The government’s SEND review began in September 2019, looking at the impacts of reforms to the SEND system introduced in 2014. Three years on the publication of this green paper marks the start of a consultation process which closes on 1st July 2022. The SEND system is in crisis and this delay will have resulted in blighted lives and lost opportunities.
The document is split into six chapters, with the 22 consultation questions inserted at relevant intervals. The questions are also listed at the end of the document.
Published on 29 March, the day after the Education White Paper, social media traffic suggests it has not gone down well with parent/ carers, whose existing concerns about lack of accountability and parent voice have not been assuaged.
As Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), commented, “In the meantime, many thousands of children and young people will continue to pass through a broken system, with schools left to pick up the pieces without sufficient resources.”
The review lands in a bleak landscape: Local Authority SEND budgets are at breaking point with SEND deficits expected to total up to £3bn by 2023; schools are struggling to fulfil their commitments to children and students with SEND under the Code of Practice; schools have no specific funding allocated to them for students with SEND; COVID 19 has disproportionately disadvantaged children with SEND further. Families face extensive delays in the diagnosis and assessment of SEND and the allocation of EHCPs (Education, Health and Social Care Plans).
Over the past decade Ofsted has driven a narrowing of the curriculum, punishing workload and an obsession with meaningless data and accountability. Judgements are unreliable, specialism is patchy and inspections discriminate against schools in deprived areas, where there are higher numbers of children with disabilities. In this hostile environment, creative teaching and inclusive practice cannot flourish.
Real terms cuts have caused shortages in specialist teachers, hit support staff and are undermining schools’ abilities to meet SEND and mental health. The job of SENCo has become increasingly unsustainable. Higher needs funding is insufficient, leading to top slicing of schools’ budgets and an Education Health and Care Plan if eventually agreed does not automatically lead to the funding required to meet needs. In too many cases, parent /carer trust and confidence in schools and local authorities has been profoundly damaged.
The Green Paper has received mixed reviews, including a warm-ish welcome from my union the NEU. Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary stated, “National standards for SEND have the potential to act as a catalyst to better support, but they must come with sufficient funding. Collaboration across agencies, and the personnel and financial resource this requires, is vital if the new National Standards are to work on the ground. Good outcomes for children with SEND are particularly dependent on retaining experienced teachers and experienced support staff.”
Bousted called for funding for the banding framework to level up, proper staffing and expertise in schools, and a phased reduction in places in specialist setting. She added that, “Staff retention is the elephant in the room in this Green Paper.”
At 106 pages long, the review is a hefty document with a lot to digest. There is a summary but no ‘accessible’ version available for young people with SEND, and it is distinctly not ‘child centred’, or indeed family centred. How many exhausted parents / carers (or education workers!) will have the time and energy to read the full document? Nevertheless, it is vital that the views of pupils, families, and the SEND workforce are voiced and that they shape future provision and end inequalities.
Summary of changes – 5 key areas
“A single national SEND and AP system”, including:
- creating consistent standards across all authorities
- updating the SEND Code of practice
- establishing new local SEND partnerships that bring together key services to produce local inclusion plans
- simplifying the EHCP process including access to information and enabling parents to make informed choices on educational settings
“Excellent provision from early years to adulthood”, including:
- more money invested in schools’ budgets for SEND provision
- possible introduction of a new SENCo National Professional Qualification
- increasing the number of staff with SENCo qualifications in early years settings
- investment in SEND teacher training and development in mainstream schools
- more places created in special schools and alternative provision
- investment in the supported internships programme to improve transition into higher education and employment
“A reformed and integrated role for AP”, including:
- distributing an AP-specific budget to local authorities
- developing a framework to ensure that pupils in AP are progressing and have sustainable options beyond AP
“System roles, accountabilities and funding reform”, including:
- clarifying roles across provisions and ensuring professionals are equipped to meet their responsibilities
- introducing new inclusion dashboards for 0-25 years provision so that parents and professionals can see at a glance, how the SEND system is performing at local and national levels
- introducing a new national framework of banding and tariffs for funding matched to levels of need and types of education provision
“Delivering change for children and families”, including:
- investment in local authorities that have the biggest deficits for SEND
- the publication of a delivery plan for how change will be implemented and by whom, in line with this consultation
- a new National SEND Delivery Board to bring together government and national delivery partners, including parents, to ensure timely implementation of proposals
The Green Paper proposes that the government will:
- increase core schools’ budgets by £7 billion by 2024-25, compared with 2021-22 figures
- spend £2.6 billion over the next three years to deliver new and improve existing specialist and alternative provision
- invest £18 million in the supported internships programme over the next three years
From the outset, the review states that there are 3 key challenges facing the SEND and alternative provision system:
- Navigating the SEND system and alternative provision is not a positive experience for too many children, young people and their families.
- Outcomes for children and young people with SEND or in alternative provision are consistently worse than their peers across every measure.
- Despite the continuing and unprecedented investment, the system is not financially sustainable.
