Schools White Paper: what are the implications for SEND?

The Government’s Schools White Paper (herein SWP for short) has just been published, the day before the long-awaited SEND Green Paper will finally arrive. 

It’s been emphasised that the two must be read together as they are intertwined. The Government says the SWP it’s a “blueprint” for a wider programme alongside the Skills for jobs White Paper  (launched over a year ago) the Levelling Up White Paper (launched in February), and the Independent Care Review The latter, under Josh McAlister, has been delayed while it looks into the horrific child abuse deaths of Star and Arthur. 

Full Academisation

Principally, the Schools White Paper heralds a shift to a full academy trust-led system, something it calls, “a once in a generation opportunity” It promises greater clarity, “aligning accountabilities with the levers to deliver, and make sure everyone is incentivised to put children’s interests first.”  No, I don't know what that means either.

What is does mean is it plans to remove local authorities from their role of directly maintaining schools into a “new role…at the heart of the system, championing all children in their area – especially the most vulnerable…” to coordinate local services to improve outcomes for children.” It promises new legal powers to match these responsibilities, and - crucially--  the SEND Review will set out plans to ensure they are held accountable for delivering these responsibilities

So we’ll hear more about that tomorrow, but for now, ahead of the Green Paper, we’ll look at the implications for SEND within today’s publication. 

“Now we must do more to ensure every child can access cornerstone literacy and numeracy skills, wherever they live and learn. We must do more to ensure that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children with a social worker have the same opportunities to thrive as their peers. We must continue to address the educational and emotional impact of the pandemic, particularly for more disadvantaged and vulnerable children. 

"My vision for this white paper and the SEND Review alongside it is simple: to introduce and implement standards that will improve children’s education, deliver the right support if they fall behind and give them the tools to lead a happy, fulfilled and successful life. 

"I want every child to get a great education and the right support, in the right place, and at the right time. That means that we need to go from roughly seven in ten children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by the end of primary school to nine in ten children by 2030, and improve the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths. “

Nadhim Zahawi

Teacher training

The SWP places “excellent teaching for every child” at its heart, and, with another nod to the SEND Review, it promises “an inclusive education system for children with SEND.”

The last SEND reforms insisted that “every teacher is a teacher for SEND” but this has never been true. SEND within teacher training has always played a minor role unless you opted specifically to be a specialist SEND teacher, or you happened to do your teaching practice in a special school. It's hard to see how, specifically, the SWP is going to change this --unless this is explained within the SEND Review.

The SWP lays as its foundation, “Improving the quality of teaching is the single most important in-school factor in improving outcomes for children, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).”

To do this, it promises 500,000 “opportunities” for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and teacher development within the next two years. There will be professional qualifications to develop leaders for literacy and early years, plus £180 million for early years training. It also mentions the SEND qualified Level 3 practitioners in the sector that Chris Rossiter wrote about here

What it doesn’t mention is boosting training all teachers for SEND as part of ITT or making it mandatory for schools to undertake SEND training as part of CPD – we’ll see what the Green paper brings on this. Perhaps this will be a focus within the new Institute of Teaching which, in collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation, will be “England’s flagship teacher development provider, delivering cutting-edge training, including targeting disadvantaged areas of the country.” 

SENCO training

There are new plans to replace the current NASENCO award that SENCOs must attain within three years in the role. In its place will be a new leadership level SENCO National Professional Qualification as the mandatory qualification for new SENCOs. “This will align SENCO qualifications with our reformed teacher development system and ensure that these professionals are fully supported to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.”

This is good news, but any knowledgeable SEND expert will tell you that just as important is protected time for SENCOs to do this work. Most have to juggle the role with classroom teaching, and sometimes being a year head and/or department head as well. Will this be tackled tomorrow? We shall have to wait and see, 

Labels and diagnoses

We recognise that some children who are behind their peers may also have special educational needs. The process set out above will ensure that children do not need a diagnosis in order to access academic support.”

Schools White Paper

As it already says in the SEND Code of Practice, schools shouldn’t wait for a child to be diagnosed before they put support in place for emerging SEND needs. Evidence shows that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome. The Schools White Paper reiterates this—saying the SEND Review will explain how this “complements plans” ---presumably EHCPs-- “for a clearer interaction between the SEND system and the support that should be readily available in all schools.” 

