This article was originally posted in Headteacher Update 7/1/15.


Inclusion expert Daniel Sobel writes regularly for Headteacher Update on issues of SEND best practice. Here he tackles some FAQs.

Q: The SEND team is overrun with files and paperwork which seem to be all about tick-box exercises. Can we get past this?

I advocate the use of the 15-page-a-minute scanner which costs in the range of £50 and the use of one day of admin time to upload all SEND files onto your computer system. I recommend you store them in files hyperlinked to a provision map (Inclusion Expert’s provision map is free to download).

Most of these documents are genuinely irrelevant – especially when they are stuck at the back of a huge file that is groaning so much that you can’t even close it. A significant current problem for many schools’ SEND is that there is too much information – and the important stuff tends to get lost.

The challenge – which requires skill and training – is to be able to wade through the forest of paper and sift out the key information. In general, this should be between three and five bullet points of advice for teachers and support staff for each child.

Q: Can teaching assistants be expected to carry out higher level tasks such as preparing SEND paperwork for annual reviews?

Possibly the worst use of a SENCO’s time is in endless paperwork and never-ending meetings. To overcome this danger in one school, I established one teaching assistant as a lead for all paperwork as well as the coordinator for all other teaching assistants.

The SENCO’s role was then to check, clarify and, where necessary, add sentences and paragraphs that had been agreed as best coming from the SENCO. This freed the SENCO and fostered a more nuanced understanding, rather than them being stuck in lots of repetitive admin tasks.

In another school, I established one teaching assistant to be in charge of all forms of assessment. Eventually she gained a qualification enabling her to carry out access arrangements. The advantage of this role was the technical and administrative aspects of carrying assessments both for baselines at the beginning of the year and for mid-phase, meant that the SENCO could concentrate on the problem issues that arose. It is too easy for a SENCO to waste endless amounts of time filling in forms which tell you nothing more than what you know already and then not have enough time to address the real problems.

There are numerous other roles I could describe but they all boil down to the same issue for schools – how to best relieve the SENCO to be free to address real issues and not be weighed down by the relatively unimportant ones. Don’t be afraid to relegate what seem like important form-filling exercises to what they really are – just tick-boxing.

Q: The educational psychologist, occupational health or speech and language therapist doesn’t give us useful advice. What can we do?

Part of the problem is that schools are not specialists and yet we are reliant on what they advise us. But, can we always trust that advice? Who are we to question this expert?

One rule of thumb is not to accept advice you have been given if it is not in line with what your staff think. Question any radical, strange and surprising advice. Do not accept advice that is not easy to implement or doesn’t make sense in your setting. Question “reports” that seem to be generic and almost copycat. First, speak with the individual and failing that, the head of service.

Be clear as to how the advice is not supportive and does not fit with your understanding.
Furthermore, do not accept persistent lateness and cancellations, lack of flexibility to come to meetings, constant changing of designated person etc. All of these sort of professional standards are yours to demand and you should demand your money back where these are not in place. Don’t be afraid of making formal complaints if necessary.

It is my view that, wherever possible, groups of schools should procure their own services and write their own service agreements. Put these out to tender and see who can best meet your needs on a trial basis. This takes some coordination but ultimately I believe this is in the best interests of your students.

Q: Does my school have to financially account for each individual Pupil Premium student?

Officially, no. The Pupil Premium grant regulations do not require you to record spending per individual recipient. But you are required to account for how much money has come in in total, how many eligible students your school has, and what you spent the funds on. We suggest mapping this on a simple four column table: identified need – action taken – impact – cost. This format makes financial accounting just one part of creating a truly outstanding map of provision, which can be monitored and referred back to.

So while you are not mandated to financially account for each individual, I would argue that best practice is to map out identified need against action and measure of impact. If you are already doing this, all it takes is a quick meeting between the SENCO and business manager to cost each intervention and add-in financial accounting too.

Q: At what point do I have enough evidence to manage-move or permanently exclude an SEN student with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)?

Advising schools on how to exclude students doesn’t sit at all well with me. So I choose to see this question from a different angle: how can we ensure we are doing what is best, within the bounds of possibility, for the student? When I sit as an expert witness on exclusion tribunals I find schools falling into a number of pitfalls:

  1. Most critically, schools don’t make clear the essential formula: what the identified need was, how they responded, and what the impact was. If the impact was negative, well, that happens; but it is a serious failing if you do not have a measure of what you tried.
  2. It is important to mention how you trained staff and tried a variety of strategies in the classroom. This ensures you are in line with Waves 1, 2 and 3, as well as the requirements of Ofsted and the SEND Code of Practice.
  3. Don’t make the decision on your own. Seek outside agency input and advice and agreement from as many sources as possible. Record the minutes of these meetings and add them to the bundle.
  4. Include plenty of student feedback.
  5. Never include information that vilifies a child, such as records and materials that add nothing to the case and simply attack their character.
  6. Remember that managed moves nearly always mean offloading the problem onto someone else.
  7. Don’t assume that a permanent exclusion automatically triggers local authority support. It often doesn’t. You need to pick up the phone to the education lead.

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