Quince back on board with SEND as the Education Committee sends a shot across the bows

It's finally been confirmed that Will Quince MP will continue to have political responsibility for SEND, and the SEND Review, following last week’s ministerial resignation/reshuffle that saw him promoted to Minister for School Standards. More on this later.

Awaiting his return to Sanctuary Buildings is a straight-talking letter from the respected and influential chair of the House of Commons Education Committee, Robert Halfon MP, outlining concerns about the SEND Review. The letter, sent via the new Secretary of State for Education, James Cleverly, has been published on Parliament’s website (and embedded below), asks some important questions – and wants answers by the end of the summer holidays.

Mr Halfon says in his letter that his committee “has a particular interest in children and young people with SEND” and held a one-off session on 24 May to consider the SEND Review findings and the proposals in the Green Paper. MPs asked questions about the adversarial nature of the system, parental choice, accountability and funding.

Lack of accountability, choice and child-centredness

Two of the things the letter focuses on are lack of accountability and the move away from parental choice and personalisation. On the proposal to present parents with a tailored list of education settings, the committee is concerned about what will happen to children and young people in areas where there are limited suitable placements. It warns of the risks of trying to create a one-size-fits-all system, and highlights concerns raised by IPSEA and others:

During our session we heard that the SEND Review’s proposal to provide parents with a pre[1]tailored list of settings to select from for their child was the proposal which “created the most concern amongst parents”. This is because parents have concerns that the school that is best for their child may not be on that list. This is particularly concerning in areas where there are limited suitable placements. While the Committee would welcome an end to the “postcode lottery” of provision, and is in favour of equitable access to support no matter where children and young people may live, we have heard serious concerns about the potential risks posed by a one-size fits all system. As Ali Fiddy from IPSEA told us:

“The current position is to work out what an individual child’s needs are and put in place the support that meets those needs. What the reforms appear to be saying is, “Work out what the standard provision is for this level of need and give the child that.”[....] The fact is that special educational provision is not standard—the clue is in the name. It is special. It is unique. It is different. It is individualised.”

The Committee would be grateful for some additional information about this proposal, including who exactly is responsible for tailoring the list and what options would be available to parents if the school they believe is best for their child is not on that list (for example would they need to take this to the SEND Tribunal).

Letter from Robert Halfon

Funding issues

The letter also referred to a key theme during the session of a lack of resources in the SEND system. Mr Halfon welcomed the £70 million slated for the delivery and implementation of the SEND Review proposals but. "is disappointed to see that detailed costings for the proposals included in the SEND Review were not set out in time to fully inform responses to the Government’s consultation."

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon MP, Education Select Committee chair
Will Quince
Will Quince, Education Minister

More details please!

Mr Halfon tells the Secretary of State that they want more details on:

  • The proposal to target spending at strengthening early intervention and whether this would mean a redirection of resources away from those with the most complex needs.
  • What evidence there is on the extent to which a universal screening approach, plus improved SEND training for all teaching staff, could support more effective early identification of special educational needs.
  • How the Schools White Paper will work in conjunction with the SEND Review to incentivise the inclusion of children and young people with SEND, and how the Department for Education will “ensure that attendance and attainment performance measures do not disincentivise the inclusion of children and young people with SEND within schools”.
  • Whether local authorities will have to fund the proposals from existing budgets, and what DfE has been doing, “to understand the level of funding needed to ensure that children and young people with SEND receive the support they rightly expect and are entitled to”.
  • How DfE plans to provide targeted support for disadvantaged children and young people with SEND.

As well as reiterating the committee’s recommendations from its major SEND inquiry in 2019, Mr Halfon asks the Secretary of State to consider:

  • Preventing Ofsted rating schools good or outstanding if they are not also rated good or outstanding in relation to SEND.
  • Changing the role of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to enable the Ombudsman to investigate concerns within schools.
  • Opening up supported internships to as many young people with SEND as possible – not just those with EHC plans.

Mr Halfon also mentioned the Committee's belief that accountability could be improved by giving parents

  • access to a neutral role to help navigate the system,
  • a direct line for parents and schools to appeal to the Department for Education where local authorities appear to not be complying with the law

How will they ensure buy-in?

The letter concludes by quoting the warning from Ali Fiddy, chief executive of SEND legal advice charity IPSEA, that the SEND Green Paper may prove to be “a wolf in sheep’s clothing". The final question for ministers is “exactly how the Department plans to engage with stakeholders, and in particular parents, to ensure that the final proposals will have the wide-ranging support and buy-in which is essential for their ultimate success”.

"...local authorities fail to comply with the law. That is to do with the fact that there is not a sufficiently robust accountability framework in place that incentivises or forces local authorities to change their behaviour. That fundamental problem needs to be tackled. Rather than looking at how you reduce routes of redress for parents, what needs to be tackled is how you improve decision-making and ensure that that decision-making is lawful. That is the root of the problem.

"What the SEND review seems to have done is completely disregard the overwhelming evidence that the biggest problem within the SEND system is the lack of accountability and a failure, particularly on the part of local authorities, to comply with the law at the most basic level. No one should underestimate the significance of the proposals in this Green Paper and the extent to which they will entail a complete overhaul of the current SEND law framework to the detriment of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. I don’t think that is fully grasped. You have to read between the lines. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing."

Ali Fiddy, giving evidence to the Education Select committee

Education Select Committee on SEND Review video

Oral evidence: The Government’s SEND Review, Tuesday 24 May 2022

Members present: Robert Halfon (Chair); Apsana Begum; Miriam Cates; Anna Firth; Tom Hunt; Kim Johnson; Ian Mearns.

Witnesses: Ali Fiddy, Chief Executive, IPSEA, Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Mrunal Sisodia, Co-chair, National Network of Parent Carer Forums, and Imogen Jolley, Head of Public Law, Simpson Millar.


Who's the new Children's Minister then?

While Mr Quince retains responsibility for SEND, the new Children’s Minister, Brendan Clarke-Smith, will be responsible for social care, mental health, alternative provision, early years, attendance, behaviour and exclusions, among other things. As Ap is in the brief, he will presumably have a hand in the Green Paper too.

Also read:

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Catriona Moore
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