take a sustained and well-planned investment across cash-starved local government, so those in control of delivering education don’t see the extra money for SEND as an opportunity to plug gaps elsewhere. Austerity may “officially” be over but we are still suffering from the effects of almost a decade of cuts and lack of investment in education, health and welfare. 

So, £800 million, depending on where it’s aimed, will help. But it has to go round 152 English local education authorities and the SEND Tribunal needs some too. And these LAs have since created new policies designed to “reshape” (i.e. cut) services to meet empty coffers, such as cutting transport, short break services, closing children’s centres and routinely refusing children’s social care assessments, let along making any actual provision. Are they going to roll back those policies? Are they going to reinstate those services? Are they going to take the money and say, ‘Right, well, we can now start obeying the law'?

I highly doubt it. Because that takes the attitude and the will to do it, from the Director of Children’s Services and local political leaders right through to case officers, and from school leaders down to class teachers. But it looks like, according to this leak, that the money is not planned to be spent on teaching assistants. “More effective deployment” in Tory-speak means fewer, not more - they already think there are too many, apparently. In this news-they-didn’t-want-us-to-see, they acknowledge that the announcement wouldn’t be welcomed by the “SEND lobby” of which we are doubtless leading troublemakers.

“...it would undermine the ‘hearts and minds’ aspect of the announcement with the numerous audiences we know value TAs – parents, teachers, heads and [the] SEND lobby. This needs to be handled very sensitively if we are to protect the positivity of the announcement.”

Government leaked plans, as reported in The Guardian

Or as Or as Guardian columnist, Aditya Chakrabortty, memorably described it:

It is full of the stories that the government doesn’t want you to know, such as slashing the number of teaching assistants, as urged by No 10 and the Treasury, even though civil servants know this will go down like a bucket of cold sick with parents and teachers. The briefing advises: “We recommend we continue to push No 10 not to include this publicly.”
Consider also the focus on headteachers being encouraged to “use reasonable force” on misbehaving students. Education officials caution that such a policy will “impact disproportionately on children in need of a social worker, children with special needs and … Black Caribbean Boys”. In other words, it will be state-led discrimination against minority groups. Ensuring that more kids are excluded will simply feed them into pupil referral units or lead to them getting schooled by gangs, so that police and crime commissioners, note the officials, “worry about rates of exclusion driving knife crime”.

Johnson’s schools ‘revolution’ is all about an imminent election. Here’s why it’s fake Guardian columnist, Aditya Chakrabortty,

Fewer TAs means, in general, less inclusion. Even brilliant TAs can’t be “effectively deployed” if they’re not there in the first place. Hard-pushed teachers in today’s result-driven system can’t do everything by themselves. And the government’s own, very recent, research by Amy Skipp shows mainstream Teaching Assistant cuts negatively impact SEND pupils

I fear LA policies of austerity are here to stay unless parents are prepared to continue to battle for the restoration of services lost to cuts. And I fear the SEND crisis will not be over unless the SEND Inquiry report gets sufficient attention, unless the committee DEMANDS action, and receives not only political buy-in, but the rest of the money—ring-fenced—that’s needed to do it properly. 

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two young adults with autism. Tania is a member of the Whole School SEND Expert Reference Group for SEND Leadership, the Ofsted SEND Inspections Stakeholders Group, and sits on the Advisory Board of the Royal Holloway, University of London Centre of Gene and Cell Therapy.
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
Tania Tirraoro
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