It points to ‘post code’ inconsistencies in the system and recommends some useful adjustments including SENCo and teacher training, a standardised EHCP format, and local inclusion plans to set out the provision that is available in each area. These are to be co-ordinated by new local SEND partnerships. But despite a promise to inject £7 billion into school budges over the next three years and to expand AP, there’s no commitment to scrap the huge council SEND ‘overspends’ or truly transform the broken SEND framework.
There are plans for new local inclusion dashboards for 0-25 years provision, to monitor performance. The examples of data that will be tracked include school attendance rates, attainment, percentage of children with EHCPs, waiting times for access to services and numbers of tribunal appeals. The danger of course, is that these will just become another tickbox exercise with no guarantees of quality or even accuracy of data.
Proposals to “support parents and carers to express an informed preference for a suitable placement” by providing a tailored list of settings, including mainstream, specialist and independent are also questionable. Many parents and carers who already feel patronised and marginalised will see this as a move to further restrict choice, sitting alongside forced mediation, delaying redress in the tribunal process.
The ever shrinking curriculum in mainstream state schools, driven by relentless Tory cuts and emphasis on SATs and league tables, has turned so many settings into hostile environments for children with SEND. There is a massive missed opportunity to address the curriculum in any meaningful way in this review. The few mentions are references to supporting access to the mainstream curriculum and the 2019 Ofsted EIF (Education Inspection Framework) demanding that all children access ‘the same broad and ambitious curriculum’. We will not see full inclusion without a transformed flexible, decolonised and trauma-informed curriculum, with more creative Arts, physical education, and powerful interactive connections with local communities.
Pupils with SEND should be entitled to access alternative accreditation instead of the current punishing one size fits all approach, which is driving off-rolling, exclusions and an increase in need for EHCPs with some children sometimes inappropriately placed in special schools, which tend to have a more pupil-centred curriculum.
Alternative Provision is a central plank of the review. While the vast majority (82%) of pupils with SEND are in state-funded mainstream schools, around 1% are in Alternative Provision. APs are the likely destination for most children with SEND if they cannot be included in mainstream or are not considered appropriate for a local specialist school. Children with SEMH (Social, Emotional & Mental Health), autistic children or those with SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) struggling in mainstream will be placed in AP units.
However, it appears the success of APs will be judged mainly on attendance and behaviour, and not on the quality of in-house provision, including tailored therapeutic packages of input from speech & language, occupational therapy and other specialists and visiting professionals. There is a real risk that MATs will regard their APs as cash cows and will try to keep running costs as low as possible for the children on whom they may see as of lesser value.
It is astounding to read that only now does the government see the need to analyse NHS workforce data to ascertain if it is possible to meet the ‘rising demand in SEND’ that it has been referencing for years. It seems obvious that recruitment of SALT, OT, clinical psychologists and CAMHS professionals, alongside specialist teachers, SENCos and educational psychologists should have been a first step towards meeting demand created by the expansion in 2014 of the SEND framework to age 24, plus the rise in identification of special need. As a Qualified Teacher of the Deaf working for a local authority sensory team in London, I am alarmed at the falling numbers of professionals holding the mandatory qualification for working with deaf learners, visually impaired children and pupils with multi-sensory impairment, with no sign of a government funded recruitment drive.
The paper also fails to grapple with the real inequalities at Post-16. FE and employment are virtually invisible taking up just two pages on the review, with specialist colleges hardly mentioned. Too many young people with SEND have been short-changed by the system and while promised investment in the supported internship programme may be warmly greeted, parents and carers are justifiably angry that there is no national system of special paid apprenticeships for young people with SEND. SEND funding for FE colleges is so restricted that some are covertly rationing the numbers of students with EHCPs they take, fearing they will not be able to support need.
As Matt Keer points out in his piece on the Special Needs Jungle website, six of the 106 pages of the review cover accountability issues. Yet astonishingly, not a single one of the 22 consultation questions asks about the issue of accountability – this cannot be accidental.
The six pages on accountability sit in Chapter 5: System roles, accountabilities and funding reform. While the DfE acknowledges a need to “align system incentives and accountabilities to reduce perverse behaviours that drive poor outcomes and high costs in the current system”, it fails to elaborate on who are the culprits or how they might be brought into line.
Coming hot on the heels of the Education White Paper, the review must be set in the context of the government announcement that by 2030 all schools in England will be required to be part of a MAT (Multi Academy Trust), including special and alternative provision, “sharing expertise and resource to improve outcomes”. Putting all special schools and APs into the control of unaccountable MATs, many of which see no role for parents/carers in education is hugely problematic. The drive towards total marketisation and privatisation of the system will effectively strip away any of the transparency and democracy offered by local education authorities, put more public assets into private hands and create further mining of funds that should be spent on children in order to feed CEO salaries of up to £450,000 per year.
Rightly, the SEA’s GUBOS (Give Us Back Our Schools) campaign, calls for an end to the structures and systems that give rise to zero tolerance behaviour policies, isolation booths, and toxic coercive relationships with pupils and staff that demand silence. These are the conditions which gave rise to the Child Q case, and so many other abhorrent abuses. Until then we cannot even guarantee that every child has a place at a good local school with effective safeguarding.
You can respond to the Green Paper here:
SEA NEC Member, Tower Hamlets
7 April 2022