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Government Sets Out Plans To Overhaul Special Educational Needs System

March 30, 2022

Mainstream schools in England will be required to “change their culture and practice” to become more inclusive of children with special educational needs and disabilities, under government proposals designed to end the current postcode lottery.

The government will set out plans to overhaul the special educational needs and disabilities (Send) system in a green paper published on Tuesday, including proposals to beef up accountability and boost earlier intervention to ensure that children’s needs are better met in local settings.

The paper will also propose the introduction of new national standards across education, health and care to better support children with Send, plus a legal requirement for councils to publish inclusion plans to provide greater clarity about responsibility across the different sectors.

The introduction of an “inclusion dashboard” to help parents understand what is available in their area is also among the proposals, as well as a simplified, digitised education, health and care plan for those children with the greatest need to reduce bureaucracy and help parents choose from a list of appropriate placements.

The proposals also include plans for a new national framework for banding and tariffs for children requiring different degrees of support to help put the system on a financially sustainable footing.

Under the current regime, parents often have to engage in lengthy battles to try to secure the right provision for their child, in a system that is heavily bureaucratic and adversarial. Some specialist provision is only available out of area, leading to costs amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds for the most needy children.

Ahead of publication, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “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.”

The plans are outlined in the government’s long-awaited green paper, which comes at the end of a cross-government review launched in 2019. Publication will be followed by a 13-week consultation. It will also incorporate alternative provision for children who are unable to access mainstream school for a variety of reasons, including special educational needs, in its vision for a single, national system.

Before the full detail of the paper was published, there was early support from within the sector for some of the proposals, though teaching unions stressed that schools were already inclusive, but children were struggling to access support because of cuts. They called for extra investment.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, agreed that many pupils are not able to access the support they need and are entitled to. “This is not due to failures on the part of school staff, who are working tirelessly to do their best for these pupils,” he said.

“The government has to recognise that cuts to funding for specialist services and real-terms reductions in school budgets have contributed to long waiting lists for assessment and reduced levels of support available for pupils.”

Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, said that while some of the proposals were welcome, others may be ringing alarm bells for parents. “Plans to strengthen accountability in the system and provide more support to help young people bridge the gap from education to employment are a positive move to improve outcomes for autistic pupils.

“However, proposals to introduce a new framework for banding of higher-needs support will need to be closely examined. Autistic young people and their needs do not easily fit into a neat box or band.”

Jo Hutchinson, a director at the Education Policy Institute, said: “The devil will be in the detail and, most crucially, the implementation. Families across the country will rightly only believe in better Send provision when it arrives.”

The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, added: “This paper has been delayed three times, taken nearly 1,000 days to put together, yet it still fails to deliver the transformation in support needed to change this picture.”

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