PRESENS NUT Position Statement on BHCC LSS service redesign

A summary of what Brighton and Hove City Council has proposed in its Educational Psychology and Learning Support Service Consultation Paper (October 2015) in terms of its effect upon Brighton and Hove City Council’s Pre-School Special Educational Needs Service (PRESENS).

This is a summary of what was said to the assembled staff of all the Learning Support Services on 15th October 2015.  At this meeting the staff were not told to keep this information secret. The staff were told that this consultation was now in the public domain. This meeting was the start of a Statutory Consultation process. Representatives of all the staff teams’ Trades Unions were invited to this meeting and representatives from all the staff teams’ Trades Unions attended.

What is being proposed:
The PRESENS off-site team will be deleted from Brighton and Hove City Council’s structure, along with the other existing specialist learning support services.

  • All of the specialist teaching posts in the PRESENS off-site team will be deleted.
  • All of the nursery nurse posts in the PRESENS off-site team will be deleted.
  • A new generic Learning Support Service will be created, which will consist of SEN Specialist Advisers and SEN Specialist Assistant, amongst others.
  • The existing nursery nurses in the PRESENS off-site team will become SEN Specialist Assistants in the Learning and Communication strand of the redesigned Learning Support Service, but on less favorable terms and conditions of service (Soulbury Pay Scale) (with three years pay protection)
  • All the existing teachers in the PRESENS off-site team are now at risk of redundancy and will have the opportunity to apply for ring-fenced posts (SEN Specialist Advisers) in the Learning and Communication strand of the redesigned Learning Support Service on less favorable terms and conditions of service (Soulbury Pay Scale) (with three years pay protection).
  • The number of SEN Specialist Adviser posts in the Learning and Communication Strand of the new Learning Support Service is approximately 50% less than the number of teachers in the existing services that are ring-fenced to posts in the Learning and Communication strand of the new service.
  • When other factors are taken into account e.g. the number of teachers of the deaf and teachers of the visually impaired, that have to be employed by a Local Authority, and thus will have to be employed in the redesigned service, it is likely that the number of existing teachers in PRESENS that will be appointed to SEN Specialist Adviser posts in the Learning and Communication strand of the new Learning Support Service will be less than 50% of the existing number of pre-school teachers.
  • The new SEN Specialist Adviser posts in the new Learning Support Service will have generic job descriptions, requiring the post holders to work with children and young people from 0 to 25. i.e. at present there are no posts that are specifically designated as early years SEN advisers.
  • The SEN Specialist Advisers will have to work considerably more days across the year than previously, and they be required to work evenings and weekends when required. The SEN Specialist Advisers will be taken out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and put into a pension scheme with poorer benefits.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s Pre-School Special Educational Needs Service’s National Union of Teachers members’ response to these proposals.

The cutting of the staffing complement of the PRESENS team; the disbanding of PRESENS as an entity, and the transfer of its staff to less favourable terms and conditions, completely contradicts Brighton and Hove City Council SEN partnership strategy for 2013-2017, which states:  

  • We will focus on early intervention and supporting mainstream educational environments to increase their skills and confidence in meeting the needs of young people with SEN;

Build on existing effective Early Years practice to ensure early assessment, intervention and preventative approaches benefit children with SEN before they reach school and over the transition into Reception;

Background: What is PRESENS?

PRESENS is an on-site and off-site team. Each half is inter-related. The expert knowledge of the off-site teachers, in part determined by the intensive on-site teaching of children, enables successful strategies to be disseminated through the off-site team to pre-school settings. The expert knowledge of the off-site team, in part determined by the intensive teaching of children with complex needs in mainstream settings, where differentiation and specialist strategies can be refined with the context of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, enable EYFS-based specialist strategies to be transferred to the on-site team.

The off-site teachers and nursery nurses provide packages of advice, support, training and modelling of teaching strategies to children in maintained nurseries classes attached to schools, or maintained nursery schools, (i.e. pre-school provision financed by the local authority and staffed by qualified nursery teachers and nursery nurses) and to 146 private, voluntary and independent (PVI) pre-school settings, which are staffed by practitioners without qualified teacher status, including 17-year old apprentices on the minimum wage (£2.86 for 17-year olds).  The off-site teachers enable work with children prior to admission to on-site provision, to identify which children would benefit from on-site support. The majority of the off-site team also continue to work with the vast majority of the children on the PRESENS caseload whose needs in pre-school can only be met through highly intensive support in pre-school settings. PRESENS also co-ordinates, monitors and administers the allocation of Inclusion Grant and Additional Support Fund funding to pre-school settings. This enable the settings to employ additional staff to provide intensive adult support to children on PRESENS’s caseload with complex needs. The co-ordination, monitoring and administration of Inclusions Grants and Additional Support Fund monies takes up a significant portion of time due to the large increase in Brighton and Hove of children with complex needs, and the introduction of two-year free entitlement, which had increased the number of children eligible for the Inclusion Grant. The introduction of 30 hours early years free entitlement (for which Brighton and Hove have bid to become a pathfinder authority from Sept 2016), will undoubtedly increase the demand for PRESENS to undertake assessments of children with SEND, including their need for Inclusion Grant and Additional Support Fund.

