Quality and consistency of the mainstream offer (schools): Targeted Support and SEN Support – coherence or confusion?
(NB please note this blog post was updated 28 April 2022 to include information about the proposed national standards)
Julie Wharton and Christopher Robertson
Targeted Support in mainstream
In some respects, the White Paper (Opportunity for All: Strong schools with great teachers for your child) says more about the mainstream offer than the SEND Review: Right support, right place, right time (Green Paper), with the introduction of a Parent Pledge and promise of Targeted Support for children who may fall behind (Maths and English).
This support (already provided in ‘good’ schools), the White Paper notes – following on from ‘excellent teaching’ – will provide targeted, evidence-based interventions (Education Endowment Foundation ‘recommended’, Pupil Premium ‘menu’ interventions and so forth) for pupils who have ‘fallen behind’, and without recourse to SEND or disadvantage labelling.
Schools determine the choice of intervention and ‘delivery’ mode, and staff interventions accordingly (current teachers in the school, teachers recruited externally – possibly using National Tutoring Programme teachers). There is no mention of the involvement of teaching assistants (TAs), but it would be surprising if schools do not make use of TAs or other support staff to run these programmes too.
A range of other research focused advice and evaluation will be available (e.g., via the Accelerator Fund, Ofsted inspection evidence, Ofsted and DfE good practice exemplification) to inform the continuing development of a robust evidence, recognising that this does not ‘stand still’.
Pupil progress will be monitored and reviewed to indicate whether support needs to continue or change, and this is where the interface with SEN Support (another level of differentiation) also becomes important.
Questions and queries about the Targeted Support initiative include
A lot of external evidence surrounds the approach, but could this overwhelm or confuse practitioners, pupils, and parents?
Is the narrow focus of interventions detrimental to other aspects of pupil development?
Ongoing parental engagement (focusing on pupil progress) is advocated but this may raise concerns about practicalities, and what if the ‘pledge’ is broken?
The Targeted Support model refers to the possibility of drawing on specialist and multi-agency advice as needed, but we know this is already extremely hard to access for pupils with an EHC plan and even more so for those receiving SEN Support. So how will this work effectively?
Could the aim of providing the ‘stigma’ free intervention facilitate a positive move away from SEND and disadvantage terminology and its downsides?
Will staffing and the use of recommended interventions have the potential to free up class and subject teachers to support pupils not participating in these, but who still require learning support?
The SEND Review focuses on ‘transformative professional development’ to provide better mainstream teaching for pupils with SEND, but no reference is made to SEN Support provision and the efficacy of the Graduated Approach. The interface or overlap with Targeted Support for pupils who have fallen behind ‘academically’ is not clear and could present identification and assessment challenges for teachers if a pupil who is continuing to ‘fall behind’ despite interventions ‘requires a label’ and more intense pedagogic input using the familiar Graduated Approach.
SEN Support is also seen as the ‘fall-back’ for pupils whose needs are significant but not sufficiently complex to warrant an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). In other words, notwithstanding the SEND Review’s commitment to developing a more ‘inclusive system,’ this group of learners will remain a large one with diverse needs.
This raises the issue of whether the revised SEND Code of Practice ought to include updated advice on SEN Support, and if so, what this should include?
The SEND Review does include proposals (including new national standards) that are relevant to improving SEN Support provision, including:
Each of these warrant closer scrutiny and discussion to ascertain how, and if, they can enhance the quality of SEN Support provision. For example, will a new SENCO leadership NPQ (if introduced) bring about the benefits briefly alluded to in the SEND Review, or lead to less positive policy-practice consequences such an over-reliance on a single SENCO leader?
All of the proposed statutory national SEND standards have bearing on improving the quality of SEN Support, in both mainstream schools, early years settings, further education provision and alternative provision. As described in the SEND Review, however, it is not entirely clear that these have been conceptualised with SEN Support in mind (e.g. in relation to co-productively reviewing SEN Support for individual children and young people and the practicalities of this for everyone involved).
There is also a danger that each of the ‘main standards’ (currently five) will, in turn, be supplemented with a lengthy listing of subsidiary standards that stakeholders regard as essential. The cumulative effect of this may be to create a quality-mark compliant culture that has more limited impact on local service ‘delivery’ than anticipated.
Finally, the bigger question posed by the White and Green Papers is whether ‘mirror imaging’ proposals for Targeted Support and SEN Support will bring greater coherence or confusion to the way in which pupils deemed to be falling behind or experiencing more significant difficulties in learning access appropriate support and intervention?
Christopher Robertson is an independent academic and author, policy analyst and adviser to educational organisations with a particular interest in SEND policy and implementation. His previous roles include lecturing in SEND at the University of Birmingham (with lead responsibility for developing and introducing the National Award for SEN Co-ordination) Canterbury Christ Church University, and the University of London’s Institute of Education. Christopher is also a member of the Special Educational Needs Policy Forum’s lead group.
Julie Wharton is the programme leader for the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NASENCo) at the University of Winchester. Julie joined the University in 2014, having spent seven years working as an SEND Inspector in a Local Authority. Prior to this she was an Advanced Skills Teacher for Special Educational Needs. Julie is also a member of the Special Educational Needs Policy Forum’s lead group.