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15 May 2023

Hot Take: SEND Improvement Plan: Will it hold up?

Hot Take: SEND Improvement Plan: Will it hold up?

Earlier this year, the Department for Education (DfE) set out its SEND and alternative provision improvement plan across England. But has it held up to expectations? Briony Richter finds out more.

The 0-25 SEND Code of Practice, which was implemented in 2014, set out expectations on settings to deliver SEND provision by adopting an approach that focuses on outcomes. Signed by Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families at the time, it stated: 

“The SEND Code of Practice describes the principles that should be observed by all professionals working with children and young people who have SEN or disabilities. These include: 

  • Taking into account the views of children, young people and their families
  • Enabling children, young people and their parents to participate in decision-making
  • Collaborating with partners in education, health and social care to provide support 
  • Identifying the needs of children and young people
  • Making high quality provision to meet the needs of children and young people
  • Focusing on inclusive practices and removing barriers to learning 
  • Helping children and young people to prepare for adulthood.”

However, since it was first introduced, settings have struggled to be properly given the funding and resources necessary to achieve the expectations of the Code of Practice. Many local areas found it difficult to find out where to access the services and finding someone to raise this with internally became even harder. 

The pandemic effect on SEND provision

The pandemic had a severely detrimental effect on the support available to deliver SEND provision. According to an Early Years Alliance survey, in the two years following the initial lockdown, three-quarters of settings reported a significant increase in the number of children with SEND. However, four in ten settings also stated that they received no extra funding to support them.

The online survey also found that:

  • 40% of early years providers providing care to children with SEND don’t receive any extra funding specifically to support SEND provision. 

Of those providers that do receive funding for SEND: 

  • 87% said that the SEND funding they receive, along with their general early years rate, isn’t enough to provide the quality of care for children with SEND that they want 
  • 92% have had to fund additional support for children with SEND out of their own pocket
  • 56 per cent have experienced delays in receiving SEND funding.

Its mission

The new plan sets out proposals that aim to create a system that is easier for parents and settings to navigate however there are no immediate legislative amendments under the plan.

Signed by Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education and Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the new system’s mission is to:

  • Fulfil children’s potential: children and young people with SEND (or attending alternative provision) enjoy their childhood, achieve good outcomes and are well prepared for adulthood and employment 
  • Build parents’ trust: parents and carers experience a fairer, easily navigable system (across education, health and care) that restores their confidence that their children will get the right support, in the right place, at the right time
  • Provide financial sustainability: local leaders make the best use of record investment in the high needs budget to meet children and young people’s needs and improve outcomes, while placing local authorities on a stable financial footing.

Funding

We know that the sector’s SEND funding to date has been wholly insufficient and despite further investment overall from the government there is a significant backlog that needs to first be addressed.

The plan does not at this point does not point to any changes to the funding system for early years or the Special Educational Needs Inclusion Fund. What it does reiterate is that:

“£400 million of the £2 billion additional funding for schools, announced in the Autumn Statement, will be allocated to local authorities’ high needs budgets in 2023-24. In 2023-24, high needs funding will be rising to £10.1 billion - an increase of over 50% from the 2019-20 allocations. This extra funding will help local authorities and schools with the increasing costs of supporting children and young people with SEND.” 

It does recognise the financial stresses that the sector is struggling to cope with and that the government will work alongside settings and local authorities to continue to explore ways to improve support.

National Standards

The government has stated that after consultation there needed to be a shift in the system to make it more accessible and streamlined. To achieve this, the plan will be underpinned by new National Standards that are being developed. Working alongside the sector and specialists will move the work along quicker and become more aligned with the current challenges.

The government will aim to begin testing some elements of the National Standards with Regional Expert Partnerships by the end of 2023 and deliver a “significant proportion” by the end of 2025. It will also aim to end the ‘postcode lottery’ of SEND:

“The consultation feedback is clear that while respondents supported a more inclusive and consistent mainstream system that worked for all children and young people, with a dedicated role for alternative provision, aspects of the current system need to change for that vision to be fully realised. We need to address the ‘postcode lottery’ of SEND and alternative provision support that exists currently. Children, young people and their families do not know what to reasonably expect, settings are ill-equipped to support needs and needs are identified late or incorrectly.”

The evidence based National Standards will improve early identification of needs and highlight where the resources to support those needs can be accessed. It will also clarify who is responsible for delivering provision and from which budgets.

It states that, “This will give families and providers clarity, consistency and confidence in the support that is ordinarily available, in order to be responsive to children’s needs.”

Reforming EHC Plan

A nationally streamlined and reformed education, health and care ( EHC ) plan is also part of the government’s mission for addressing SEND challenges.

If followed through, it will deliver better consistency and communication between local authorities processes to make sure that the support requested is approved quicker.

The proposals include: 

  • Standardise the templates and processes around EHCPs to improve consistency and best practice, improving experiences for families and children and young people seeking plans
  • Digitise EHCPs, to reduce the burden of administrative process in the system, improve the experience and satisfaction of parents, carers and professionals and improve our ability to monitor the health of the SEND system 
  • Introduce the use of local multi-agency panels to improve parental confidence in the Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment process.

It is positive to see the government acknowledge the importance of high quality SEND provision and address their vital role in supporting the future of the early years sector. Accountability from central government and local authorities is crucial for building trust and growth. However, this can only be done if this plan is turned into action sooner rather than later.

 

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