How will the SEND Review create sustainable support that’s also value for money?

With Chris Rossiter, Driver Youth Trust

Do you remember the SEND Futures Feasibility study? It was supposed to work out value for money for SEND but not a lot has come out of it so far. There's been a 100-page report where the researchers talked only to LAs and some schools and found it was technically possible to work out whether particular types of SEND placement are good value for money, but it would take years and years to do it.

However, just recently some big government contracts have been posted for bidding to, "lay the foundations upon which these [SEND] reforms can be built, ensuring that, through our Delivering Better Value in SEND programme." The opportunity closed this week, so no point dusting off your laptops to apply - and anyway, it's likely only to have been bid for by, as Matt Keer describes, "the usual suspects" who can handle a £1.5 million contract.

What's this all about then? Chris Rossiter, CEO of Driver Youth Trust, took a close look to see how, and if, it would benefit children with SEND. He's kindly written this article for us, explaining all:

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Who knows the value of SEND? By Chris Rossiter

No doubt many parents will have read about the news that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has promised billions more funding for SEND. You may have even read Matt Keer’s excellent summary right here on Special Needs Jungle.

You will have to excuse my naivety, but every time the government announces a couple of extra billion, or a more casual hundreds of millions for SEND, I get a little giddy with excitement. Will THIS be the money that turns this juggernaut of despair around I fizz? 

Of course, the answer is invariably, and emphatically, no.

The SEND gravy train rolls in

So, you might be interested to hear that away from the glitz of a new budget the Department for Education also recently announced a smaller amount of money it would like to spend. Unlike the budget, this money is arguably not destined to improve the outcomes of your young people. It isn’t even going to relieve local authority bosses of their considerable deficit budgets. 

However, the snappily entitled ‘Delivering Better Value in SEND programme does at least sound like it might do some good. 

The programme is about making sure money is being ‘spent fairly, efficiently and effectively, and that the support available to children and young people is sustainable for the future’. The tender goes on to say that through the programme, ‘we are able to build the capacity and capability in the system to begin to address existing challenges and pressures in anticipation of wider reforms’.

The Department also proclaims that its vision for children and young people with SEND is the same for everyone else; you know, have a good education, get a job and be happy. Of course, the Department also wants its long-anticipated SEND Review to be a glowing success, so although this might be framed as something for you, it really is just all about them.

"The SEND Review was announced in September 2019. It is a fundamental and cross-government review looking at how to improve the SEND system so that provides more consistent, high quality, and integrated SEND services across education, health and care. It is also considering measures to make sure that money is being spent fairly, efficiently and effectively, and that the support available to children and young people is sustainable in the future. 
We are working with children, young people, their families and experts across education, health and care to deliver our common goal of improving the SEND system. We will publish the review as soon as it is practicable to do so."

Government tender

Values-based financial sustainability

The programme, worth £1.5 million pounds, aims to deliver a values-based framework for managing local SEND systems to enable financial sustainability. The framework will enable a 'new breed of system advisers' to troubleshoot LAs. They will be zipping around identifying things like ‘drivers of poor outcomes’ and ‘high spend’. 

This framework will boldly identify, define and set out the standard of optimal and measurable outcomes for children and young people, it will even set out what good looks like with the necessary pathways to change the world. 

The tangible innovation literally oozes off the page with talk of a dynamic diagnostic tool, examining lots of data and ultimately uncovering the root cause of poor performance. There will be resources, templates, change, lots and lots of change.

If you weren’t fizzing with excitement, or perhaps palpable rage, before, you must be by now. 

Chris Rossiter
Chris Rossiter

Where's the co-production?

There is one word I desperately searched for throughout the document. Co-production. There is one throw-away comment about 'stakeholder engagement' and there is even a mention of parent-carer representatives. But not once does co-production appear anywhere in the document and that doesn’t sound like a framework based on values to me. 

You see the Department will likely pay a consultancy firm to create some new shiny dashboards to tell them what they are clearly struggling with. They need answers to a very important question; why, when we spend such an awful lot of money on SEND provision, is the system still failing? 

Dear parents, I suspect you could all answer this question eloquently, with brevity and for much less than the asking price. Indeed, as I recall from the Education Select Committee Inquiry into SEND, around 700 of you did just that. Alongside a host of professionals, the Department has been repeatedly told about illegal practice, byzantine bureaucracy, and a colossal waste of public money. The jury is very much ‘in’ on these issues.

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What's at stake?

Taking a step back from these proposals makes me wonder whether there is more at stake here than a £1.5million dashboard. For example, could this new system be used to assess the performance of LAs either through formal or informal accountability measures? Ofsted previously announced that it was to look again at its framework for local area inspections. 

If LAs are required to demonstrate value for money or generate value per pound spent, what might this look like? Increased attendance, improved progress in literacy and or hours spent with a teaching assistant in an intervention group, perhaps? 

Of course, making this kind of value judgement requires an understanding of the requirements of individuals, how well local provision is aligned to local needs and the compliant management and coordination of them by the local authority. Even if this were all possible, the levels of LA spending for the same support in different parts of the country varies hugely. This mess has been exacerbated due to the failures of LAs in implementing the 2014 reforms in the first place. 

So to reiterate, the Department wants to narrow its concept of value away from your child to how well your LA manages its SEND budget. Perhaps it has always been this way, but at least we’ll soon have a dashboard to prove it.

Chris Rossiter, CEO of Driver Youth Trust, Organisational Psychologist and Trustee of Astrea Academy Trust.

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