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Publication day: Your first look at what’s in the SEND Review Green Paper.

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So finally, after more than two years and a pandemic’s worth of waiting, today is the day. The SEND Review, now a Green Paper for discussion and consultation, is being published this morning (29th March 2022).

We have a preview to share with you although the main paper won’t be available until mid-morning, at which time we may update this article with any additions. 

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be breaking it down bit by bit to help you understand its implications and make it easier for you to respond. We’ll also give you a way to respond via SNJ if you feel that is easier than via the Government website.

“Too many parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) feel they aren’t heard. They are frustrated, and often feel there is no one held accountable for their children’s outcomes in the different parts of the system. Where there is good practice, schools and healthcare has excelled for young people. I’ve seen it myself, from special schools to mainstream colleges across the country. This level of excellence should exist everywhere.

“That’s why we are holding a full public consultation for 13 weeks on our proposals for a better future. I want to speak to you, directly, as someone with first-hand experience of the challenges in the current system. Please respond to our consultation and help make sure your voice shapes this important work.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi 

What do we know so far?

So what’s actually in the SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper? At the time of writing, we only have a press release to go on. So we have a rough idea what the Department for Education want to draw our attention to, but we don’t yet know what the Green Paper doesn’t say, or what pleasures or horrors lie buried in the detail.

Bear in mind that this Green Paper isn’t a blueprint or a masterplan. It’s a set of structured, semi-integrated proposals that have now been put out for consultation for 13 weeks. The proposals in today’s Paper will be tweaked, fleshed out, and changed over time. If you’re optimistic, you’d hope that the consultation process will help with this.

Either way, it’s clear that at least some of these proposals will eventually require changes to the law. So expect to see at least some of this content being put through Parliament over the next 12 months.

You won’t find many hot takes in this post. Once we’ve had a chance to digest it, over the next few days and weeks SNJ will look at each of the main areas of the Green Paper: what the Paper’s authors think needs changing, why they think it needs changing, and – crucially - how they’re thinking about changing things. 

We’ll also point out what’s not been said in the Green Paper, what’s been skipped over hastily, and why. That’ll include some detail on AP, which we won’t cover much in this post.

So what have the Department for Education told us so far? They’ve divided a summary of their Green Paper proposals into several broad sections, which run as follows:

A Single, National SEND & Alternative Provision System

Obviously, in England we’re supposed to have one of these already. The DfE acknowledge that this isn’t working that well. They say that outcomes for children and young people with SEND vary too much across schools, local areas, and regions. 

One explanation that the DfE offer for this is that there have been big increases in the number of children and young people with EHCPs, which they say “can place additional strain on some areas of the system, leading to unequal outcomes.” 

The DfE follow up this interesting take on cause and effect by setting out roughly how they plan to improve things:

  • They plan to establish “new national standards across education, health and care to build on the foundations created through the Children and Families Act 2014, for a higher performing SEND system” – what these standards will look like is as yet unclear.
  • To ensure that local areas will meet these new national standards, new local SEND partnerships will be set up, covering education, health and social care. Who gets to be a partner, on what terms, and how these arrangements will depart from current law (principally s26-s30 of the 2014 Children & Families Act) remain unclear.
  • Other processes will be standardised and clarified. The 2015 SEND Code of Practice will get an update, and there will be a new “standardised and digitised EHCP process and template to minimise bureaucracy and deliver consistency. How the latter will avoid the decades-old problem of garbage-in, garbage-out content in statutory plans is unclear.
  • The DfE also appear keen to relieve parents of some of the burden of choosing a placement, by “providing a tailored list of settings, including mainstream, specialist and independent, that are appropriate to meet the child and young person’s needs.” It’s currently unclear who will be tailoring this list, how they will be tailoring it, and in whose ultimate interest they will be tailoring it.
  • Parents will also be ecstatic to learn that SEND dispute resolution will also be reformed. The DfE plan to “streamline the redress process” in hazily described ways that will involve making mediation mandatory (rather than something that parents must consider), whilst “retaining the [SENDIST] Tribunal for the most challenging cases.” 

