Research: Meeting the SEND needs of disabled children early delivers £380k return per learner and dividends for society

With Claire Dorer OBE, CEO of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS)

A new research report into the value of disabled children receiving prompt and appropriate special educational provision, has shown that the cost, while more expensive in the short term, is more than offset by the long-term net benefits to children, young people and society.

The research, commissioned by the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS—the membership association for non-local authority special schools), looked at a set of learners with complex special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) to discover:

  • How do outcomes differ for learners with SEND who have their needs met at the right time?
  • What are the wider benefits to learners, their families and society of having their needs met?

The results raise the question of whether this net value is sufficiently recognised and considered when changes in national policy take place (such as is happening in England now), and within the context of localised commissioning decisions.

Claire Dorer OBE, NASS Chief Executive has kindly written for SNJ about their report and what they want to see happen now.

Reaching My Potential: The value of meeting children and young people’s SEND needs effectively. By Claire Dorer OBE, CEO of NASS

On 5th June, NASS launched its report, commissioned from Sonnet Impact, exploring the value returned to learners and society when needs are met effectively.

It’s not our first swim in these waters—in 2012, we conducted a study on Social Return on Investment. The current policy climate—standardisation of provision, funding constraints and reluctance to invest in specialist support—encouraged us to take a further look.

No one reading this is going to be shocked by our key finding that if you effectively meet children's and young people’s needs, they can, and do, achieve great outcomes in adulthood. Our study suggested an average return across a lifetime of £380k per learner in value to individuals, their families and wider society. And that’s a return that goes beyond the money spent on their childhood provision.

Key thematic findings
• Each learner with SEND has a unique combination of needs, strengths, and potential. Provision that meets needs is tailored to each individual learner in terms of the services delivered and the settings in which it is delivered
• Standardisation of educational provision by identified special educational needs may limit chances for children with most the complex needs to realise their potential, and may have implications for the wider public finances
• Special educational provision that meets needs has the following qualities:
Learner-centric provision that is tailored and responsive to the learners' needs
Holistic and evidence-based provision
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The right SEND support is transformative

Working with special schools, I am privileged to hear so many stories of young people whose lives have been transformed by finally getting the right support. Sadly, it is too often ‘finally’, with over 70% of placements in the specialist sector being at least the third school a child has attended. However, capturing that transformation in formal terms and being able to attach the financial figures that make commissioners and policymakers sit up and take note is not easy.

We used mixed methods, working with over 90 schools, to develop learner ‘archetypes’ that we can model against. It was a challenge to take individual stories and amalgamate them into a ‘typical’ learner for such bespoke settings, but common themes emerged in terms of needs and outcomes.

We then used those archetypes to model different pathways – one where needs were met and one where they were not, drawing on the research available on how many young people with SEND do not gain employment and have adult contact with the criminal justice and mental health systems.

Meet our archetypes and the difference that provision that meets needs makes to them: Tim Needs: Has autism and communication challenges Potential if needs are met: Qualifications, paid work and improved relationships with his family Value created when his needs are met: £744k Ade Needs: Has a combination of autism, anxiety and physical needs Potential if needs are met: Developing key life-skills and volunteering regularly Value created when his needs are met: £554k Sarah Needs: SEMH, experience of abuse and is a looked-after child Potential if needs are met: Forming and maintaining positive relationships, qualifications and paid employment Value created when her needs are met: : £246k Olivia Needs: Has cerebral palsy and has communication challenges Potential if needs are met: Can communicate more easily, and direct her care and can move into supported living Value created when her needs are met: £59k Charlie Needs: Sensory impairment, learning and communication difficulties Potential if needs are met: Confidence to build friendships, gains qualifications and paid employment Value created when her needs are met: £303k
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Key quantitative findings
! If we invest in provision that meets needs of ! learners with complex SEND, it could yield an average of at least £380k per learner across their lifetimes in value to society:
Value for the average learner with SEND when their needs are met
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Significant returns however complex the disabilities

We found that while the average value added was high, the return to individuals depended on a variety of factors including type and level of need and the point at which their needs had been made effectively. The value added for those with the greatest support needs was lowest BUT still made significant returns for young people who will receive ongoing support across their adult lives. The message was consistent: ‘It’s worth getting this right’, both morally and economically.

We also saw higher returns for those who had had their needs met earlier in their lives. This is important when we think about ‘early intervention’, which is often seen as a means of avoiding future specialist support.

Wrap-around support services have the best outcomes for disabled young people

One of the strongest findings was the value of services that wrap around good quality teaching and learning. The best outcomes were achieved when young people were supported in meaningful relationships, had access to therapies and received high-quality support for mental health needs. It was clear, that special schools work best when their role beyond education is recognised and supported. We hope that this provides a response to accusations that specialist support is in some way ‘over-provision’ for children. It was also clear that bespoke packages work best at meeting individual need—something we are keen to see reflected in any discussion about SEND National Standards.

Claire Dorer has blonde hair with a fringe and is standing in front of a NASS banner
Claire Dorer OBE, Chief Executive of NASS

More research is needed, but policy must be evidence-based

Our study made use of our member schools but we believe the principles and findings are widely applicable to all SEND provision. Like all research, we ended up with a huge ‘to-do’ list of further questions! We still have very little national data on how outcomes for children with SEND vary depending on the provision they have attended during childhood. We don’t have a clear sense of which children benefit most from specialist support at an early point.

The biggest challenge is ensuring all provision can meet needs effectively and that we can demonstrate this through a clear evidence base.

We want this report to be useful and to inform discussions – between parents and local authorities, between schools and commissioners and between NASS and Government. We invite you to take a look:

Special educational provision that works gives learners hope for the future: that
they can achieve and fulfil their potential. In doing so they may be less dependent on their families and public services, and they may be able to contribute to society.
If learners do achieve their potential this is worth on average at least £380k over the lifetime of the eight learners whose stories we tell in this research.
Click to enlarge

About Claire Dorer OBE

Claire Dorer has been CEO of NASS since 2005 and has a professional background in psychology and higher education with a brief stint at DfE. Within NASS she works with over 400 special schools to represent and support the sector.

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