top of page

Simple early interventions - it isn't rocket science!

From working with lots of families as part of the Finding Common Ground project ( it is clear that many parents & carers are applying for EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans) as they perceive that this is the only way of getting the support that their child needs. How did we get into this mess and how can it be addressed?

Firstly, the data clearly shows that the national picture agrees with the Finding Common ground sample on the increase in initial requests - the government data is here - and the issue has had some coverage in the, mainly educational, press (for example here).

Secondly, I am not saying that families and schools shouldn't apply for EHCPs - they are currently the only way to get appropriate provision for a child with significant educational and health needs. I am arguing, however, that a number of applications are made unnecessarily, simply because of the absence of sensible reasonable adjustments in secondary schools for those children with lower levels of special educational needs.

Thirdly, and critically, there are a number of external factors that mean that secondary schools can become difficult environments for those children with lower levels of SEND. Several of these have come up in the national press and I have personal experience of all of them, either from my work in schools or from my Finding Common Ground conversations with parents & carers. In no particular order....

  • The SEND system under real strain - some would say it is broken;

  • There is a lack of special school places, which is "skewing" the provision for children with SEND in mainstream;

  • There is a difficult and often very polarised debate about behaviour policies, sanctions and the way in which the highly controlled environment of some schools can be beneficial for the learning of some, but can disadvantage others;

  • The unremitting pressure of results, league tables and Ofsted means that it is much easier to run a successful school if you have fewer children with SEND, or indeed with disadvantage of any kind. Some schools actively discourage applications from children with SEND, or indeed other disadvantaged groups, as the Schools Adjudicator found (press report here and adjudicator's report here);

  • The nature of the curriculum and the research around the best way of learning leads to a focus on direct instruction, focused questioning, silent practice and frequent assessment. None of this is necessarily wrong, but it can cause significant issues for children with SEND;

  • The pressure on budgets across the sector means that the temptation is to reduce expenditure on SEND provision, particularly on the teaching assistants and other support staff who can be so critical when a child needs additional support;

  • The mantra that "Quality First teaching" will address most learning needs is sometimes being misused. It may be true for some children, but some schools are using it as an excuse not to make appropriate provision for SEND in the classroom and beyond.

This is not a complete list of the factors that cause secondary schools often to be inhospitable places for those children with SEND - I am sure that you can easily add others. I believe that most schools and staff want to be supportive of children with lower level SEND who are failing to thrive, but I believe that the structures and pressures of secondary schools mean that good people often they behave in ways that are detrimental to the needs of vulnerable children. We see the effects of this in the families seeking EHCPs in order to get some flexibility in provision and, also, unfortunately, in the number of children disappearing out of school for elective home education (EHE) because child and family can't cope with school.

It is a mess. Requirements of conformity and uniformity created by the pressures above cause secondary schools to be "hostile environments" for some children and they then fail to thrive. Then parents and carers plead for an EHCP so that they can get some flexibility in their child's provision, or some additional support.

How can this be sorted? I don't have a magic wand to wave to sort out the wider political and financial problems, but I am convinced that low level, flexible adjustments for some children, in conjunction with building a strong positive relationship between family and school can have a significant impact on the rate of EHCP applications, as well as improving the wellbeing and outcomes of the young person concerned. Hear me clearly - students with significant needs should definitely have EHCPs; I am talking about students with lower level SEND. In terms of adjustments I am not talking about anything earth-shattering - just a willingness to have some flexibility over simple practical matters. Simple examples would include individual modification of uniform, temporary adjustments to timetables, including start and end times, allowing sensible timeout and movement arrangements, providing safe spaces and safe people, focusing on the importance of relationships between students and staff, providing child and family with a single point of contact...... Nothing that schools can't easily do.

I am not arguing that this should be done automatically at a parent or carer's request, there is a need for professional judgement and discussion, but establishing a positive relationship with the family, listening to the voice of other professionals involved with the family and the child and looking at the child's best interests - that has to be the way forward.

Simple early intervention - it isn't rocket science!

James Harris

50 views0 comments


bottom of page