The ability of practitioners in pre-school settings, particularly in PVI settings, to meet the children’s needs is dependent on the expert knowledge and skills that the off-site teachers provide, as in almost all PVI settings practitioners are not qualified teachers. PRESENS makes it possible for children with the most complex special needs and disabilities to be included successfully in PVI and maintained preschool settings.

In the report “The impact of the Childcare Bill on disabled children. A briefing for Committee Stage of stage the Childcare Bill (NCB, Contact a Family, Family and Childcare Trust; Special Educational Consortium and Every Disabled Child Matters) (October 2015) it states:

“The Parliamentary Inquiry into childcare for disabled children found a consensus across parents, carers, local authorities and provider associations that the childcare workforce lacks sufficient knowledge of the skills required to include disabled children. A number of reports have indicated how, where practitioners lack the skills or the confidence to respond appropriately, children’s needs may be identified effective action being taken. A disastrous cocktail of slow progress, lowered expectations, and parental loss of confidence can follow. This can limit children’s achievements and later difficulties can become overlaid on earlier ones”

The report concluded:

We believe that government [should] commit to providing sufficient financial support to local authorities so that all childcare providers can offer placed to disabled children. This includes, in particular, funding for:

            SEN support service, for example area SENCos or early years advisory          teachers”

PRESENS currently provides exactly that: a team of early years teachers (who are simultaneously area SENCo for the PVI settings).

PRESENS staff are skilled experts in typical early years development, early years provision, and delays and disorder of development, pre-school. They are experts because they work within a team of people focussed on early years who share expertise and knowledge, and engage in continuous group professional development.

The scale of the impact of this service redesign.

The number of children for whom PRESENS is providing a service (in 2015): 376 children

The number of pre-school settings where PRESENS provides a service: 146 settings

Current staffing (teachers): 5.6 FTE

Approximate number of children per 1.0FTE teacher across the year = 67 children

Approximate number of settings per 1.0FTE teacher = 26 settings

Assuming that the number of staff dedicated to pre-school activity in the redesigned Learning Support Service Team is halved, which is the intention of the service redesign, then from April 2016 this is the projected allocation of children and settings to pre-school ‘specialist advisers’ – although in the current proposals there are no dedicated pre-school specialist SEN advisers:


Forecast number of children per 1.0FTE SEN specialist adviser after April 2016

= 114 children

Forecast number of settings per 1.0FTE SEN specialist adviser after April 2016

= 44 settings

It would be extremely difficult to deliver any level of quality in advice, support, training and modelled teaching, to provide the secure base for learning that would enable these children to flourish in their future school careers, if 1.0FTE specialist SEN advisor(s) had caseloads of approximately 114 children, in approximately 44 settings each. Thus the proposed service redesign will considerably reduce the capacity of the Local Authority to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in the early years, and will result in some children receiving a level of service which will not optimally support the pre-school settings in which they are placed to meet their needs.

Moreover, a likely outcome of this would be to greatly diminish parents’ perception of the Local Authority’s capacity to meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities in pre-school, and thus force parents to request much earlier requests for statutory assessment under the Special Educational Need and Disabilities Code of Practice 2014, which would force the Local Authority (LA) to make provision which is much costlier than the provision that the LA is now making with PRESENS. Parents can seek legal redress through the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal under the SEND Code of Practice 2014. If the LA does not issue an Education, Health and Care plan that meets children’s needs, when an EHCP level of service is required to meet children’s needs, parents could go to SEND tribunals to require the LA to produce an EHCP and provide the resources identified in it. SEND tribunals frequently find in the favour of parents, at huge cost to the LA. At present, parents of children in Brighton and Hove only extremely rarely seek legal redress through the SEND tribunal, as they feel confident that PRESENS is enabling pre-school settings to meet their children’s needs.

The impact on the ability of pre-school settings to include children with severe SEND – the potential loss of Inclusion Grant and Additional Support Fund funding for pre-school settings.

PRESENS currently administrates the provision of additional funding to pre-school settings, to allow the settings to provide intensive additional adult support for children (two years old to four years old) with severe SENDs. Without this funding many settings simply wouldn’t be able to include these pupils; thus these children may be subtly refused places by pre-school settings, which is detrimental to these children’s development, and could cost the Local Authority a great deal of money if the parents of these children press for statutory assessment leading to an Education, Health and Care plan, as a result of them feeling that there isn’t sufficient staff in their child’s setting for the their child’s needs to be met.

