SNJ note: Prof. Brian Lamb OBE's Lamb Inquiry in 2009 sparked the last SEND Reforms Green Paper. We're delighted he's here on SNJ to give his thoughts on what's gone wrong and how things need to change.
The SEND system has been continually challenged and reformed since its inception following the Warnock Report. Previous criticisms of the system continue to have a contemporary resonance and while the 2014 reforms have secured improvements, overall implementation has failed to live up to the reform's aspirations for too many families.
There is still a consensus that the aspirations of the reforms were the right ones. The current SEND review should therefore look to strengthen the existing legislative framework, especially in relation to parental engagement, rather than rip it up. What needs to change to prevent the continuous cycle of reforming the SEND system only to face similar issues?
The Green Paper must start with Culture
“Successive area SEND inspection reports have commented on a continuing lack of ambition for pupils with SEND.”Ofsted, SEND; Old Issues, New Issues next steps. 2021.
Despite many examples of good practice, too many schools and settings have failed to embrace the cultural change envisioned by the reforms. We need to ensure that the system has high aspirations for children and young people with SEND and a culture of inclusion in schools.
To secure culture change we require a more skilled workforce on SEND across all services, school leadership which has greater aspirations for children with SEND and early intervention services that addresses children’s needs and parents’ concerns before they escalate. The SEND review and Green Paper should;
- Ensure that schools and settings fully embrace parental engagement as part of effective teaching and learning, by strengthening the duty for schools to with meet with parents of children with SEND three times a year and require co-production of an enhanced Schools Information Report.
- Provide Teachers, SENCOs and other professionals with specific training in methodologies on parental engagement. Only 28% of school leaders provide any training in how to engage with parents.
- Create more strategic and long term investment in supporting SEND awareness and expertise in the workforce across Education, Health and Social Care. SENCOs’ time needs to be protected, the role made full time and there should be a statutory requirement for SENCOs to be part of the senior leadership team in every school.
- Develop School Leadership on SEND and ensure that an inclusive approach is recognised within the accountability system.
- A national framework for the assessment of progression and outcomes would also help focus minds and could then be monitored by Ofsted, ensuring that the aims of the legislation are realised nationally and locally.
Improve parental engagement and accountability
“In the best area SEND arrangements, children and families will tell us they are influential in decision-making.” Ofsted 2021.
Ofsted Local Area Inspections have clearly shown that where parental engagement is strong services are more successful at meeting needs and parental confidence is improved. How could parental engagement be strengthened?
- Adopt a standard agreed model of engagement, such as the four cornerstones developed by Rotherham to ensure a national framework in schools and LAs. Ensure support for parent engagement is enhanced and broadened.
- The revised SEND Code of Practice should include a requirement to produce an annual strategic plan as part of the published Local Offer, fulfilling its original purpose as a planning mechanism which has been co-produced with parents.
- Accountability and planning mechanisms through the Local Offer also need strengthening and there needs to be greater integration and planning with what schools offer.
- Schools should be more accountable for their culture of aspiration and provision. Ofsted/CQC should be asked to focus further on this in the new SEND Area Inspections Framework and Schools Inspection Framework.
- The Education Select Committee recommended giving the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) an enhanced role for them to investigate schools’ delivery of SEND provision, which the Ombudsman is also calling for. This could add an additional remedy where there are currently gaps in accountability.
Improve the offer and funding at SEN Support
“The importance of the availability of good universal services to all children and young people with SEND across education, health and social care cannot be underestimated.”Ofsted 2021
To secure the necessary culture change, resourcing needs to support early intervention work and to ensure that schools and settings have the funds to meet SEND needs that fall outside of the statutory framework. This could be achieved by:
- Increasing the current £6,000 ‘notional SEN budget’, or creating a new funding mechanism that delegates more resources directly to schools based on regional or locally identified needs. This would allow more specialist and personalised provision without needing to apply for a statutory EHCP. Accountability could be provided by requiring schools to report what is “ordinarily available” for their delegated funds and they could be monitored as part of the Local Offer and inspected by Ofsted/CQC to ensure the resources are being deployed on SEND provision.
