The much awaited, and long delayed review of Special Educational needs and Disability (SEND) was published in March 2022. It is entitled “Right support, Right place, Right time” which gives a flavour of what is included in a document that returns to many of the ideas that underpinned the 2011 Green Paper “Support and Aspiration.” The need for a review is clearly set out, around three challenges, that outcomes for Children and Young People (CYP) with SEND are poor; that the system is difficult to navigate; and that it does not offer value for money (VFM). It is hard to argue with the substance of the arguments that give rise to these challenges. The need for action for SEND pupils is clear and outlined in the challenges above. In fact, according to Department for Education statistics, SEND students have poorer levels of school attendance, are more likely to be excluded, obtain lower grades at Key Stage 4, and are more likely to be Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) following full-time education than their counterparts who are not so assessed. In responses to the Children’s Commissioner and to the DfE, parents report a lack of access to decision-making processes, to a lack of understanding or support for their needs, and express concern about the emotional and financial costs of challenging the system.
So, how are we making a difference and supporting the learning of SEND Children and Young People at the University of Cumbria?
Inclusion in Education
Within the Executive Summary, and throughout the document, mention is made of local inclusion plans. The review talks about an inclusive education system with excellent mainstream provision that puts Children and Young People with SEND first, through ensuring that they progress, achieve and remain with their peers in classrooms offering adaptive teaching to meet the needs of all, rather than being internally segregated or moved out of the mainstream system. Indeed, the review states that the suggested changes should ensure that ‘far more’ will be able to attend their local mainstream setting. There are teeth in this proposal: it is noted that Ofsted’s 2019 Education Inspection Framework states that a school can only be classified as outstanding only when demonstrating that CYP with SEND ‘achieve exceptionally well’; and attention is drawn to the Equality Act 2010, that schools must operate inclusively.
This sharpened focus on inclusion will require a response from those who prepare and support teachers in training, and in their continuing professional development (CPD), and this is where the University of Cumbria is well placed. In addition to the well-established specialist teacher education/training programme in Inclusion/SEND, all initial training contains elements of inclusion, with inclusion pathways in undergraduate training and in our various PGCE programmes. The later includes a pathway within our Core programme and School Direct provision in specialist settings across the Northwest of England. Our school-based Mentors and our Partnership Tutors ensure that our trainees demonstrate appropriate awareness of, and proficiency in, Standard 5 of the Teachers’ Standards, in supporting pupils with additional needs. The review suggests that a key element of what makes mainstream settings excellent is the provision of High Quality Teaching (HQT) and be extrapolation, High Quality Learning (HQL), based around mastery of the material contained in the Core Content Framework (CCF) that is part of mandatory initial teacher education/training and which is fully embedded in our courses. All of our PGCE students, in addition to the work that they do in mastering the CCF, must complete two credit bearing modules at Master’s level, the first of which focusses on what is HQT for all and the second of which focusses on how we know that HQL has occurred for all pupils.
A second key intention in the review is to ensure the early identification and assessment of potential difficulties in learning, to allow targeted interventions to be introduced before those difficulties become entrenched. The shift in focus here is towards the early years of schooling, with an emphasis on best practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage and in Key Stage 1, an area of expertise at the University of Cumbria. Opportunities are provided for all of our Primary trainees to engage with the requirements of Early Years education, with pathways and modules that fully prepare students to engage with the requirement to identify and assess difficulties in learning at the earliest opportunity. The SEND review suggests that in 2019, only 41% of teachers reported appropriate training in supporting pupils receiving SEND support. The need here is for teacher training to fully embrace the needs of all pupils, as experience suggests that the challenges inherent in reaching out to, engaging with, and helping the most vulnerable pupils to progress are those that best equip a prospective teacher to meet the learning needs of all pupils, something that has informed practice within the area of SEND within the University over many years.
There is also a strong tradition within our programmes of engagement with research, particularly that based on evidence-informed practice, something that is strongly promoted within the SEND review. From utilising materials from the Education Endowment Foundation and encouraging our PGCE students to reflect on SEND support in relation to their training, to a staff community of researchers and contributors who are active on a national and international scale. As one of the first three institutions approved to deliver the National Award for SEN Coordinators in 2009, and having delivered the programme continuously since that date, the University is advantageously placed to embrace the National Professional Qualification (NPQ) in SENCo that is proposed in the review. Our NASC graduates make a genuine difference, fostering inclusion within schools through leadership and activity.
In the long term, it will be the quality of the school-based workforce that will leverage the change in attitude that is needed to ensure that the achievement of all pupils becomes the main focus of those settings, through high aspirations and through a recognition that ‘all teachers are teachers of all children’ (SEND Code of Practice (2014). It will be a good time to become a member of the schools’ workforce, able to influence a better recognition of the value of all pupils in a system founded on diversity and equity.
Join a community of difference-makers
Feeling inspired? The University of Cumbria is the ideal place to grow your skills as an inclusive teacher on an Initial Teacher Training or CPD course. Join a community of educators committed to making a difference, creating positive change and supporting the learning of all children and young people.