Sophie Hill is SENDco and Assistant Head at Rose Hill Primary School in Oxford, having left lab work as a research scientist to become a teacher. Our SEND Champion, Lyn Roberts, spoke to Sophie about her role as a SEND coordinator, and her thoughts on the SEND review currently open for consultation.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The children – no two children are the same. I also work with a fantastic team.
When you get the SEND provision right, it really makes a world of difference. At Rose Hill, we’re running SEND-enhanced provision classes where pupils are taught in small groups outside of the main class. The scheme (funded by Oxfordshire County Council) has made a real difference to all our pupils – those who need that extra support, and pupils in the mainstream class.
In 2021, an estimated 1.4 million pupils in England were identified as having special educational needs, continuing an upward trend since 2017. How is this reflective of your school cohort and how has your school adapted to this increase?
This is certainly reflective of our school intake. There has been a steady rise in children with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) over the last three years, and we have made a number of applications this year. I think the rise is partly due to improvements in identifying pupils’ needs, and partly symptomatic of societal issues that can hinder a child’s emotional development.
The long-awaited SEND review was published on March 29th 2022. Out of the proposals set out, which will have the most effect on your work and on your pupils?
Improving mainstream SEND provision is crucial, as is standardising EHCPs. But screening for and identifying SEND should happen earlier, as the issues are already entrenched when we first meet pupils in KS1. Provision for families with children 0-3 years old would be really useful in helping detection and intervention.
I am concerned, though, that what we have is a very top-down, streamlined approach with more inspections, perpetuating the narrative that teachers are ‘getting it wrong’ (this simply isn’t the case). It’s not a process that can be easily ‘tidied up’.
What key areas does the review miss?
The SEND system is badly underfunded, and helping children with SEND also needs to extend to helping parents who may not have had a well-balanced upbringing. So I think more could have been done to consider the SEND review alongside the social care review. Even though the introduction (Executive Summary point 6) states that the reviews will be considered together, there is little reference in the SEND review to the contribution that social care could make.
We would benefit from a more personalised SEND-enhanced provision in mainstream schools, leading to a question of funding and staffing. There’s also no system in place to respond to a student who is high risk and dangerous which means you often have to exclude the child for safety purposes.
Do you think the review and the review process do enough to be inclusive?
I think one of the biggest difficulties is that parents don’t really have a voice in this review – they’re unlikely to read a 100-page document like the review and formulate a response.
Sometimes, parents might not be aware that there is a review, or they might be distrustful of professionals.
What do you consider the biggest lesson you’ve learned about educational provision for pupils with SEND?
What I’ve learnt is that one size doesn’t fit all. We need to tweak the provisions and personalise on a student-by-student basis.
This also extends to measuring progress. We’re trying to close the gap between pupils with SEND and mainstream pupils but it’s hard when so much is measured by academic achievement rather than the broader progress an individual child is making.
Everybody’s entitled to a great education, regardless of whether a child has a special educational need or not.