Ambitious new plans launched to transform outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs

Better support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is at the heart of a new government national plan announced to level up opportunities with a key focus on ending the postcode lottery that leaves too many with worse outcomes than their peers. 

The government’s SEND and alternative provision green paper, sets out its vision for a single, national SEND and alternative provision (AP) system that will introduce new standards in the quality of support given to children across education, health and care. 

The ambitious green paper is the result of the SEND Review, commissioned to improve an inconsistent, process-heavy and increasingly adversarial system that too often leaves parents facing difficulties and delays accessing the right support for their child. 

The plans to reform the system will be open for a 13-week public consultation, giving families frustrated by the existing, complicated and bureaucratic system of support the opportunity to shape how a new system will work in the future – and give them confidence that their local school will meet their children’s needs so they can achieve their full potential. 

Detailed proposals in the SEND and alternative provision green paper include: 

·         Setting new national standards across education, health and care to build on the foundations created through the Children and Families Act 2014, for a higher performing SEND system; 

·         A simplified Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) through digitising plans to make them more flexible, reducing bureaucracy and supporting parents to make informed choices via a list of appropriate placements tailored to their child’s needs, meaning less time spent researching the right school; 

·         A new legal requirement for councils to introduce ‘local inclusion plans’ that bring together early years, schools and post-16 education with health and care services, giving system partners more certainty on who is responsible and when; 

·         Improving oversight and transparency through the publication of new ‘local inclusion dashboards’ to make roles and responsibilities of all partners within the system clearer for parents and young people, helping to drive better outcomes; 

·         A new national framework for councils for banding and tariffs of High Needs, to match the national standards and offer clarity on the level of support expected, and put the system on a financially sustainable footing in the future; 

·         Changing the culture and practice in mainstream education to be more inclusive and better at identifying and supporting needs, including through earlier intervention and improved targeted support; 

·         Improving workforce training through the introduction of a new SENCo NPQ for school SENCos and increasing the number of staff with an accredited level 3 qualification in early years settings; and 

·         A reformed and integrated role for alternative provision (AP), with a new delivery model in every local area focused on early intervention. AP will form an integral part of local SEND systems with improvements to settings and more funding stability.  

Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Every child has the right to excellent education – particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, who often need the most support. 

“We are launching this consultation because too often this isn’t the case. We want to end the postcode lottery of uncertainty and poor accountability that exists for too many families, boost confidence in the system across the board and increase local mainstream and specialist education to give parents better choice. 

“I want to make sure everyone knows what to expect, when to expect it and where the support should come from. I know there are strongly held views and I want to hear from as many parents, teachers and children with experience of the system so they can help shape a future policy that works for them.” 

The proposals, part of a package of education measures being announced this week and following on from the Schools White Paper, outline a vision for a more inclusive, consistent, transparent and accountable SEND system. The emphasis is on providing the right support to children in the right place and at the right time by: 

  • boosting confidence in the system and raising standards all over the country; 
  • changing the culture of mainstream education, putting it on a par with specialist settings; 
  • streamlining the system from the early years to post-16 so that every pupil receives a good foundation in support all the way through their education; 
  • requiring the different services involved in providing support for children with SEND, from schools and councils to healthcare providers, to work more closely together increasing accountability and scrutiny; and 
  • ensuring the SEND system is financially sustainable by making sure funding is targeted where it makes the most difference. 

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid said: “Every child, regardless of their background, should be able to access the education they need and deserve. These plans will level up opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs. 

“It is vital that children, families and teachers have confidence in our education system, no matter where they live; we need to hear from them so this new national, integrated system works for the people who need it most.” 

Capital funding allocations worth £1.4 billion have also been published for councils to pay for new places and improve existing provision for children and young people with SEND, or those who will benefit from high-quality AP. This funding will help stabilise local systems ahead of any further legislation from the green paper proposals. 

The government will also look to approve up to 40 new special and AP free schools in regions where they are most needed. This is in addition to over 60 special and AP free schools already in the pipeline. 

Low-income families with seriously ill or disabled children will be further supported through investment of £27.3 million next year. This funding will help pay for equipment, goods or services – from washing machines and fridges to sensory and educational equipment that they might not otherwise be able to afford. 

The government will work with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to strengthen ability to hold local areas to account against these standards.  

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “I am very happy to welcome this green paper. It shows that government has listened to the frustration across the sector and the toll that has taken on parents, children and professionals alike. 

“The green paper proposes a welcome framework for change which should support children and families getting the services and support they need close to home. However, this is just a framework and so the consultation response to it will be key as it develops into a programme that delivers the change we need to see.  We hope that everyone takes the opportunity to respond and support that happening.” 

Mark Vickers, chair of the Alternative Provision and SEND Multi-Academy Trust CEO Network, said: “The proposals in the SEND and AP Green Paper provide a welcome opportunity to set out the important role that alternative provision can play by operating within a continuum of inclusive practice, centred on the individual needs of children and young people to ensure high quality outcomes. 

“These proposals are an important first step in terms of providing much needed funding stability for the sector.” 

Commenting as the government released its SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “There is no doubt that the system for supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is not working as well as it should be. A decade of sustained underfunding, coupled with growing demands, has pushed a fragile system to breaking point. The current situation is clearly not sustainable and it is right that government should seek to engage with as many people as possible to bring about the necessary reforms. 
“At first glance there are some sensible ideas contained within the green paper. It makes sense to have a more consistent system for identifying needs and we support the plan to move to a standardised EHCP process. We agree that Alternative Provision has a vital role to play in the system and welcome the suggestion that there will be greater funding stability for this important part of the sector.  

“However, we are not convinced that enough is being done to ensure that all pupils get access to the vital support services they need as soon as they need them.  

“We agree with government that early identification and intervention is essential and the key to improving pupil outcomes – schools know this instinctively, but we also know that waiting lists to see specialists, such as speech and language therapists, are currently far too long and we see little evidence at this stage that the government has ambitious enough plans to properly address this.  ‘Clarifying roles’ is one thing, but unless those services are properly resourced, it is unlikely to make a significant difference.  
“All schools, mainstream, special and alternative provision settings work incredibly hard to support pupils with SEND, but the reality is that they are doing so with insufficient resources. The bottom line is that we need to make sure each part of the sector has the resources it needs to meet the varying needs of pupils with SEND and is able to access the specialists pupils need at the earliest possible opportunity. That is what will make the biggest difference.” 

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