Meeting the challenge of change


Where can teachers find the support they need to keep ahead of the SEN reforms?

This is a time when children and young people with SEN and disabilities are very much in the spotlight because of the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. This heralds the biggest shake up of the SEN system for over 30 years. It brings with it both challenges and opportunities: challenges in the form of getting to grips with yet more change in schools and opportunities in seeking new and better ways of supporting pupils with SEN. At the same time as the SEN Framework is being altered, there are additional challenges caused by a population of pupils whose needs seem to be getting ever more complex. So what can those working in education do to prepare for the changes? To start with, it is important to know what the changes are likely to be, then to be aware of how children’s needs are changing, and finally to know how to access the many sources of support, information and training that are available to schools and teachers.

What is being reformed?

The current SEN Framework began to be put in place as a result of the Warnock Report (1978), which introduced the term “special educational needs”, and the 1981 Education Act which followed it and brought about the statementing procedures. Subsequent legislation has added to the SEN Framework, including the requirement to have an SEN Code of Practice, but there has been no complete overhaul of the system – until now.

The first indication that a major rethink was planned was in October 2010, with the publication of a Green Paper: Children and Young People With Special Educational Needs And Disabilities – Call for Views. (Both Green Papers and White Papers generally precede Bills). This was followed by a consultation paper, Support and aspiration: a new approach to SEND, which was published in March 2011. For over a year, all seemed to go quiet, apart from the work of 20 SEN Pathfinders which had been set up in different areas of the country to pilot some of the proposed changes.

Further information about the SEN pathfinders is available at:

Following this seeming hiatus, three events happened in the same week. The first was the mention of the Children and Families Bill in the Queen’s speech to Parliament in May 2012. The second was the publication of a follow up document, Support and aspiration; a new approach to SEND – Progress and Next Steps. The third was a government reshuffle, which led to Sarah Teather MP being replaced as Minister for SEN by Edward Timpson MP.

Whereas all the documents before the Bill referred to SEN and disability (SEND), the Bill only refers to SEN. Various amendments have been put forward to try to change this. These are some of the main headlines in Part 3 of the Bill which covers SEN:

  • education, health and care plans will replace statements of SEN and go up to the age of 25
  • local authorities must produce a local offer setting out what provision is available for children and young people with SEN
  • parents will be offered a personal budget to pay for the additional support their child needs
  • parents will be offered mediation before going to a tribunal.

Teachers will need more support with SEN as changes to the system kick in.In addition, a new SEN Code of Practice will replace the current version. The Government released a draft of this Code on 4 October and is now seeking the views of interested organisations and individuals as part of its consultation on the Code. This consultation closes on 9 December 2013.

The Bill is expected to become an Act early in 2014 and to be implemented, along with the final version of the SEN Code of Practice, from September 2014.

Changing needs

As if all the changes to the SEN Framework were not enough, schools and other educational settings are seeing an increasing number of pupils with complex needs. Not only are more pupils being diagnosed with conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), specific language impairment (SLI) and specific learning difficulties (SpLD) – which include dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia – but more are being diagnosed with co-existing conditions. Autism and ADHD is just one example of this. Indeed, the point has been reached where it is thought that co-existence may be the rule rather than the exception. There is now a newer category of complex learning difficulties and disabilities (CLDD) to recognise this. In addition, there are newer conditions being recognised, such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and pathological demand avoidance syndrome (PDA). More rare syndromes are being identified and there is a significant surge in the number of children who are being born very prematurely, but who are surviving. On the whole, the earlier babies are born the more likely they are to have special needs and/or disabilities.

Sources of support

As the complexity of children’s needs increases, the more important it becomes for staff to understand how to adapt the curriculum and the environment to provide more personalised pathways for pupils who need them. Happily, there is a growing number of training courses and sources of support available. Chief amongst these are online training materials. The Inclusion Development Programme (IDP), which has been around for some time, has been refreshed. It covers modules on speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), dyslexia, behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD) and autism.

The Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) can be accessed at:

There are also two new government-funded online SEN training resources. The first of these originates from Brian Lamb’s report, The Lamb Inquiry – SEN and Parental Confidence (2009). Lamb decided that the key was to have better trained teachers. This resulted in materials set at Masters level covering the five areas Lamb felt were most essential for teachers to know about. These are:

•    autism
•    moderate learning difficulties (MLD)
•    behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD)
•    specific learning difficulties (SpLD)
•    speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Advanced training materials for autism, dyslexia, SLCN, BESD and moderate learning difficulties can be downloaded at:

The other major resource originated from the Salt Review (2010). Toby Salt was asked to look at improving the supply of teachers for pupils with severe learning difficulties (SLD) and profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). Also feeding into the materials was the work of The CLDD Research Project (2009 to 2011) led by Barry Carpenter. This is a huge resource of 16 modules, each one set at four levels, so that there is something to suit everyone.

Training materials for teachers of learners with severe, profound and complex learning difficulties can be downloaded from:

As the first stage of providing an SEN Gateway to act as a one stop shop, the Department for Education has supported nasen in hosting the IDP, Lamb and complex needs materials:

Both these online materials are designed to be interactive and include activities, video and audio clips of effective practice, links to websites and a wealth of practical resources that can be printed off and used.

In addition, there  are the three Trusts, all of which are sources of information, resources,  support, and training:

  • The Autism Education Trust
  • The Communication Trust
  • The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust.

They were set up by the previous government, but have had continued support from the present one. They are well worth exploring, as they bring together the work of a range of organisations and their websites are constantly updated.

Professional support

Most teachers belong to one of the main teaching unions. Although many teachers may have joined a union primarily to have access to legal advice and support should they need it, do not forget that the unions are also a source of information on all aspects of education. They publish magazines, articles and online information to help teachers keep up to date and to prepare for any changes.

Unions also run courses and conferences, some of which are geared towards learning more about how to teach pupils with SEN. So it is worth keeping an eye on the website of the union to which you belong and, indeed, other union websites as well, as they all have areas that are open to non-members and will generally be pleased to welcome everyone to their training events.

There are also many organisations large and small – and, in many cases, national and regional – that specialise in particular aspects of SEN.

Links to SEN organisations can be found in SEN Resources Directory:

There are a number of large-scale annual events dedicated to SEN. The TES special educational needs show takes place each autumn in London, while nasen Live generally takes place in Bolton in the spring. Such shows have large exhibitions of SEN resources, as well as an extensive programme of seminars and workshops, all focusing on different aspects of SEN. The amount of information and practical advice you can gain in a day makes a visit thoroughly worthwhile. You are likely to leave at the end with carrier bags full of leaflets, catalogues and items you could not resist buying.

In addition, there is a very wide range of conferences, exhibitions, seminars and training events across the country covering all areas of SEN.

For details of CPD, training and events relating to SEN, visit:

Keeping ahead

Nowadays, there is an expectation that teachers will increase their knowledge throughout their school career. There is also a recognition that professional development happens in many different ways, including: looking at magazines such as the one you are reading now; visiting other classes in your school or in neighbouring schools; attending courses, conferences and SEN events; or exploring the internet including accessing online training. Thinking about different ways of extending your knowledge and your expertise is essential, as no-one has invented more hours in the day, in order to give you more time to become an even better teacher. The demands on staff in schools and other educational institutions are immense.

And, of course, it is not just the SEN Framework that is changing, but the curriculum, its assessment, the exams system and much else, including educating a population of pupils who may require a different approach to some of the pupils you have taught before. Keeping up to date is a major issue, but remember that you are not alone and no-one can know everything. The teaching unions, other professional bodies and the wealth of materials now available in various forms are all there to help you. If the new SEN Framework succeeds in making families feel they are part of the process, if education, health and social care really do learn to work together, and if, somehow, staff can find the time to increase their range of skills, then we will be well on the way to improving the experience and outcomes for those who learn differently or with greater difficulty than their peers.

Further information

Dr Rona Tutt OBE is a former headteacher and a past President of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT):


  1. So pleased to see PDA being recognised here. The other thing which strikes me about this article is how much Teachers, and their assistants, have to understand about children with Special Needs, despite receiving very little training on them. I think communication and attitude are key though – try to keep as a focus the child who needs help.


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