IPSEA had the following to say about this:

“The Government’s SEND review was an opportunity to look at the wealth of evidence on how and why the 2014 SEND reforms haven’t worked as intended, and why so many children and young people with SEND have been let down. We hoped the review would focus on the failure to make local decision-makers accountable for the decisions they make about the lives of individual children and young people, and would underpin the existing system with a robust set of consequences for local authorities that circumvent the law. 

“While new local SEND partnerships and new local inclusion plans have potential, we are concerned about the implications for children of limiting parents’ right to request a school that isn’t on a pre-approved local authority list. We are also very concerned about the intention to reform the redress process by limiting access to the SEND Tribunal and introducing mandatory mediation.

“Currently it is compulsory to consider mediation in most cases before appealing to the Tribunal, but local authorities frequently fail to send someone with decision-making power, and cases often require judicial scrutiny. Making mediation compulsory fails to recognise the inherent inequality that exists in SEND disputes, where individual parents, carers or young people challenge a public body. The way to reduce the number of appeals to the SEND Tribunal is to make sure the law is complied with in the first place, not to restrict routes of redress.”

Ali Fiddy, IPSEA

What else is likely to be in the Green Paper?

"Excellent Provision From Early Years To Adulthood"

Here, the DfE note that outcomes for children and young people with SEND or in AP aren’t good enough. This is how the DfE say that changes will transform outcomes – you’ll also find some of this detail in the Schools White Paper:

  • Improving mainstream SEND provision: this is intended to fit with the wider Schools White Paper. There’s not a lot of hard detail in the press release, but it’ll involve “excellent teacher training” and a ‘what works’ evidence programme – the latter, by implication, coming from the Education Endowment Foundation.
  • Introducing two new SENCO qualifications: one proposal (going out for consultation soon) will introduce a new national qualification for school SENCOs. The other will provide a new lower-level SENCO qualification for Early Years settings: Chris Rossiter wrote for SNJ recently on the strengths and weaknesses of this second proposal.
  • More Multi-Academy Trusts: the DfE say that “by 2030, all children will benefit from being in a family of schools, with special and alternative provision part of a strong multi-academy trust.” ‘Benefit from’ is not a phrase that goes down well with SEND families, but it's a DfE favourite in every new policy announcement and that’s what they’ve chosen here.
  • Better transitions for young people, including ‘common transfer files’ to aid moving to further education, and piloting ‘adjustment passports’ that are intended to prepare young people for SEND for the world of work.
  • More funding: this is a mix of stuff that’s mostly already been announced: more mainstream school funding, a big £2.6bn dollop of SEND capital funding over three years to build and renovate settings, and more money to create supported internships and short breaks. 
  • The DfE point out that high-needs SEND funding has gone up by 40% in the last three years, but they didn’t mention in this preview that this funding bucket will have much, much smaller increases from 2023 onwards. So it's not clear who exactly is going to be staffing the £2.6bn of new SEND schools/placements it creates the when it arrives.

System Roles, Funding, and Accountability

Time and again, parents tell us that accountability for crap decision-making is the biggest bug-bear they experience with SEND. The DfE say that they’ve been listening to parents. What have they come up with?

There aren’t many specifics in this section. If we had to guess, it’s probably because SEND system leaders are still fighting backstage over the details like meth-addled cats in a sack. But this is roughly what the SEND Review team have hashed out:

