Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Educational Psychologists (E 44)

Education Bill and Educational Psychology Services

The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) is the professional association and trade union for Educational Psychologists (EPs) in the United Kingdom. AEP is organised exclusively for and by EPs and currently has 3250 members across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The AEP seeks to promote the overall well-being of children and young people, promotes cooperation between EPs and seeks to establish good relationships between EPs and their employers.

Educational psychologists work with children and young people aged from 0-19 but the majority of their time is spent with school-age children. EPs play a key part in helping shape how educational settings approach a vast range of educational issues including curriculum development, Special Educational Needs, gifted and talented support and behaviour management. EPs carry out a wide range of statutory and non-statutory work that helps to improve learning, developmental and welfare outcomes for all children and young people, but especially those within the most vulnerable situations.

The AEP has a specific interest in the Education Bill given the changes it proposes, both directly and indirectly, to the ways in which schools will co-operate and interact with a range of partners, including local authorities, specialist support services and parents.

Education Bill

The AEP welcomes the principles behind the Education Bill to improve educational standards, narrow the educational attainment gap, and improve outcomes for all children and young people. However, the AEP is concerned that the Bill has been published ahead of the SEN Green Paper. Given the range of reforms that will be put forward in the Green Paper and the impact of these on some of the most vulnerable school pupils, it remains that many of the proposals in the Education Bill cannot be fully known until the direction of travel for SEN policy and the implications of the Green Paper are fully understood.

In this context, the AEP is urging the Government to provide clarity on three overriding concerns about the proposed legislation:

· whether changes to exclusion procedures and discipline measures will impact disproportionately on children within vulnerable circumstances, especially those with SEND or caring responsibilities

· whether implications of removal of duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities will impede strategic planning and co-ordinated delivery of specialist support services

· how the Bill will ensure that duties and safeguards for children with SEND remain in place ahead of implementation of SEN Green Paper

Early Years provision

Clause 1 of the Bill would amend current legislation to extend the provision of targeted free early years services to disadvantaged two year old children beyond the free universal services that already exist for three and four year olds. The AEP welcomes the Government’s focus on early intervention and is encouraged by the recent recommendations made by both Frank Field in his Poverty Review and Graham Allen in his review into Early Intervention. In light of an EP’s diagnostic and assessment skills, EPs must play a role in early identification and intervention as well as supporting all children’s professionals across education, health and domestic care settings to be able to perform a diagnostic role at the earliest stage when intervention has a much better chance of resulting in improved outcomes for children. The AEP is eager to explore how EPs can contribute to delivering the recommendations made in the Allen review and strengthening the quality of early years provision through EP support.

EP services should therefore be available to children, parents, teachers and all children’s service professionals on an equitable basis and the AEP is concerned that moves to provide targeted support to particular groups of children in early years settings may have adverse consequences on access to specialist support services such as educational psychology for other groups.

We are additionally concerned that educational psychology is often viewed in the narrowest of terms, solely as an educational resource used by local authorities to deliver statutory services for the assessment of special educational needs. However, EP professionals play a wide role beyond the boundaries of schools in the local community. This work offers important opportunities to work at preventive and early-intervention levels. Uncertainty about how EP services will be delivered in the future is affecting the capacity and ability of local authorities to continue delivering EP support to vulnerable children and families through early intervention services. As such EP involvement is not considered an immediate statutory priority.

Discipline: Repeal of requirement to give notice of detention to parent

The Bill proposes to enhance significantly the powers of teachers to manage behaviour with the aim of improving discipline. While the AEP is supportive of measures to ensure behaviour is managed appropriately, we are concerned about the impact of these specific proposals on children within vulnerable circumstances and are seeking clarification from the Government about the practical application of these measures. In particular, we are concerned by Clause 5 of the Bill, which removes the requirement to give a parent or carer a minimum of 24 hours' written notice that their child is required to attend detention outside normal school hours.

The AEP would stress that care is needed in the practical application of these enhanced powers. This is especially important for children with SEN, especially those whose needs have not been formally identified or diagnosed, or those with caring responsibilities. In many cases, there are underlying developmental and learning conditions that have an impact on behaviour and these should always be considered when implementing sanctions as now proposed by the legislation. School policies should take account of the individual child, their particular generalised or complex SEN/additional needs and the root causes, often developmental, that trigger recurrent challenging behaviour. This does necessitate that teachers have an understanding of SEN and how developmental and learning difficulties impact on behaviour.

Duties to co-operate with local authority

AEP welcomed the Government’s commitment in the Schools White Paper that local authorities will retain responsibility for children with SEN. In light of this commitment, we are concerned that any removal of the duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities will have a negative impact on their ability to provide targeted specialist support services, such as educational psychology.

The AEP acknowledges the merits in removing unnecessary bureaucracy for schools however we are unsure how local authorities will be able to meet their strategic responsibilities to plan and co-ordinate services without a strong relationship with local schools; an understanding of the services that they require; and the needs of the children within them. With reforms to public service delivery ongoing, AEP acknowledges that local authorities may not continue to be the primary service provider of these services. However, local authorities will still hold a statutory responsibility to ensure that the needs of the children within its locality are met.

This is especially important for those with the most complex special educational needs and developmental conditions. Effective joint commissioning is essential for these children, and may not always be financially viable at school level given the high cost of effective interventions for only a small number of pupils. Statutory responsibility should rest with local authorities, and they should therefore continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that all related services necessary for a child's well-being work together effectively. Schools do however need to be a part of this process.

Multi-disciplinary working does not only help to deliver higher quality services that address local population needs in a comprehensive, holistic manner, but it can also improve efficiency and deliver better value for money. As schools progressively take on more and more commissioning functions, they will need to ensure that all services they buy in complement the statutory provision delivered by local authorities, thus creating joined up services that fully meet the needs of children, teachers, schools and parents.

The AEP’s position

Given the delays to publication of the SEN Green Paper, the Education Bill proposes to remove a number of safeguards currently in place for vulnerable children and families, without providing details on alternative guarantees. There is a pressing need for coherence between the Education Bill and the forthcoming SEN Green Paper in regard to children’s workforce reform, teacher training, the role of local authorities and access to specialist support staff, including educational psychologists.

It is essential that the changes proposed by the Education Bill are seen in the context of the diminishing role of the local authority in funding and co-ordinating delivery of specialist services. It is expected that the Green Paper will set out further details about EP roles and future delivery of EP services. Consistency and coherence is vital in ensuring that children, families and schools are not left without access to critical support.

March 2011