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The abolition of School Action and School Action plus may leave many children with SEN without the support they need, says Amelia Roberts

As the Children and Families Bill works its way through Parliament, there are a number of unanswered questions on what future SEN provision will look like. This is particularly true for children who don’t need the new combined education, health and care plan (EHCP), but will still require focused intervention in school. Many of these children are likely to be on School Action or School Action Plus at the moment, both of which are to be abolished. Individual education plans will also go, while the SEN Code of Practice will be revised. This reflects the coalition’s stance that SEN is over identified in schools.

Currently, School Action is used when a child is not making progress at school and there is a need for action to be taken. It can include the involvement of extra teachers and may also require the use of different learning materials, special equipment or a different teaching strategy. School Action Plus is used where School Action has not been able to help the child make adequate progress. The school may seek external advice from appropriate support services, such as a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or specialist autism advisory service. Provision may also include one-to-one support and the involvement of an educational psychologist.

Gaps in provision

Under the new arrangements, School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced by the combined EHCP. Children who have a combined plan will have the same level of statutory protection as they did under the previous statement of SEN. Where this gets less clear, however, is how this will affect children who aren’t eligible for a combined plan, but would have previously been on School Action or School Action plus. There may be distinct geographical differences, too, as local authorities will be publishing a “local offer” of provision available to children with SEN, which will vary from region to region.

The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) describes the changes thus: “The Green Paper says current practice harms children who do not have SEN but are identified as such. It says: ‘This problem of over-identification sustains a culture of low expectations for these children and can mean that they do not get the right help. It can distract teachers away from their main priority of teaching pupils, assessing where they are in their learning and ensuring they get the right help where needed.’
“Instead, the government wants to embed the approach of the Achievement for All project, change statutory guidance on how SEN should be identified and enforce ‘sharper accountability.’

  • “The SEN Code of Practice will be shorter and clearer for professionals, including those in early years settings
  • There will be new measures in performance tables on the progress of disadvantaged pupils and those in the lowest-attaining 20 per cent.”

To support schools during this transition, government proposals include:

  • increased emphasis on managing SEN in school as part of initial teacher training
  • increased emphasis on continuous professional development and on-going training
  • increased focus by Ofsted on ways in which SEN is identified and the progression of the lowest attaining 20 per cent.

Although there is still some way to go before the Bill becomes legislation, all indicators suggest that the majority of these changes will go ahead. The aspiration of managing a diverse range of children’s needs within the school setting is laudable, but what will this look like at the chalk face?  What support and resources will teachers have at their fingertips to turn these aspirations into a vibrant and dynamic reality? This is a crucial time as no-one quite knows what will replace School Action and School Action Plus in terms of “real life” provision, particularly for those children who fall just short of accessing the combined EHCP.

Further information

Dr Amelia Roberts is Project Researcher for The Literacy and Dyslexia-SpLD Professional Development Framework:

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