  • Delivering clarity in roles and responsibilities, “with every partner across education, health, care and local government having a clear role to play, and being equipped with the levers to fulfil their responsibilities.” With luck, this will eventually mean something practical to someone.
  • Tooling up a recently-established DfE Regions Group “to hold local authorities and multi-academy trusts to account for delivery”, with no specifics on which tools and what leverage. 
  • Nationally-set high-needs banding systems to allocate funding – almost every LA currently uses their own banding system to dole out high-needs funding to schools. Each LA does it differently. You can read more about banding here and here.
  • Banding isn’t unlawful, but the process of standardising 152 high-needs funding allocation systems equitably across England across dozens of types of SEND will not be easy – and the more hawk-eyed amongst you will probably have realised that making this happen will provide ample opportunities to cut high-needs funding to schools and colleges by the back door.
  • An ‘inclusion dashboard’ that promises to provide a “timely picture of system performance” – what performance will be measured, to what standards, what won’t be measured and why? All unclear right now but probably revealed later today.
  • A new local area SEND inspection framework – this was first announced in mid-2018, but the DfE say that they will “work with” Ofsted and CQC to make this happen. Which rather suggests that the new inspection framework is still being hashed out, nearly four years on. 
  • Ofsted & CQC don’t have a remit to conduct any further full local area SEND inspections until this is sorted, and that will take months, possibly more than a year. Some local areas – including the very worst that England has to offer - will have a gap of more than six years between full SEND inspections. The lack of urgency here is palpable.

Delivering Change for Children and Families

If that’s not enough for you, then there’s more – a grab-bag of other initiatives, slightly oddly lumped together:

  • Stabilising SEND systems – this is financial stabilisation, where the DfE helps local authorities with £300m more funding via a ‘safety valve’ programme, and a new £85m ‘Delivering Better Value’ programme, “to support local authorities with the biggest [high-needs] deficits.”
  • We’ve covered ‘safety valve’ programmes previously on SNJ. Fourteen LAs have signed up to date, all with hefty strings attached. The ‘Delivering Better Value’ programme is likely to be a consultant-devised effort to improve spending efficiency. In both programmes, massaging, manipulating and suppressing demand is likely to feature heavily. 
  • And while providing £385m+ of bailout funding to deal with LA deficits is likely to be welcomed, local authorities’ in-year high-needs deficits for this financial year alone are likely to top £500m, and the cumulative national high-needs deficit across LAs that are in the red has now probably topped £2bn. 
  • Whitehall wants this money back, and it’s not clear from what we’ve seen in this sneak-peek at the Green Paper how this can happen without pain to local authorities. Pain that will swiftly and inevitably be transmitted to children and young people with SEND, and those who support them. It’ll definitely deliver change for children and families – but that’s a double-edged phrase.
  • £70m for SEND and AP ‘change’ programmes It looks like this will be used to pilot and test new ways of working, rather than to implement whatever changes to the system come out the other end. Rest assured that we’ll be keeping an eye on what happens to this money, and any implementation funding that follows it.
  • A new National SEND Delivery Board, who will bring together “relevant government departments and partners, to hold partners to account for delivery” who will be on this board, who the board will answer to, what levers they’ll hold, and how transparent they’ll be all remain unanswered questions. 
  • This Delivery Board could be a very good thing if the answers to those questions are positive, but precedents will have to be broken. There’s already been a SEND System Leadership Board in place for years, but no-one outside the magic circle knows what it does. The North Korean Politburo publishes more about how it contributes to humanity than the English SEND System Leadership Board does.
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So what's next?

Later this morning, possibly by the time you read this, the entire Green Paper will be published. Bear in mind these are proposals for discussion, not actual policy. Over the next 13 weeks we will all have an opportunity to respond. We will support you through that, including a SEND Legal Round Table webinar with leading names you will recognise.

SNJ has also agreed with the DfE to set up a broad-based parent-group consultation panel that we have already begun constituting. This will discuss how aspects of the green paper would impact on different groups of children and young people and their families to feed back directly to the DfE. Our Intersectionality Panel will also be continuing and will look at how it impacts families from ethnic and marginalised communities.

There will also be another webinar with SEND Minister, Will Quince. Tomorrow we'll be able to tell you more about how the consultation will be run over the next three and a bit months. We'll also show you how you can respond via us, if that's what you'd prefer.

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