What the resource is
Following on from the SEN Code of Practice of 1994 this national piece of research and review was commissioned by the Department of Education and Employment and was undertaken by the University of Newcastle. The research provides a full overview of the scene in 1999 and 2000 so has primarily a historic relevance but it also sets a clear context for current SEN decision making and provision. The project had three broad aims which it clearly meets; 1. to examine the threshold criteria which professionals use to place pupils on the SEN continuum, 2. to establish the range of provision at the different stages of the continuum and 3. to use data gathered to input into the 2001 revision of the Code of Practice. The research is based on data from a national questionnaire survey and then interviews and case studies developed with key informants to add detail to the data gathering. Effective triangulation has been included through workshops with key stakeholders and a reference group representing a wide range of experience in this specialised area of SEN.
The aims of the resource
The project had three broad aims:
- to examine the threshold criteria being used by schools and local education authorities for placing pupils at stage 2 and above of the then code of practice on sen (now school action and school action plus)
- to establish the range of provision being made for pupils with similar needs at each of the stages
- to use the data from 1 and 2 to inform the development of daft guidance on the threshold criteria and appropriate forms of actions within the framework of the Code of Practice.
Key findings or focus
The five main findings remain broadly true for the sector even now;
- The code of practice has provided a broad nationally agreed framework for children with SEN. However the criteria for each stage of the Continuum are largely individualised to Local authorities. This individualised interpretation really impacts when there is movement of children across authorities. ie it means that there can be a disjunture in provision for a child.
- The decision-making relies on individual professional judgement and interpretation. A child with SEN may therefore receive a different label from different local authorities.
- Schools are however meeting some needs in similar ways and with support. This implies that there is agreement on educational practice in a way that there is not in educational assessment.
- Sharing these common patterns might be useful for parents and professionals and might prevent time-consuming deliberations about a child's needs.
- The revision of the Code of Practice needs to concentrate on the education questions about the best way pupils with SEN can be taught.
The report also noted that LEAs had "somewhat contradictory roles within the code: - identifying and meeting need on one hand and controlling access to resources on the other". This still holds as noted in the Education and Skills Sub Committee report of 2007. (link to ttrb article id 13851). Many LEAs dealt with this be requiring the schools to undertake the identification and provision whilst retaining control over the access to resources. The report noted that the success of such an approach relies on the ability to schools to identify and make appropriate provision which is carefully monitored and suitably resourced by the LEA.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource
With a good response rate of over 70% for the questionnaires, the research has high credibility but caution must be exercised in using the data as a valid and current account of practice as most authorities have moved on and developed and refined their own criteria used as a benchmark of learning development indicators. This has also been further supported by the wide scale adoption of P Scales.
The research documents the development of approaches that attempted to be based on teacher judgement of progress, were proportionate in that they attempted to provided a continuum of provision in response to a continuum of need and/or difficulty. It also describes how schools and authorities attempted to organise resources and approaches in an effective way in order to address identified needs.
These included adaptations in:
- assessment and planning
- grouping and teaching purposes
- the harnessing of human resources
- curriculum and teaching methods
Although, the code of practice of 1991 established common terminology it may have not lead to common principles, practices, levels and forms of provision. Such uneven provision would now be termed a post code lottery in the media and lead to calls for an equity of provision across authorities.
The report also highlighted the issue that SEN activity and provision may lead become detached from the rest of the activity of the school so that underlying educational issues that might in fact be creating special educational needs are left unaddressed.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors
This document would need to be carefully used as the amount of and significance of the specialised information might be daunting to student teachers and trainees teachers. A background framework of underpinning knowledge would help the professional see the full picture e.g. the stages of the Code of Practice, an overview of the Code of Practice 1994, roles and responsibilities of key professionals (SENCO, Specialist support personnel and the LEA). (We can link these titles to appropriate articles on the TTRB.)
Clearly the SEN process in many areas has developed further since this research and this needs to be included in the discussions. Most local authorities will have developed a response to the Issues, for example my own authority has produced a comprehensive SEN Management File which addresses the intricacies of the assessment process for pupils with SEN.
The snapshot of the views of LEA representatives provides a historic view on the philosophical foundation authorities have built their SEN provision on. The development of funding formula is reviewed by different authorities and shows the process that has been followed.
The relevance to ITE students
The document can be used to highlight principles to be used by educators when dealing with pupils with SEN.
Assessments can be viewed in terms of pupils' characteristics and difficulties or in terms of a complex mixture of pupils' attainments and rates of progress, action to be taken by schools and evidence to be provided by schools.
The document gives an overview of the sometimes contradictory roles of the local authority in identifying and meeting need on one hand and controlling the access to resources on the other hand.
The document allows access to the developing work and role of the SENCO.
Issues relating to the implementation of the code are identifiable and can lead to awareness of the variety of responses that can be made.
Parent/carer concerns within the SEN process
The information for each authority obviously cannot be taken as a current statement of their
The document provides a historical perspective on the development of school and authority based approaches to the identification and assessment of special educational needs.
Dr Rob Rodgers