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SEND Review: Who is accountable for ensuring children’s needs are met at school?

SEND Review

Earlier this month, members of the Dyslexia Commission met to discuss the government’s SEND review and School Bill. The first half of the inquiry session was chaired by Matt Hancock and posed the question of how schools and local authorities felt about funding in relation to children with dyslexia.

The second half of the inquiry was chaired by Dr Helen Ross, a dyslexia specialist, and partly focussed on accountability in relation to children with SEND. Dr Ross put the question to the room and the insight and ideas that came back from the industry experts were fascinating.

Consistency across all schools

Jane Bradley, an Education lecturer at The University of Chester, believes that the most important thing when it comes to being able to pinpoint who is accountable for SEND is that there is consistency across the board. She said:

“I think that consistency of offer is essential- making sure that all schools are offering similar provisions for children with special education needs. Additionally, school information reports need to be accessible and consistent across all schools, authorities and areas.

“There also needs to be a standardised format for the educational healthcare plans. Having that would hopefully improve the consistency of provision across the country because currently, the healthcare plans are in different formats depending on where you are. If you move to a different authority then it’s problematic. Having a standardised format across the board will help to drive forward equal standards, which is vital.”

Early years teachers can make a huge difference

Rachel Gelder, SENCo Specialist and Co-founder of LDIGS, believes that it’s up to early years teachers to spot the signs that a child has dyslexia or other needs. To be able to do this, she says it’s vital that all teachers are upskilled as part of their job.

“Teachers and Teaching Assistants really know their children and that’s the first stage of early identification. School staff should be trained so that they know what to look out for in terms of qualitative and quantitative data when it comes to potentially spotting a child with educational needs.

School staff need to be able to recognise how vital their role is in this and the best way to do that is to incorporate more SEND training into initial teacher training. Teachers and TAs can make a huge difference by doing small things on a day-to-day basis. Training them to be able to do these things wouldn’t even require a huge amount of time either.”

The role of Ofsted in accountability

For those children that do slip the net in terms of early identification, there needs to be provisions in place to ensure they don’t progress through their entire school life without being flagged for dyslexia or any other educational needs. If nobody can prevent this from happening then the mental health of these children could rapidly deteriorate.

David Williams, Executive Director of Inclusions for The Park Academies Trust, said:

“Having SEN specialist Ofsted inspectors is vital and makes a real difference.

It would be quite easy for the framework to be able to look at dyslexia-friendly teaching. It should be very easy for an Ofsted inspector to drill into SEN data – all they’d have to do is look at reading data and go and find the child at the bottom of the list.

I’ve come across some absolutely fantastic inspectors who really do understand SEN but I’ve also come across some that really don’t, so it’s important that we ensure that there are more that do.”

How accountable are the government?

While many of the panellists agreed that teachers and schools should be held accountable for the outcomes of dyslexic children, there is a notion that the government should provide more guidance on screening. Many schools use different screening methods and there is a belief that a consistent approach to this would result in better outcomes.

André Imich, SEN and Disability Professional Adviser at the Department for Education, said:

“We give schools an element of freedom to adapt their teaching methods to meet educational and examination requirements. Different schools use different methods and the only way to judge which methods are the right ones is by the outcomes they achieve.”

“One of the challenges we have is that there is no national agreement on what dyslexia is. If there isn’t universal agreement on what dyslexia then there isn’t going to be a universal agreement on what the best screening tool for dyslexia is.”

Final thought

It’s fair to say that most of the industry experts on the panel believe that schools are the most accountable for identifying dyslexic children and for how these children progress through school. However, until the Department for Education starts providing better guidance on screening, schools have little choice but to take a trial-and-error approach which isn’t time or cost-effective.

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