How will the government-funded RISE partnership improve local areas’ SEND provision?

with Anna Gardiner, Assistant Director – Health , Council for Disabled Children

Earlier this year the Department for Education announced £12 million of funding to directly support schools and colleges to work with pupils with SEND, through the new Universal Services contract. We’ve already explored what this means to some extent as far as training for teachers goes from Whole School SEND.

Another aspect of this work involves a three-year, £4.8m improvement to SEND improvement in local areas from a new consortium under the title “The RISE Partnership”. Anna Gardiner, from the Council for Disabled Children who’s managing this work, has written for us to explain more about how they’re planning to do it.

Rising to the challenge of improving SEND in local areas by Anna Gardiner, CDC

The system around SEND is never quiet or static. At all levels it is constantly evolving, with churn and change brought about by new policy, workforce flux, and the ever-present possibility of new ways of working with and for children, young people and families on the horizon.

The Council for Disabled Children is used to working with all parts of the system, from listening directly to children, young people and their families, to providing support, training, and consultancy to local area leaders, managers, and practitioners from related agencies, to working with government officials and politicians. But while we’re used to this constant evolution and change, I can’t ignore that right now, it feels like a particularly busy and uncertain time. Not that we’re deterred, in fact, it feels like there are opportunities to learn, innovate and design new and better ways to improve outcomes for children and young people across the system. This is why now feels like the optimal time to be developing the foundations of the new What Works in SEND programme, as we continue to work with, and learn from, local areas.

The RISE Logo

A new SEND partnership

CDC was delighted to have been awarded the new DfE contract earlier this year as part of a newly-formed consortium of partners. The Research & Improvement for SEND Excellence partnership (RISE), led by the Council for Disabled Children, includes the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), the University of Warwick, and Isos Partnership. RISE’s programme of work over the next three years is two-pronged but interlinked, with a focus on systems improvement and articulating what an effective SEND system looks and feels like.

One prong will be focused at local area level, with a bespoke consultancy offer delivered to local areas that have been identified as having development needs through inspection and other routes. This consultancy will be delivered by CDC and NDTi and can cover a range of themes including joint commissioning and multiagency working, Preparing for Adulthood, social care, data, a focus on a specific pathway or service, addressing issues with a local area’s Graduated Response or Education, Health and Care (EHC) processes. In short, our focus will be on some of the knottiest issues that hinder progress in local area SEND systems.

This consultancy work is embedded in an outcomes-based methodology, ensuring local parent carers are involved in the interventions. We know a short-term and time-limited intervention in a local area won’t change their world overnight, or that of the children, young people and families they are working for. However, it will support them to see their strengths, agree their vision, be open about the challenges they face and why, and design a plan to move forward.

We will also be devising a national offer of training, webinars, events, and e-learning covering topics and themes common to all local areas. CDC and our partners have worked in this way for many years and frequently draw on examples from other local areas that are addressing these issues. We are able to highlight approaches and models that can be applied to other contexts and LAs. Impact and outputs from these interventions will be followed up and monitored, and learning will be fed into future work over the contract term.

Anna Gardiner. A Black and White photo of Anna with shoulder-length dark wavy hair, smiling. She’s wearing a polka dot blouse.
Anna Gardiner

What Works in SEND

This is where the What Works in SEND Programme, our second prong comes in. Drawing on the principles of established What Works Centres and using a range of research methods, the RISE consortium will host a What Works in SEND programme to explore what makes an effective SEND system. This is not about child-level interventions. It’s about the systemic models and conditions that enable local multi-agency partnerships to work together to understand and meet needs and design services and pathways to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND.

The University of Warwick will conduct primary research—deep dives into local area models and approaches—alongside a literature review focused on effective systems and partnerships. As the programme evolves, local areas undergoing systems improvement will be able to work through a framework to understand their strengths and successes and importantly, how their approaches may work in other contexts. The evidence that emerges will be hosted on a new What Works in SEND website, alongside practice briefings and accessible resources sharing findings.

Overseeing independence and rigour

The governance model around the What Works in SEND programme includes a Scientific Oversight Committee to ensure independence and academic rigour, as well as an Experts by Experience panel, comprising of parent carers and young people, and an Effective Practice Quality Assurance Panel. Recruitment to these groups will take place in the coming months. 

Anecdotally and from our work in practice, we know what works is hinged on relationships with families and within and across organisations. It’s based on a thorough understanding of meaningful data, true coproduction, recognition of the life-course approach, a culture of honesty, leadership that listens and is amenable to change, and a focus on inclusion and evidence-based practice.

What Works in SEND is a big and complex concept. However, with the framework of a What Works Programme and continued engagement with local areas, we can shine a light on solutions to those knotty challenges and find ways to learn from the children, young people, parent carers and the professionals who make the system.

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