Currently access to the Inclusion Grant and the Additional Support fund is determined by a specialist PRESENS teacher making a detailed analysis of the child’s functional needs in their setting. Once this funding is allocated the PRRSENS teachers undertake a termly monitoring review, to see if this funding is still required. In addition to the role of teachers in this process the administrative staff have a very large role in processing these funding requests, in terms of calculating the amounts of money to be paid to settings; setting-up legal contracts with the settings; and liaising with Brighton and Hove City Council to facilitate the payment of this funding to settings.

For both teachers and administrative staff these tasks take up is a significant amount of time. If there aren’t specialist pre-school teachers in place, or a sufficient number of them, and the administrative staff to set up the legal and financial aspects of this funding, settings will not receive funding and then pre-schoolers with significant SEND will not be included in settings, and this may then cost Brighton and Hove a great deal of money in making agency (out-of-LA) specialist placements for children.

Why is a dedicated pre-school SEN team necessary?

PRESENS teachers have specialised knowledge of how the range of disabling conditions which children can face effect children in the early years because PRESENS is able to pool knowledge and expertise in a specialist team of early years professionals. Pooling expertise within a specialist team with a shared focus on early years also enables us to develop effective strategies to ameliorate the children’s needs through highly specialist interventions.

PRESENS teachers have specialist expertise in working in liaison with paediatricians, health visitors and paediatric speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists; PRESENS teachers have specialist knowledge and experience of how to work collaboratively with health and social services professionals in the context of early years, because PRESENS is a team of early years specialists sharing knowledge and skills.

Many of the children that PRESENS work with are at risk of developing long-term mental health issues if their needs are not met in pre-school. PRESENS highly specialist and experienced teachers and nursery nurses have years of experience of supporting pre-school settings to include children and meet their emotional, social and mental health needs. Social, emotional and mental health needs manifest in very different ways in early years children with special needs, in comparison with school-aged children, particularly because many of PRESENS children are pre- or non-verbal

Most of the settings in which PRESENS work are in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sector. With the continuous turn-around of unqualified staff in PVI settings pre-school setting staff need continuous training (for individual practitioners; groups of practitioners; whole settings, and city-wide) to meet the needs of children with complex needs; without this support from PRESENS, pre-school settings would simply not be able to successfully include these children.

Generally, there is a very high turnover of low paid staff, with a low level of qualification, in pre-school settings, therefore, the need to deliver advice, support, modelling and training is much higher, and more ongoing, in a PVI setting than a school.

If PRESENS do not provide support in pre-school for children who display the risk factors for behaviour and mental health difficulties, then the incidence of behavioural and mental health difficulties will increase; as these difficulties become more ingrained, they become more expensive to ameliorate.

If the new learning support service had far fewer pre-school teachers the following outcomes are likely:

  • Parents are likely request EHCPs earlier because they have lost confidence in the LA’s ability to meet needs; this will entail additional cost to Brighton & Hove
  • Parents who wouldn’t have requested an EHCP may do so because they have lost confidence in the LA’s ability to meet needs; this will entail additional cost to Brighton & Hove
  • It is likely that more children will go to special school or out-of-county agency placements that may cost £75,000+ per child per year, because their needs are were not met in pre-school
  • Most PRESENS children go to mainstream schools, but they all required a significant level of additional support in pre-school to achieve this. The costs of making SEN provision later in a child’s educational career becomes higher as children get older, as it is easier to remediate some learning difficulties when they are younger. It is likely that not having children’s needs met earlier will result in children having greater needs later, which will be costlier to meet.

Not meeting needs early will result in secondary needs developing such as mental health difficulties which will be costly to remediate later.

  • The high level of training that PRESENS currently provide to settings will not be sustainable in the reduced new service, especially as it has no dedicated early years team. This means that the capacity of PVIs to meet children’s needs will be reduced; and their awareness of their statutory responsibilities with regard to the Code of Practice for SEND will be reduced. This means increased costs will be incurred due to settings being unable to meet the children’s needs and comply with their statutory requirements, leading to intervention from the Local Authority.
  • Brighton and Hove has a city-wide target to reduce inequality/unfairness. However, it will not be able to meet its stated target to produce a ‘child-friendly’ and ‘fair’ city, if its children with special needs do not receive an adequate level of provision.
  • With less support from PRESENS PVI settings will informally exclude some children by saying to parents that they don’t feel they have the skills to meet the children’s needs without intensive external support; so reducing PRESENS support will increase inequality. The Impact of the Child Care Bill on Disabled Children (2015) states: the parliamentary inquiry into disabled children found that the lack of staff skill and confidence was often the reason “being subtly discouraged or simply turned away by a provider”. Currently the incidence of this happening i.e. our city, is incredibly low, due to PRESENS supporting children’s inclusion.
  • In the statutory assessment process PRESENS are the agency which initiates statutory assessment for children in PVI settings as PRESENS teachers are the settings Area SENCOs; if there are only a few pre-school specialists this process will take up all their work or even exceed the time people have available for pre-school work

Why are specialist pre-school teachers necessary?

