The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

National SEND inquiry: current challenges and possible solutions

Writing a submission to the government's SEND inquiry provided an opportunity to reflect on the challenges in the current system, and offer some suggestions for change.

In a previous post I explained why the Education Committee’s inquiry into support for children and young people with SEND is a vital opportunity to have our say, giving our perspectives on the SEND reforms and pushing for revised legislation.

Those of us who managed to write a submission before the deadline can now only hope that the committee takes our thoughts on board, and start working with the different stakeholders to improve the current system.

In the meantime, I thought I would share, in adapted form, my submission to the inquiry. Hopefully it resonates with your own ideas and starts a wider discussion on how things can be improved!

In summary

The aspirations of the Children and Families Act (2014) were very positive: a focus on outcomes, implementing EHCPs from birth to the age of 25, the opportunity for Personal Budgets, working to prepare young people for adulthood by working closely with young people and their families as part of co-produced plans.

In reality, lack of appropriate funding, adversarial LAs and a myriad of misinformation and unlawful practice means that families are having to fight harder for the right provision than before the reforms.

Additionally, other changes to school accountability measures and reductions in social care and community mental health support have created a ‘perfect storm’ for some families, many of whom report battling for SEP (special educational provision) against legal firms paid for by LAs while they are struggling to finance support.

We need to be able to hold those who act unlawfully to account if we are to see concrete change.

Those who argue that a ‘cultural shift’ needs to take place before the reforms can improve outcomes have missed the point: such shift should have taken place at some point over the last four years. It simply has not happened and true co-production works well in too few Local Areas, in spite of the effort put in by families and SENCOs.

Assessment and support

LAs have made the assessment of SEND more complicated than it need be. Many schools are under significant pressures through ‘real-term’ reduction in main budgets and adversarial systems for requesting a Needs Assessment, as an example, which causes additional frustrations and unnecessary anxiety.

LAs are rarely making decisions based on need, but driving policy from a financial perspective. Better funding for the high needs block is essential if families and young people are not to face a system stacked against them.

The notion of schools ‘finding the first £6000’ of provision in the EHCP is disingenuous. Many schools are facing significant financial pressures that compound this issue. One of these is that funding bands have not increased in financial value over the last five years (they have remained static).

However during this time, NI and pension contributions for the staff they fund, often teaching assistants, have increased between seven and nine per cent. What was worth 15 hours TA support is now only worth 11 hours, for example. Compounded over multiple EHCPs, this is a disincentive to be an inclusive school.

Transition from Statements to EHCPs

Too many transitions from Statements to EHCPs have been unlawful, ‘tipping’ from old to new or done without full Needs Assessments (especially EP input and Social Care/Health). Often this results in woolly, unspecified EHCPs, with some LAs abdicating their legal obligations to schools. Local Area inspections have addressed some of these issues, but the system means some Local Areas are yet to be inspected and four years have already passed.

Too often families are having to resort to Tribunal for redress, but this is not a timely process, and young people can miss significant periods of education due to unnecessary delays in provision. Recent figures for ‘refusal to assess’ indicate that 57% in Sutton, 54% in Cheshire West and Chester and 50% in Brent were initially refused (with thanks to @CaptainK77 for his usual excellent analysis that brought this to light).

I still maintain that even a poor EHCP is better than an old Statement was, and from my experience of chairing many EHCP transition reviews, I know that it is possible to work productively with young people and their families. But we all need more support and transparency.

The level and distribution of funding and cooperation between education, health and social care

SEND funding is inadequate. The growing number of complex learners in our schools has not been matched with sufficient money to support them. SEND funding in school budgets should be ring-fenced and the high needs block urgently requires being properly resourced.

Too often health and social care services are lacking in providing assessments or contributing in any meaningful way to the provision outlined in a young person’s EHCP. We have worked tirelessly to find new ways to involve CAMHS in our social, emotional and mental health support, but this immense effort could be directed elsewhere if good assessment and provision was more routine.

Too often unlawful provision is repeated time and time again, for example designating speech and language therapy as an educational need (a case clearly made in the Lancashire Judgement, 1989). Therefore access to appropriate and timely support is essential, but rarely seen in practice.

Provision for 19-25 year olds

The narrowing of post-16 provision has been a significant barrier to young adults with SEND.

Many young adults have an EHCP but cannot find appropriate education, employment or training opportunities and are ‘left’ without opportunities for their transition into adulthood.

I put great importance on our NEETs figures as a measure of success, but there are now more challenges than ever. More appropriate courses at Level 1 and the removal of the need for academic progressing being key to remaining in education is essential.

Recommendations

I am and always have been a very positive person who works hard with families and young people in striving for the best outcomes and provision possible. This can only be achieved through different accountability measures, better funding and a less adversarial approach.

However, currently many competing factors in the education system mean that SEND appears to be a very poor relation to other educational reform like academic, free schools and curriculum/assessment.

Going forward, I would like to see the government:

  • finance the high needs block appropriately
  • ensure that LAs who act unlawfully are held accountable
  • improve access to and ensure more timely redress for disputes
  • introduce stronger accountability measures for health and social care services
  • improve post-16 options for young adults
  • improve access to Personal Budgets.

I am sure that you will have your own suggestions for improvement. Whatever they may be, remaining focused on improving outcomes for young people is essential. We are now waiting with bated breath for the next steps from the inquiry; hoping for productive discussions and, ultimately, significant change.

More from Optimus

National SEND inquiry: it's time to have your say

SEND reforms implementation: for better or worse?

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