What is ordinarily available is a big subject and the DfE has further plans for this. You can also see what parents think of reasonable adjustments in our article here

This is really important because far too many schools refuse interventions or referrals unless a child has a diagnosis to “legitimise” their educational needs. But when waiting lists are long, a diagnosis can take years to come by, if at all. We need teachers that can come out of the teacher training starting gate with a good understanding of what SEND looks like, what a school should ordinarily be providing, the Equality Act, and where to go for resources. 

In fact, the Schools White Paper doesn’t mention equality, discrimination or race once. Perhaps it’s all being left until tomorrow…


Behaviour is always an area of interest for parents of children with SEND. As we know, behaviour is communication, but in a school with a “zero-tolerance” behaviour policy, that means children with SEND needs, whether known or unknown, are more likely to end up disciplined or excluded. 

In the SWP, “Improving behaviour” is a big focus. It wants teachers to “develop their expertise in managing pupil behaviour and wellbeing through a fully-funded National Professional Qualification in Behaviour and Culture.” Which is fair enough, depending on whether it includes making adjustments for SEND (though it probably won't). But it then goes on to say, “We are also continuing to help heads use the full range of powers available to them – like suspensions and exclusions – appropriately where they have to, so they are more confident to take action where necessary.” Listen, some schools don’t need any encouragement to use exclusions, whether temporary or permanent. 

Nothing here about understanding why some children find it impossible to conform to behavioural expectations. However, the hint is that the SEND Review (remember, a development step behind the SWP) will “tilt the focus” towards early intervention to stop children being booted out school, or into AP. But again, no mention that “challenging behaviour” usually has its roots in additional needs, or perhaps in trauma from home or school experience. I seriously hope the SEND Green paper is a little more compassionate. 


Attendance is another difficult area for disabled children. Looking at poor attendance resulting from medical condition-based anxiety or anxiety stemming from a poor school experience, must be part of any strategy. Added to this, the government has carried out a separate behaviour consultation (Closes on Thursday - we have fed into it via our SEND Community Alliance membership of the Special Education Consortium). The SWP says that depending on the response to this, it will,

“introduce new legislation to create new statutory guidance on attendance, including a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy to improve support. By setting clear expectations for staff, pupils, and parents they will know what processes should be followed in cases of absence and what support should be offered. For parents this should result in greater consistency and improved, earlier support where required.”

Schools White Paper

This could mean anything; it’s just policy-speak. How will a clear attendance policy improve support? Perhaps the DfE has already decided what it’s doing, regardless of the consultation outcome. Particularly as “consistency” is the mantra of Katherine Birbalsingh, head of “Britain’s strictest school” where few parents of children with SEND would want to send their child (and this probably suits her). 

The Government is pledging to create a greater regulatory and accountability system for Academy trusts. It says since more than half of children are in academy schools, the original system has outgrown its purpose and isn’t providing sufficient quality, fairness, or  high standards. 

Academy accountability and inclusivity

There are also plans create a single regulatory approach for academies with statutory standards, and new intervention powers to tackle failing trusts. This May, the DfE will launch a regulatory review to consider accountability and regulation – including the future of inspections for trusts. How strong a trust is will also be judged by fair access and how inclusive it is for children with SEND and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The DfE has tasked the SEND Review with consulting on a policy to allow local authority maintained specialist providers to move into either specialist-only or mixed trusts, based on individual and local circumstances. 

Targeted support - but only maths and English?

Here are a few quotes from the SWP

“We are pledging to parents that every child who falls behind in English or maths will get targeted, evidence-based support to get back on track...." Is it 2022 or 1922? Why aren't schools routinely doing this?

“Schools will be better equipped to robustly and routinely identify children who need this support and to act quickly, including for those with SEND.“

Just like they should have done since 2014 (and before)

“High-quality classroom teaching and evidence-based targeted support – including tutoring – will be made available to every child that is behind, with parents regularly updated on their child’s progress." This isn't revolutionary, this is the least children should expect and it's shocking that this is set out as an aspiration.

