Agenda item

Interview with Steven Ackerley, Senior Improvement Advisor - CYPE, KCC



1.            Mr Ackerley explained that, in his role as Senior Improvement Advisor for Special Schools, he worked with consultants in special schools to ensure that pupils were prepared so they could gain as much benefit as possible from their schooling. 


2.            The same eligibility criteria for Pupil Premium applied to pupils with and without Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and to Children in Care. SEND funding was designed to help pupils overcome barriers to learning. Pupil Premium was targeted in the same way as in mainstream schools to support pupils without SEND, but the support it gave SEND pupils would not necessarily be targeted directly at academic improvement, to help them close the attainment gap, but would seek to help them develop social and personal skills and give them the best preparation possible to tackle adult life and work, using goals and measures which were appropriate for them.  The range of SEND covered a broad spectrum of need presentation, including Autism and physical disability, and their progress at key stages 1 to 4 should be measured in the context of progress from their starting point, rather than comparison with academic attainment for pupils without SEND. The work of Sir John Dunford, champion of Pupil Premium, applied equally to pupils with SEND.


3.            For pupils with an Emotional Health Care Plan (EHCP, previously called a Statement of Special Educational Needs), it was important to take account of their health and social care needs in the methods applied to measure their progress at school. In special school settings in Kent, there were 3,884 pupils with EHCP, 30% of whom were eligible for Pupil Premium.  This was three times the number of non-SEND pupils eligible in mainstream primary and secondary schools.  These children would not necessarily be claiming Free School Meals (FSM), although there was a close correlation between families claiming FSM and those with children with SEND as these cohorts shared many of the same social and economic challenges.


4.            Asked about pupils with SEND who were not in special schools, Mr Ackerley explained that 1,916 pupils with an EHCP (SEND) attended mainstream schools, as parents had the right to request that their child be educated in a mainstream school.  Schools would identify their own SEND policy and criteria, which could cover issues such as autism, disability access, speech, language and communication issues or visual and hearing impairments, and would support pupils within the school.  In Kent there were more than 900 pupils with an EHCP (SEND) attending mainstream schools with special resourced provision. 


5.            Asked if Pupil Premium was paid to the school or to the Improvement Officer, Mr Ackerley explained that it was paid direct to the school. He offered case studies of Kent schools at which Pupil Premium was being spent in an innovative way.  In one of these, almost 50% of pupils were eligible for Pupil Premium.


6.            For pupils with Profound Severe and Complex Needs (PSCN), the gap between them and non-PSCN pupils may never be able to be closed. However, Pupil Premium could still be applied and spent in an innovative and constructive way and could demonstrate an impact on pupils’ progress in building a portfolio of skills, even if this did not include attainment of C Grades in Maths and English.


7.            The SEN Code of Practice had been published in September 2014 and updated in January 2015 and included a commitment that all pupils with SEND would be supported and assisted during and after their school careers (for example, with training), up to the age of 25.  


8.            Asked about the level of uptake of this support, Mr Ackerley explained that it was difficult in some cases to provide supported education places that exactly met the needs of an individual pupil and so this was difficult to plan provision for.  For instance, some pupils with SEND and complex needs would need a phased approach to independent access to appropriate training, employment or further education opportunities.


9.            Asked what the County Council could do to improve the effectiveness of Pupil Premium and narrow the gap between SEND and non-SEND pupils, Mr Ackerley said it would first be necessary to understand the strategic approach to Pupil Premium and SEND, but data to help with this understanding was limited. For instance, last year at KS1, there were 180 pupils with SEND, of which 40 also had Pupil Premium. These had a spectrum of needs, from moderate to profound, and only two of them, both with autism, had made the progress in English and Maths which was expected of KS1 pupils.  Narrowing the attainment gap between SEND and non-SEND pupils would be possible only when pupils had the appropriate skills to manage this, and schools would use the Pupil Premium funding to support children and young people in the most suitable way to accelerate progress from their starting points. This could include building confidence and self-esteem along with strategies to support socialisation, which may not result in the school to closing the gap  to age-related expectations or national mainstream thresholds. 


10.         The basic notional allocation per pupil with SEND in mainstream schools was  up to £6,000 per pupil, dependent  on the level and complexity of their needs. Further High Needs Funding (HNF) was available, to provide additional resources or strategies to enable them to remain in the mainstream school of choice.   Some pupils in Special schools with Social and Emotional Mental Health needs (SEMH) were able to achieve at GCSE.  The allocation last year for one such special school for 220 pupils with SEMH was a total of £145,000 (111 pupils – 50%), but this was not all directed to supporting them to pass English and Maths but to develop ‘soft skills’ such as engaging with their peers, undertaking projects like the Duke of Edinburgh Award and finding opportunities for work, so they could develop a sound platform on which to build further skills. 