  • Teachers are trained to degree level to understand child development
  • Most of the children PRESENS work with have multiple needs and are extremely complex – to understand the needs of children with multiple needs in pre-school is highly skilled and challenging. The ability to work with children in the early years with complex needs is only acquired through experience of working with this specific age-group. The skills that teachers use in key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 are not transferable to the early years, as early years practice is driven by child development knowledge, not curriculum knowledge
  • PRESENS teachers provide high-quality teaching. The practice of specialist teachers modelling specialist strategies, through hands-on teaching, has proven the best methodology to improve practice in pre-school setting with practitioners who are not qualified teachers.

The highly successful outcomes achieved by PRESENS Nursery Nurses and Teaching Assistants is facilitated by the support and training provided by the qualified PRESENS teachers. All of the work of Nursery Nurses and Teaching Assistants with children is supervised by the specialist teachers.

The impact of PRESENS on parents/carers:

  • PRESENS teachers support for the emotional impact of parents coming to terms with their child’s diagnosis/disability/need; thus developing parents’ wellbeing and resilience; without this support parents may go on to have significant mental health difficulties
  • PRESENS teachers support parents to gain confidence to access services they were previously anxious about engaging with

PRESENS’ role in promoting successful inclusion in mainstream schools and preventing exclusions

  • We support schools, throughout the transition process, by tailoring our advice, support and training to individual children’s specific needs. This promotes successful inclusion and prevents unnecessary exclusions in the reception year. With reduced resources the new design of the Learning Support Service is likely to result in a significant increase in the number of exclusions, which it is very costly for the Local Authority.

Is the new model of service delivery pedagogically sound?

  • The proposals for the new service seem to focus on tackling challenging behaviour post pre-school. This seems illogical as, frequently, later behaviour needs are caused by not having needs met in the early years. Not having a sufficient team of early years specialist teachers will create more expenditure later as unmet needs multiply the effects as children get older.
  • In order to fulfil the LA’s wish to reduce placements in special schools it would seem necessary to increase specialist support for schools and pre-schools, but the proposed service redesign of the Learning Support Service entails diminishing the level of specialist support that schools will receive.
  • If working generically is what is deemed to be the most important, why separate SEMH from Learning and Communication when SEMH needs are often the consequence of Learning and Communication needs.
  • The importance of the early years in children’s development cannot be overstated. Currently the numbers of early years consultants is being significantly reduced, and so are the numbers of early years visitors working with health visitors. In addition, the role of specialist early years EP is no longer present in the structure of the redesigned service; therefore, it would seem that the LA will have almost no professionals dedicated to early years intervention despite the fact that the early years are the most important years in terms of long term impact of children’s later education and health outcomes.

The likely impact of the loss of PRESENS on other services including Sussex Community NHS Trust

  • Currently PRESENS is part of the complex needs and disabilities team and works with health and social services. The impact of the loss of PRESENS teachers on multi-disciplinary working with health will have significant consequences, especially with regard to Seaside View Child Development Centre. The loss of PRESENS will place a pressure on health services to take up what we used to do with children in R-2 and R-1. We understand that this academic year Seaside View has had to double the number of specialist early intervention groups to cater for the increased number of very young children with complex special educational needs; these children would have, in current service, seamlessly transferred to our caseload.
  • The PRESENS NUT staff group is not aware of any consultation with Sussex Community NHS Trust to ascertain the possible impact on Sussex Community Health through the loss of PRESENS.

Examples of the current integration of PRESENS and Sussex Community NHS Trust services:

  • When speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists produce programmes it is often PRESENS who explain to the pre-school settings how to implement these programmes. All PVIs greatly value the advice which PRESENS teachers can provide.
  • Currently multi-disciplinary assessment with health is essential to certain assessment processes such as ASC pathway diagnosis in early years; multi-disciplinary assessment with pre-school teachers cannot take place if there are no pre-school teachers.

The impact of the loss of PRESENS on statutory obligations

  • PRESENS off-site teachers in PVI settings currently fulfil the ‘area SENCo’ role, which is essential to the process of statutory assessment and the co-production of EHCPs. Without PRESENS teachers it would be very hard for PVI settings to meet the statutory requirement to assess children, and provide a ‘graduated response’ to meeting their needs, under the SEND Code of Practice 2014.
  • PRESENS teachers/area SENCos are essential to the process of early identification and the subsequent undertaking of the Early Help Family Assessment. Without PRESENS teachers the quality of the referrals form PVI settings will be greatly diminished.

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