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Assessing identification: the inequality in SEND recognition and support

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) have published a thorough analysis of the factors which help or hinder the assessment of young people with special educational needs and what this means for the SEND identification and support they are likely to receive. You can read the full report on EPI’s website.

We know from DfE data that the prevalence of SEND dropped dramatically since 2010, when it stood at over 20%, to 14.1% in 2016. It has increased every year since; prevalence is currently 15.5%.

The research indicates that learners are half as likely to be identified with SEND in schools in very deprived areas and, more interestingly, in  academies. Unsurprisingly, the EPI also points out that children who move around a lot, have poor attendance and have suffered abuse are all less likely to be identified.

The report is well worth a read. Here are some of my own thoughts on some key areas:

Assessment and SEND identification

Coming to an exact ‘diagnosis’ of SEN is difficult.  Teachers report a lack of confidence in this area and pupils may have more than one type of SEN. Unless a child is assessed by a specialist professional  there will be questions about its validity and reliability. 

There are tools available to help SENCos make assessment more effective. However, at the lower ‘SEN Support’ level there is not sufficient guidance on how to do this well. Even the statutory guidance, the SEND Code of Practice, doesn’t manage much beyond ‘all schools should have a clear approach to identifying and responding to SEN’ (para 6.14, p. 94).

Academies

I doubt academies genuinely do identify fewer pupils with SEND than maintained schools. Why? My experience as an academy trustee with 27 schools in some very deprived areas, is that my colleagues are diligent and bold in challenging and supporting schools to do and be better. I recognise my own bias, but DYT has worked in dozens of academies and I have never had a sense they are more or less inclusive than any other school.

The report notes its data is a snapshot of a two-year window post conversion. I suspect some schools converted due to poor systems and leadership, which are needed to ensure good quality provision. In addition, with a 50% reduction in local authority budgets since 2010 and the large number ‘failing’ local area SEND inspections, external support for identification is likely to be limited and poor quality.

Recommendations

The EPI has called for better specialist training, which echoes similar calls from DYT and its own research. The continued lack of SEND focus in the latest National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) is a missed opportunity. DYT has been working on its own professional development offer in recognition of these shortcomings, especially for SENCos and Literacy Leaders (email programmes@driveryouthtrust.com for details).

Increased access to educational psychologists and the greater use of standardised assessments are also positive, especially where young people have a clear difficulty in a particular academic skill, such as literacy. Our experience of working in schools shows how outdated some assessment materials are. 

The development of a national framework which clearly defines the types of support which might be available would be extremely well received by the sector. It would not be an easy task but would bring greater clarity and a more practicable view of what really constitutes ‘different from and additional to’.

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

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