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

Elizabeth Holmes

The SEND inquiry: getting it right for children, families and schools

It's been five years since the last biggest education reforms for young people with SEND were introduced, but how successful have these reforms been? Elizabeth Holmes looks at some of the findings and responses to the SEND inquiry report.

In April 2018, the Education Committee launched their SEND inquiry.

The inquiry had the express intention 'of conducting post legislative scrutiny of Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014'. This is about the implementation of the Act and how it is experienced by children and their families; the 'human experience' of the reforms introduced by the Act.

The inquiry was thorough. It held 12 oral evidence sessions and heard from parents, children and young people and received over 700 submissions of written evidence.

Much of the evidence considered was in the form of personal testimony, such is the experience of families with children with SEND and their teachers.


The recently published inquiry report concludes by stating that 'we are confident that the 2014 reforms were the right ones. We believe that if the challenges within the system – including finance – are addressed, local authorities will be able to discharge their duties sufficiently.'

The inquiry report makes more than 20 recommendations for improvements, covering many dimensions of SEND provision

The report also states that 'the significant shortfall in funding is a serious contributory fact to the failure on the part of schools and local authorities to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.' 

There is no doubt that finance lies at the heart of many of the issues around SEND, and despite this confidence that the 2014 reforms were appropriate, readers of the report are left under no illusions that change must come. The challenges facing children with SEND and those seeking to help them are too great, as any with direct experience of the system will know.

Accountability and enforcement

Gillian Doherty, founder of SEND Action, welcomes the findings of the inquiry.

"We are pleased it recognises the extent of the failings in the SEND system, as well as the extraordinary lengths families often have to go to in order to access support.”

The inquiry report makes more than 20 recommendations for improvements, covering many dimensions of SEND provision. For example, there is a call for the local government and social care ombudsman to consider what happens in schools, rather than outside.

There is no doubt that finance lies at the heart of many of the issues around SEND

There is also a call for Ofsted to 'deliver a clear judgement, and through this assurance to parents, that schools are delivering for individual children with SEND.'

These recommendations and others are welcomed by Doherty, who told me that “the recommendations regarding improvements in accountability and enforcement are particularly insightful. While significant investment in SEND is certainly necessary, this will not be effective without vision, oversight and robust monitoring."

Further recommendations 

  • The DfE should update guidance to reflect the recommendation that all SENCOs taking up the role should undertake the NASENCO course.
  • The government should encourage local authorities to bring SENCOs from all schools in the area together to share best practice, knowledge and training.
  • Therapy provision across the country should be mapped to identify cold spots.
  • Local authorities should be able to create new specialist schools.
  • More needs to be done to include children and young people in the writing of their plans and in the decisions made about the support they receive.
  • The relationship between the needs of a child and the provision available should be addressed.
  • A reporting and accountability mechanism should be introduced so that parents and schools can report non-compliance directly to the DfE.  

Children and families need to be at the heart of the SEND process

 No doubt these recommendations will be widely welcomed, but they have not eased the minds of all involved in supporting children with SEND.

“Our main concern is that the recommendations of the report will not be implemented and its valuable work will be wasted,” Doherty told me.

It is increasingly difficult for schools to include children with SEND in a meaningful way

“The DfE is now conducting its own review and seems to be repeating precisely the same mistakes for which it has already been criticised, focussing on parents and rising demand, rather that the failures in the system. To make positive progress, disabled children and their families need to be genuinely at the heart of the SEND process.

It’s time to end the cycle of gatekeeping and firefighting. We must reward inclusive schools and invest in the specialist support and early intervention that our children need to thrive in education and in our communities.”

Training for early career teachers

SEMH and SEND consultant Jules Daulby feels that we need to improve the training we offer to early and newly qualified teachers.

“This is still a problematic area. We need more mandatory training in SEND, with placements in special schools and pupil referral units.

It's important that we develop our understanding of how to include children in mainstream classrooms. In the current climate, with demands from Ofsted and the DfE, the challenges that the curriculum presents and harder exams with a heavy emphasis on memorisation, it is increasingly difficult for schools to include children with SEND in a meaningful way.”

The recommendations have not eased the minds of all involved in supporting children with SEND.

Perhaps the report does not go far enough when we drill down into the recommendations. As Daulby explains, there are some practices in schools at the moment that are unhelpful for children with SEMH/SEND.

“The zero tolerance approach, for example, offers no flex or support. Children with SEND can have their problems exacerbated in such environments. Would those children be better off in the mainstream or in schools set up to support their needs?”

Parental choice is, of course, key, and the SEND reforms of 2014 placed a high emphasis on this.

Dramatic improvements are needed

Cuts to SEND budgets have been devastating and the task ahead remains challenging.

The SEND inquiry report does not hold back on its criticism of what is widely referred to as a funding crisis in SEND:

'The DfE set local authorities up to fail by making serious errors both in how it administered money intended for change, and also, until recently, failing to provide extra money when it was needed.'

Strong words, but regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming election, no doubts remain about the need for dramatic improvements in the funding and delivery of support for children with SEND.

SEND Inclusion Award

Want to review, improve and celebrate SEND provision in your school? The SEND Inclusion Award gives you the opportunity to demonstrate outstanding provision in six areas.

  • Identifying SEND
  • Compliance
  • Leadership
  • Professional development
  • Pupil and parental engagement
  • Pupil outcomes 

Find out more at 

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