Join our call for Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, to PAUSE further SEND reform plans and PUBLISH the SEND Review responses now!

Christmas is upon us, but we have one more act for this year before we finish.

We have decided to write a post directed at Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education regarding concerns we have about the (delayed) SEND Review and its Green Paper proposals. The letter is below. If you would like to add your name to this letter, you can do so below.

Dear Ms Keegan

We are writing to raise concerns about the SEND Review Green Paper, its recent consultation and future SEND improvement plans. 

The recent disruptions at the ministerial level within the Department for Education and the corresponding lack of ministerial direction over the SEND Review, leaves us with concerns about the legitimacy of any forthcoming SEND improvement plan that may be published in the next few months.

We are told that there were more than 7,000 responses to the consultation and that these were, until recently at least, still being analysed. However, we are concerned that the objections to the plans that many parents and organisations have fed back will have little impact on the proposals already laid out in the Green Paper.

Our concerns are as below:

1. Difficult and inaccessible SEND Review consultation

The consultation itself was complicated and difficult for parents to respond to and several voluntary organisations in the sector had to step in and create simplified versions to help families to submit their views. Additionally, there is still currently an outstanding Judicial Review pending on the legality of Question 7.

2. Schools Bill’s demise

The obvious legislative route for any proposed changes within the Schools Bill, has now been ditched and questions about how the Children’s Social Care Review will interact with the SEND Review remain a mystery. 

As it stands, because of ministerial changes, we find it hard to believe that there will have been time for sufficient oversight to evaluate plans that will affect the futures of thousands of vulnerable children, young people and their families. 

The money earmarked for any SEND legislative changes that will not now happen should instead be put towards adequately funding SEND provision – and it MUST be ring-fenced, as we have seen that when it is not, it ends up elsewhere

3. Lack of proposals on inequalities in the SEND Review consultation

We would also like to know how the Department intends to mitigate existing inequalities caused by intersectionality and increasing poverty, as well as important issues such as Post-16 support and SEN Support in schools, none of which were addressed adequately, or at all, in the consultation. Therefore, any plans for action will not have been consulted upon by the communities concerned – or indeed, by anyone.

4. Lack of legitimacy for any improvement plans

We are also concerned that with the number of changes already being implemented before an actual plan is announced, we will already be funnelled into the direction of the SEND Review Green Paper plans – in other words, a plan devised by officials that remains untouched by consultation responses or any ministerial changes.

Additionally, we echo the letter sent by SEND lawyers recently, from which the following is particularly pertinent:

“From our experience, the problem is not that children and young people with SEND are receiving costly provision that they do not need, but that too many children and young people are not receiving the support that they do need. SEND law is clear about what children and young people are entitled to and where responsibility lies. Much of the “discretion” exercised by local authorities that is referred to in the green paper is unlawful. 

“The SEND reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 were – and remain – the right reforms, underpinned by important principles that continue to hold true. There have been extensive analyses by the National Audit Office, Education Select Committee and others of how these reforms have been implemented. There is consensus that implementation has been inadequate, with local authorities routinely failing to fulfil the legal duties to children and young people with SEND set out in the legislation and associated regulations. The SEND system is broken because it lacks local accountability. It is riddled with unlawful decision-making, with no negative consequences for local decision-makers – only for children and young people with SEND. This will not be fixed by proposals to reduce parents’ choice of education setting or to make it mandatory for families to participate in mediation before being permitted to register an appeal.

Families, and most, if not all, of the SEND sector agree with the above view wholeheartedly and we are grateful that the legal profession is standing up for families. 

5. Consensus on proposals or no consensus?

We have heard DfE officials say there is no overriding consensus in the responses to the consultation. We've also heard officials claim there is a strong consensus for the Green Paper proposals as they stand. Which is it?

Both of these responses we find very hard to credit unless they are giving greater weight to local authority views than those of everyone else. Council viewpoints and actions are entirely resource-led; if they had the resources to fulfil their legal duties, their views may well change. We would suggest this as a key action for future improvements.

6. Legal conflicts from the Safety Valve programme

Moreover, we have grave concerns that the Safety Valve programme is causing conflicts with the law. This programme is driven by managing costs and will undoubtedly clash with existing legislation, which is about meeting needs and fulfilling duties.

It will result in an increase in instances of unlawful practice by preventing children securing or retaining EHCPs, putting LAs on inevitable collision courses with parents and the SEND Tribunal. This is the opposite of what the DfE claims to want.

Call for transparency

We are now calling on you, for reasons of transparency, to publish a straightforward, detailed and accessible analysis and all the responses in full, without delay, so that we can see for ourselves the views of respondents. 

We do not want to see any more policy announcements for “improvements” pushed through without further dialogue with the sector and a cross-section of parents – not just those you fund. 

The Universal Services contract is welcome and must be allowed time to do its work to improve training – and this must include those within local authorities. We also want to see teacher training reforms to include SEND at its core and as a thread throughout the curriculum. 

We suggest that the DfE should look in the round at Ombudsman and Ofsted SEND inspection findings to analyse where LAs are failing the most, why, and what recommendations can be drawn from these to help improve their practice. 

Publish, delay, reframe

In conclusion, we are calling for three things: 

  1. PUBLISH a straight analysis of the consultation as soon as possible. Let everyone see the results and let the new minister have time to get to grips with their brief and understand what is needed. Then work with everyone –the cross-sector Special Education Consortium, with SEND experts, and with parent-led organisations, as well as with LAs—to put our children, not politics, first
  2. DELAY further plans for improvement until after the sector has had time to digest the responses and the minister has got up to speed with the issues. 
  3. REFRAME the proposals in the Green Paper to address the core issue: lack of accountability in the system 

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