What will the General Election 2024 mean for SEND?

The day we’ve all been anticipating has arrived. Unless you’ve been lying down in a darkened room (though unlikely if you have children), you’ll have seen the scenes from Downing Street yesterday afternoon as Rishi fired the starting pistol for the general election on July 4th before stomping back inside, dripping wet, after the sounds of Labour’s 1997 anthem “Things can only get better” drowned out his tetchy speech.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be examining all the SEND-related policies we can find for each major party. We’ll hopefully get some answers about what a new government might mean for children and young people with SEND and their families.

How can you vote to fix SEND?

In short, you can’t. You can only vote for your local candidate. However, if you want change but live in a constituency with a large majority for its incumbent, don‘t think your vote means nothing. Big swings are being predicted, so your vote really does matter. Vote with your heart or vote strategically, but do VOTE. Make sure your over-18 children vote if they are able to. Make sure today that they have appropriate photo ID. If you’re not sure what that constitutes, here is the list. My daughter got caught out at the local elections this year when she couldn’t find her passport in time—she won’t be making that mistake again in July, that’s for sure.

It's not up to us to tell you who to vote for. But we would urge you not to vote for someone because “they’ve done a good job locally” or “they seem like a nice person” if their party as a whole doesn’t look like they have the will to force local authorities to comply with the law governing disabled children’s education, health and social care provision.   

What’s going to happen to the SEND Change Programme?

While politicians scurry back to their constituencies, the officials in the Department for Education will still be moving ahead with their SEND Change Programme regardless. After all, they came up with the plans while there wasn’t a minister in situ, so it shouldn’t make much difference. Probably makes it easier to not have to explain themselves to a pesky politician.

The Safety Valve and Delivering Better Value programmes will also continue–at least for the time being. We’ve already written to the DfE to seek assurances and ask some questions about troubling evidence we’ve been gathering of unlawful policies being pushed by Safety Valve LAs.

We’re not under any illusions that SEND will be uppermost on the winning party’s mind when a new prime minister takes his place at the despatch box. In the unlikely event that the current government is re-elected, things will continue unabated. And if, as expected, it’s Sir Kier Starmer rifling through the red boxes and looking for spare change down the back of the No 10 sofas, we still don’t expect anything will change for SEND in the near term.

“The forthcoming general election provides the leading political parties with a clear opportunity to fully set out their vision for resolving the ever increasing SEND crisis. What is clear is that something has to change - and soon! The SEND reforms from 2014 were supposedly full of promise and yet here we are today, with increasing conflict, tribunal appeals and escalating complaints. How can parental confidence in education be rebuilt when the system is falling apart? What does this mean for the guidance for the 2022 Down Syndrome Act? How can we ensure that every child - whatever their abilities - can have a meaningful and inclusive education experience? I am looking forward to hearing what the political parties have to say on these issues and more…”

Sharon Smith, SNJ Director

What we do and don’t want

Labour’s SEND policies are still something of a mystery, but that may be for the best at this point. We do want them to examine what is being done, and to actually listen to families, not consult then ignore it and make up their own ideas up instead. What we don’t want from them, or anyone, is more wholesale change: we don’t want the promise of big ideas that don’t fix the real problem but create new ones, we don’t want shiny, new, totally unevidenced policies – we’ve already been given that with the SEND Change Programme. I’m not saying it’s all bad, indeed, there are a number of positives such as the digital EHCP and a single template, but there is little we can currently that see will change hearts and minds so children are always at the centre.

We don’t want reform, we want compliance. We don’t want money spent on new layers of bureaucracy and strategic boards, we do want councils and schools to be well-resourced so they can fulfil their statutory duties to all their residents.

Most of all, we don’t want to live in a country that creates a hostile environment for children and adults who are ill and disabled.

What does the SEND sector want?  

We don’t have a manifesto of our own, but in the coming weeks we will be looking at the manifestos of national SEND sector voluntary and professional organisations to help you better understand the wider picture for the issues at hand, what is needed and what’s at stake. We’ll be creating Safety Valve fact sheets for you to give to your local candidates and formulating questions you might want to ask of your local candidates. We’re here to help you make your own decisions and help you talk to your local candidates in an informed way.  

“The general election comes at a time when services for disabled children have been systematically and deliberately decimated for over a decade and families have been left to pick up the pieces in whatever way they can. Even though disabled children never appear to be a priority for the main parties, they would be wise to acknowledge that improving education, health and social care services for the most vulnerable members of society means that you are improving services for the whole of society.

A new government should not be looking to continue the status quo, which is short-term planning leading to short-term budgets. That’s as effective as putting a sticking plaster over a gapping chasm. Children who have to fail in order to access support are children who require far more services in the long term to undo the damage that this approach causes. My hope is that a new government will truly listen to, and work with, grassroots campaign groups who have been clear about what improvements are needed. And they don’t involve massive Change Programmes, Safety Valve agreements or any other costly processes that further degrade children’s rights.”

Renata Blower, SNJ Director

What will happen after the election?

In all likelihood, once there is a new set of education ministers in place, they will take time to examine the lay of the land, what is needed and what money they have to do it with (none). What we intend to do is help educate them to the realities of the world that children and young people with SEND and their families battle through every day. What we’d like you to do is to send your candidates the information we publish that also resonates with you. That’s what SNJ is about; not telling you what to do, but giving you the information and tools to make your own decisions knowledgeably.

We’re not a big, well-funded charity, we are you—parents who’ve been through and are going through the system. We’ve been doing this a long time now; this is the fifth general election since SNJ started in 2008. We are trusted as an authoritative source of information. If Labour wins, we will endeavour to hold them to account in the same way as we have tried to do with this and previous governments. If you want to support our work and help us keep the site online, please donate if you can.

In the meantime, fare thee well David Johnson, your time in the SEND hotseat was short (like many who went before) That upcoming ministerial meeting where I would have grilled you over the Safety Valve is, alas, not to be…

Coming soon on SNJ in Conversation: 10 years of the Children and Families Act with Edward Timpson CBE KC MP

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Tania Tirraoro

One comment

  1. Amanda Lazenby

    I cannot wait to vote the Tories out.
    Their self serving ways make me scream and shout.
    Public services, look around
    each and every one
    Run in to the ground

    Treatment of the vulnerable
    Is a measure to be judged
    But for years, all we see is
    every penny begrudged

    So do us a favour, and clear off please
    14 long years now
    We are all on our knees

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