ISC SEN Conference

Posted on: 20 Nov 2014

Barry Huggett OBE, Chair of the Independent Schools Council SEN Committee and Headmaster of More House School, explains why training teachers helping children with special needs is more important than ever….

Long ago, Special Education in Independent Schools may well have been the preserve of the Headmaster’s wife who taught “Extra English” in a cupboard down the corridor. Not so today. The independent sector looks on the support of SEN children as a duty and an opportunity.

The staff in independent schools have embraced the education of SEN children partly because their independence releases them from the straitjacket of the National Curriculum and enables them to try out new methods which meet the needs of individual children.

Additionally, they know that the inspection regime of ISC schools looks at the way in which SEN is dealt with by the school as a whole and not just in special classes.

To support their staff, many Head teachers have put in a lot of money into whole staff training so that, in the smaller classes found in independent schools, each child may have a good experience as the subjects can be tailored to meet individual needs. Also independent schools have the advantage of being able to control their admissions, so they will not be forced to accept children whose needs they cannot meet.

There are 66,579 pupils with special educational needs at ISC schools, of whom 2,889 pupils have statements. Special needs provision is very strong in our sector and we have several schools which specialise in this area.

My own school, More House, is for boys age 8 to 18 who may be struggling in mainstream schools due to a Specific Learning Difficulty. 44% of the boys have Statements and are funded at the school by their local authority. They come from all over the country as this type of specialised provision is hard to find and they may previously have struggled in mainstream schools due to a Specific Learning Difficulty that may have not been recognised.

The school specialises in language development and processing, which can be at the root of so many learning issues. As well as teaching GCSEs and BTEC qualifications, the school offers an additional team of 25 specialised staff who are dedicated to giving the boys help in exactly the areas each individual needs. Small classes are offered in speech and language therapy, literacy, numeracy and occupational therapy and these lessons in the Learning Development Centre are timetabled in, so there is no stigma about going for ‘extra help’ .

I am keen we pass on our expertise on to other schools and we regularly provide special needs training, through day workshops and lectures, to many teachers in the maintained sector. And more training will be needed as Special Education has experienced two major interventions this year: The Children and Families Act (C&F) has become law and the new Code of Practice has been introduced. Additionally, the changes in funding in the state sector have started to have more influence and the country wide introduction of Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP), to replace statements, has begun to take effect. There is also a new framework for inspection for schools to come to terms with as well as a new examination regime lurking around the corner and changes in examination concessions and other changes to the Regulations governing the registering of independent schools.

All these changes are underway and we are not sure how they are going to impact children with special needs. There are many big questions to resolve. One will be how the input of the NHS into EHCPs will be managed. Significantly too, there is no centralised system for the transfer of statements into EHCPs . The 34 Local authorities placing children at More House have all produced different paperwork which has to be completed for the transfer meeting and that transfer is being made for different age groups at different times.

The role of parents has rightly been enhanced and the methodology which lies behind the awarding and monitoring of each EHCP is an improvement, but is there a danger that purpose is being supplanted by process?

The ISC SEN conference took place at BMA House, Tavistock Square.

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