DYT CEO Chris Rossiter takes us through five of the well known myths around SEND Governance, proving them all to be untrue and counter-productive when supporting children with SEND.
Following the publication of the SEND Governance Review Guide, DYT has been taking the Guide on the road and providing training opportunities for school governors and trustees across the country.
One of the common difficulties that is raised in these sessions is how to strike the balance between ‘being strategic’ and being ‘operational’. Whilst maintaining a distance is essential for both good governance and the effectiveness of school leaders, this becomes really tricky when considering learners with SEND.
Some schools will have very small SEND cohorts. Or there could be especially high numbers of a very specific type of need. And if you’re based in a special school the lines can become very blurred. In my experience, headteachers can also occasionally pull the ‘operational’ card as a defence when they’re unwilling to discuss sensitive issues.
Understanding some operational details can even be helpful when considering SEND provision because of the ways in which provision is structured. What look like specific issues may cross over to people management, finance and your wider strategy.
As in any complicated area, when things start to get tricky myths and urban legends begin to circulate. So, to help you along the way, here are five myths about SEND governance that all governors and trustees need to know are not true:
Every Board must have a nominated governor with responsibility for SEND.
Neither the SEND Code of Practice or the Governors’ Handbook states this must be the case, although I acknowledge this is a standard practice. The most important thing to remember is what the Handbook says about the duties of a board:
In practice, the functions these duties require of the board can be delegated to a committee, an individual or to the executive leader; although the responsibility is still with the board itself to ensure that the functions are carried out.
Crucially it is the board’s responsibility to decide, alongside school leaders, what the settings policy should be and the approach it adopts meets the requirements of learners with SEND.
It should be noted that some Local Authorities and MATs insist that boards do have specific individuals assigned to roles for SEND and other pupil groups (such as pupil premium).
Any member of staff can be appointed as SENCO.
The SEND Code of Practice, paragraph 6.85 reads:
The SENCO must be a qualified teacher working at the school.
Therefore, an administrator or teaching assistant cannot be appointed to the role. In addition to holding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), new SENCOs also need to complete additional training and complete the National Award in SEND within three years of appointment.
However, special schools are, by their very nature, structured differently and have different requirements. It is not unusual for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) and engagement with outside agencies to be coordinated by a host of staff members some of whom will not be teachers.
The Head (or equivalent) is responsible for determining the SEND information provided to governors in their termly report.
The Governance Handbook makes it clear that it is the board who should determine
‘the scope and format of reports they receive from executive leaders’ (188.8.131.52, p.22).
Those in governance roles should feel confident to ask for reports to make it clear how SEND learners, as a cohort and within individual year groups or key stages, is represented. This is especially important when SEND learners also have additional characteristics, such as Pupil Premium Grant eligibility, Looked After Children or Children with English as an Additional Language.
Governors cannot intervene in operational matters.
Whilst an extreme situation, the Governance Handbook says:
Since the board is responsible in law for the school(s), it may need to intervene in operational matters if a circumstance arises where, because of the actions or inactions of executive leaders, the school may be in breach of a duty. Having advised the board, executive leaders must comply with any reasonable direction given by it.
If those in Governance roles become aware of compliance issues, they have a duty to report it and where this is significant, take action themselves.
A child with an EHCP cannot be permanently excluded.
Children with EHCPs can be excluded and indeed government figures show that pupils with SEND are up to six times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than their peers. The Code of Practice highlights the ‘parents’ right to ask for a SEN expert to attend’ an exclusion panel (11.57).
When involved in exclusions, whether they are permanent or for a fixed-term, governors should ask leaders about the nature of any SEN, the type of support provided to the learner and the extent to which this is effectively meeting the requirements of learners.