11.         To optimise the impact of Pupil Premium in special schools, it would be necessary to make sure sufficient and suitable resources were available to allow these ‘skills platforms’ to be built.  However, this would not mean that Pupil Premium would be able to close the gap, and the gap between SEND and non-SEND pupils could be wide and could remain wide.  Special schools’ performance measures were not always aimed  at closing the attainment gap compared to non-SEND mainstream peers but to measure the number of pupils successfully building ‘skills for working life’ and independence.  Some SEND pupils would never be able to live independently, and for these the closing of the gap was simply not relevant. To achieve this progress would require good leadership within the school.  Mr Ackerley emphasised that there was no typical Pupil Premium pupil, SEND pupil or SEMH pupil.


12.         Asked if he was happy with the way in which Pupil Premium was used in Kent’s special schools, Mr Ackerley said that, measuring the progress made by Pupil Premium and non-Pupil Premium pupils in special schools, there was very little difference. This was because all pupils in Kent’s special schools received an extensive package of total support, which made it difficult to discern the contribution made by Pupil Premium.  In a SEND setting, pupils were supported as part of a ‘learning community’ which might include parents who also had SEND and home settings which might be quite chaotic. Pupil Premium could be used also to support a pupil’s family in encouraging strategies and activities to embed those developing during the school day; it did not need necessarily to be linked to their schoolwork and could be about routine, personal responsibility and social interaction 


13.         Mr Ackerley read from a recently-published Ofsted report about Laleham Gap School in Thanet…. Where appropriate Pupil Premium spending had resulted in good progress with SEND pupils. An example of how this had been achieved was ensuring improved attendance of reluctant learners by encouraging them to take part in, and enjoy activities at school such as music and drama and gradually re-introduce them to learning.  Laleham Gap School received £67,000 of Pupil Premium for 57 pupils, and the way in which they had spent this could be seen from their website. Mr Ackerley added that, in Special  schools, there were three times as many pupils  eligible for Pupil premium , but this could be focused  to support non-academic work to build a platform of engagement from which later academic progress could be made


14.         Asked what more could be done to improve the uptake and effectiveness of Pupil Premium in special schools, Mr Ackerley said that schools could network and share best practice.  The role of Lead Special School Adviser allowed him to work with all special schools. It was difficult to provide an increased level of support. The Consultant advisors could be objective when visiting a school and could challenge the school’s practice as well as support their work, and it was easier for an external visitor to do this.  When visiting a school, Mr Ackerley would share examples of good practice, seek evidence of the school’s practice and effectiveness and challenge any shortcomings. 


15.         A special school in Canterbury was achieving some innovative work with pupils with a range of abilities, all together in one setting, each with the appropriate level of flexible, targeted support to meet their individual needs. The school was taking a flexible approach to school organisation, for example by having flexible break times.  Ofsted inspecting a school would see only a snapshot of the school, not the journey by which it had arrived at its current position.  Increased resourcing of Pupil Premium was welcomed and was appropriate, and measurement of a pupil’s progress should be from their own starting point, not a comparison of how they compared academically to pupils without SEND. Children had different barriers to their learning and academic development, and these needed to be considered in context..


16.            Asked if Kent was typical of local authorities in its use of Pupil Premium for SEND pupils in special and mainstream schools, and how gifted pupils fitted into the picture, Mr Ackerley said that the Malling School’s Tidyman Centre was larger than many special schools, so in that way was unusual, but operated very well. Mr Ackerley said working with gifted pupils was not part of his remit but he said that Pupil Premium would be used with guidance and support to accelerate their particular skills to make the most of them but would not be aimed at closing the attainment gap. There were very few pupils at grammar schools (approximately 2 – 5% of the grammar school population) receiving Pupil Premium, and even fewer SEND pupils, but the barriers to them attending grammar schools tended to be of social mobility rather than academic attainment.   


17.         In summary, Mr Ackerley said that, in evaluating the impact of Pupil Premium upon SEND pupils, the Select Committee should bear in mind that it was not necessarily an issue of closing the attainment gap between them and non-SEND pupils.  The Select Committee should look flexibly at other progress.  School leadership and the way in which progress was measured were important.  Not being able to narrow the gap should not in itself be an accurate indicator of a lack of Pupil Premium spend impact, and attention should be paid to a school having made progress in other areas.  Leadership of SEND learners tended to be seen as a ‘forgotten area’ as only 2% of SEND pupils in the UK were taught in non-mainstream schools.  Use of mainstream indicators to measure progress in special schools needed to be addressed, and the need acknowledged for a flexible approach with different measures which would look at progress in areas other than narrowing the attainment gap.


18.       The Chairman thanked Mr Ackerley for giving his time to attend and help the Select Committee with its information gathering. 




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