From education to employment

New #SEND review launches to improve support for children with additional needs


Five years on from reforms introduced to better support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the review aims to improve the services available to families who need support, equip staff in schools and colleges to respond effectively to their needs as well as ending the ‘postcode lottery’ they often face.

The review comes a week after the government announced a major funding boost of £700million in 2020/21 for pupils with the most complex needs, delivering on the Prime Minister’s pledge to ensure every pupil can access the education that is right for them.

It will conclude with action to boost outcomes and improve value for money, so that vulnerable children have the same opportunities to succeed, as well as improving capacity and support for families across England.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

I want parents to know that we’re committed to boosting outcomes and ensuring the right support is in place for children with special educational needs, by breaking down the barriers to a good education and making sure the system works for families. That is why the Prime Minister committed to providing an extra £700 million next year, an 11% increase, to make sure these children can access the education that is right for them.

Our reforms in 2014 gave vital support to more children, but we know there have been problems in delivering the changes that we all want to see. So it’s the right time to take stock of our system and make sure the excellence we want to see as a result of our changes is the norm for every child and their families.

Education Health and Care plans, launched in 2014, mean that now more than 350,000 children and young people aged 0-25 with the most complex special educational needs are receiving the tailored support they need to thrive and receive a world-class education. Of those in schools around half (130,000) are continuing in mainstream education.

The new review will look at the how the system has evolved since then, how it can be made to work best for all families and ensure quality of provision is the same across the country. Recognising the importance of joined-up support, it will also explore the role of health care in SEND in collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Last week the Government set out plans to invest over £14 billion in primary and secondary education between now and 2022/23, including £700 million extra for children with SEND in 2020/21. This investment delivered on the Prime Minister’s pledge to ensure every pupil can reach their potential – including looking at the support in schools for children with less complex special educational needs.

To complement this, the review of support for children with SEND will look at and put forward new actions on:

  • The evidence on how the system can provide the highest quality support that enables children and young people with SEND to thrive and prepare for adulthood, including employment;
  • Better helping parents to make decisions about what kind of support will be best for their child;
  • Making sure support in different local areas is consistent, joined up across health, care and education services, and that high-quality health and education support is available across the country;
  • How we strike the right balance of state-funded provision across inclusive mainstream and specialist places;
  • Aligning incentives and accountability for schools, colleges and local authorities to make sure they provide the best possible support for children and young people with SEND;
  • Understanding what is behind the rise in education, health and care (EHC) plans and the role of specific health conditions in driving demand; and
  • Ensuring that public money is spent in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner, placing a premium on securing high quality outcomes for those children and young people who need additional support the most.

Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said:

The support and care for people with special educational needs and disabilities is one of my top priorities. The SEND review will be crucial in widening our knowledge of the parts of the system which are working well and the areas which need improvement.

The Department for Health and Social Care will play a key role in the review so we can ensure that high quality healthcare support is available for all throughout the country.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd said:

Children with special needs and disabilities need to get the right educational support and health care so they can thrive.

This review will help make sure all families get the support they need so every child, young person and their parents feel extremely positive about their future.

The government also announced today that Tony McArdle, Lead Commissioner in Northamptonshire County Council, will be the new chair of the SEND System Leadership Board, which brings together sector leaders across Education, Health and Social Care to drive improvements. The Board was created following Dame Christine Lenehan’s recommendation in the national review, Good Intentions, Good Enough?

He will also act as an independent advisor to the review, alongside Education Endowment Fund Chair Sir Kevan Collins and Anne Heavey, National Director of Whole School SEN.

Tony McArdle said:

Delivering better SEND outcomes will require consistent, strong leadership across a range of partners. I look forward to ensuring that this Board equips the sector with what it needs to bring that leadership to bear.

The Children and Families Act 2014, also referred to as the SEND reforms, drastically changed provision for disabled children and young people.

The review aims to evaluate the impact of these reforms, and to identify improvements. Too often disabled children and those with SEN face significant local variations in accessing the vital support they rely on. The Government has stated that the review will be followed up by action to improve children’s outcomes and increase capacity in the system.     

Council for Disabled Children statement on the new Government review of SEND support. Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children (part of the National Children’s Bureau), said:

“It’s five years since the 2014 Children and Families Act introduced major reforms to our SEND system, and now feels like the right time to review how these reforms are working for children and young people with SEND.

“This review presents an important opportunity to look across health, education and social care to identify how well we are supporting children and young people with SEND, including through the significant changes in the NHS Long Term Plan. A great deal of work has already been done to gather evidence through the NAO, the Education Select Committee and the Timpson Review of Exclusions to name a few, and this review will need to take account of all this work to identify practical changes which will strengthen and improve the system. In particular, I am keen to see the review further understanding on how mainstream schools can better meet the needs of a wider range of children.

“The Government will need to work closely with young people, parents and carers as they take forward this review, while providing continuity and stability for those using and operating the current system. I look forward to engaging with the review and taking positive steps forward to improve the support for children and young people with SEND.”

Dr Chrissie Pepper, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Policy Manager, said:

“We are pleased that the government has acted on calls to address the crisis in SEND services, and RNIB is looking forward to contributing to the review. It’s vital we invest in SEND so the 35,000 children and young people with vision impairment in the UK have access to specialist support to get the education they need.

“The promise of £700m is welcome, however budgets are already in deficit and sustained investment will be needed to reverse the impact of chronic underfunding. RNIB research has found a third of local authorities cut their spending on children and young people with vision impairment from 2016/17 to 2017/18, and over a third of local authorities who responded to our research had seen a decrease in the number of specialist teachers for children with vision impairment between 2017 and 2018. These cuts have left many struggling with a visually-based education system that is completely inaccessible.

“We hope the new Government will use this review to improve the system, enabling thousands of children and young people with vision impairment to reach their potential.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“SEND pupils need the right levels of education funding now. The last thing they need is another long-drawn-out review, when their chance at education is now.

“93% of local authorities have lost out on SEND funding since 2015 because of central government’s cuts to special needs provision. Campaigning by the School Cuts coalition and a range of parent groups won £250million in high needs funding for 2018-20, and this week the Chancellor announced that SEND funding will rise by £700m. This still leaves schools £1billion short of what is needed. 

“Every school wants to provide the strategies and support which work for each individual SEND pupil, but the real-terms funding crisis has had a devastating impact. In a recent survey of members in primary and secondary schools, 81% told us that their school did not have sufficient staff to provide that service. 73% confirmed that since 2017 there had been a drop in the number of teaching assistants, as a direct consequence of funding pressures.

“We don’t need another review to tell us that children with SEND need quicker assessments, timely access to CAMHS, and flexibility in how they access the curriculum. More widely, we need to see an end to the testing culture in schools, which impacts negatively on young people with SEND. The Government must also invest in the professional skills of staff so that all families and schools benefit from best practice ideas about SEN teaching.

“The NEU will continue to campaign for schools to get the funding they require to give children the education they deserve.”

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