- Enhancing the SEN Support offer by giving easy access to specialist and integrated provision for low incidence needs in mainstream schools and settings. This would also improve outcomes and enhance parental confidence.
- Clarifying the value of interventions by examining outcomes as well as costs in moving towards inclusive practice.
- Increasing the specific guidance in the SEND Code of Practice (CoP) on the content and structure of the Graduated Response. The current lack of specificity creates uncertainty about what parents can expect. The DfE should introduce specific guidance, working with schools, about what a graduated plan should contain. All children should have a plan, as required by the current CoP, and it needs to be clear how SEND needs are being addressed. This would enable better joint working with parents and clarity about what is being provided. However, it should not substitute for a statutory plan when needed.
Make Statutory Provision work better
“...poor-quality EHC plans and a lack of clarity in terms of who was being held accountable for services and provision in the local area.”Ofsted 2021.
Reviews on the implementation of the current reforms point to the continuing lack of joined-up commissioning and the absence of health and social care support for too many families. The system is still too fragmented with little consistency across LAs. There is clearly going to be a significant focus on the interface between Education, Health, and Social Care in the review and how EHCP plans are produced, commissioned and funded.
Whatever the outcomes of those discussions the Green Paper needs to include:
- A national template for restructured Education, Health and Care plans and a simplified process which would bring consistency and ease of cross-authority working, contributing to a coherent national system.
- Properly integrated assessments that also embed rights to provision across Education, Health and Social Care. This would be in line with the recent recognition of legal responsibility in Health and Social Care following the Tribunal National Trial pilots, which are now known as Extended Appeals.
- A review of how funding is allocated across Education, Health, and Social Care, with integrated commissioning arrangements and a specific strategy for low-incidence high needs groups, based on regional commissioning.
- Greater clarity and consistency about what should be delivered for a specific amount of funding, although care also needs to be taken not to undermine the gains made through personalisation.
- Ofsted/Care Quality Commission to have more responsibility to inspect joint commissioning arrangements and make determinations for those not achieving integration.
- The Department for Education to take a stronger regulatory and proactive role in holding the whole system to account.
The Green Paper needs to promote a Rights-Based Approach
A greater focus on the Equality Act 2010 and a rights-based approach would support a more inclusive culture of provision. It would reassure parents that for many children there are existing rights to services without recourse to an EHCP. This should include:
- That the Equality Act 2010 requirements should be more fully integrated with SEND framework in a revised CoP. Schools and LAs reporting on how successfully duties are being implemented as part of the Local Offer and Schools Information Report.
- Asking the Equality Commission to take a more proactive role by providing new guidance around the Equality duties, promoting these duties and investigating how well schools are meeting them including accessibility planning.
Successive generations of parents and children since Warnock have been promised a system which would value their children and deliver better outcomes. While changes to legislation and guidance have brought improvements, the promise of a coherent system that addresses all children’s needs still eludes us.
There is much more that needs to be done and these changes would provide the foundations to make sure we are not debating the same dilemmas with the next generation of children and parents.
For a more detailed analysis of potential legislative changes needed see;
Brian Lamb (2019) Statutory Assessment for Special Educational Needs and the Warnock Report; the First 40 Years.Front. Educ. 4:51. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00051
Brian Lamb (2021). The Future of SEND legislation in England. What Next? In Leading on Inclusion. The Role of the SENCO. Beaton, Codina and Wharton.
- Brian Lamb’s Top 10 Tips for Engaging Parents
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- Coproduction is an illusion for parents and SENCOs
- Ofsted / CQC: SEND was bad before the pandemic, it’s worse now
- Disability, the Equality Act and the SEND Review
- SEND Review: Fait accompli or a real chance for parents and practitioners to shape policy?
- Exemplary Practice: How a Circle of Friends and other easy adjustments change lives for disabled children
- Creative reasonable adjustments for SEND learners that don’t have to cost a thing
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