The White paper mentions £2.6bn for SEND capital spending but that’s the same that was announced earlier this year. This is aimed at providing new specialist or alternative provision free schools to create some of the 34,000 placements promised. They’ve also already announced £93million plans for respite, supported internships and “continued targeted support for families and parents of children and young people with SEND”. 

Social Care reforms

“In the current system, over 15% of children have an identified special educational need, and vulnerable children and children with SEND have lower educational attainment than their peers on average. A world-class school system must deliver brilliant outcomes for all children and, if we are to deliver our mission by 2030, we must ensure that vulnerable children and children with SEND are provided a better quality of education, underpinned by more effective, joined-up support. “

As mentioned, the Care Review has been delayed but the SWP trails “ambitious reforms” for the SEND Review, for all children and young people with SEND to get “the right support in the most appropriate setting, including mainstream schools, in a timely manner, wherever they are in the country.” This certainly implies (and indeed Will Quince has said) that there will always be a place for specialist provision.

Multi-Agency working

The publication of this white paper alongside the forthcoming SEND Review and recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care creates a rare opportunity to join up vital work across schools, children’s social care and SEND services.

Joint commissioning and multi-agency working was legislated for in the Children and Families Act, something that is itself being rewied in a Lords inquiry as we speak. 

The schools White Paper recognises “the importance of multi-agency working is absolutely critical to improving children’s life chances.” It aims to introduce a range of measures to improve information sharing among organisations working with vulnerable children, including data and intelligence about attendance, exclusions and those removed from school rolls. It also cites existing plans for a register of children not in school, something that many home educators are vehemently against. However, the DfE has dismissed their views as less concerning than increasing the speed for safeguarding interventions when vulnerable children are missing from school. 

Parent Pledge

The SWP offers a “Parent Pledge” complete with graphic that schools will:

  • Timely identification of need if your child "falls behind" in English or maths and tell you about their progress. 
  • An evidence-based response for children identified as needing academic, pastoral or specialist support.
  • Up to 6 million tutoring courses by 2024 including one-to-one and small group tuition as a “permanent feature of our school system.” 
  • Ensuring evidence-based research via the Education Endowment Foundation via long-term funding  
  • Transparency: parents will be better informed about their child’s progress, and the support their child receives. 
parent pledge image of above text
click to enlarge

"The success of this commitment depends on how it is implemented in schools. We know that many schools implement this well already, but we are also aware of the risk of it being misinterpreted or implemented poorly. The Parent Pledge should not lead to schools over-testing children, labelling them as “behind”, or withdrawing them from a rounded school experience in order to focus on English and maths. It should be based on reliable assessment and used to provide evidence-based support that complements a child’s core education. 

Schools White Paper

See, it says this, but this is exactly what it will lead to, so maybe this needs another think...

What does the SEND Sector think?

We’ve gathered some views… 

“The schools white paper doesn’t have much specific detail on how support for children and young people with SEND will be hard-wired into the new MAT-led system, or how decision-makers will be held accountable for the decisions they make about individual children’s education and support. While it’s good that the Government wants to make sure that children and young people with SEND have opportunities for success and receive the mainstream or specialist support they need, this isn’t just a ‘moral’ duty as the white paper suggests – it’s also a clear legal duty. Unless and until the SEND legal framework changes (and we have to wait for the SEND green paper to find out what the Government has in mind), providing children and young people with SEND with the special educational provision and support they need is a legal requirement.”

Ali Fiddy, CEO of SEND legal advice charity IPSEA

“I am delighted that the NA SENCO qualification is transitioning to be on par with other National Professional Qualifications, so it no longer stands alone. I hope this will mean more teachers take up the opportunity to broaden their knowledge around SEND and for this to improve each school’s offer and provision.”

Hannah Moloney, SENCO, researcher and SNJ columnist

“Whilst we recognise the crucial importance of reading, writing and maths, it is vital that children and young people access a broad and balanced curriculum that provides opportunities to develop holistic and values-led aspects such as creativity to support all areas of their wellbeing. Access to a wide and varied curriculum is important for learners with SEND and additional needs at a time when the education system is still working on the ground to address the learning gaps that were widened as a result of the pandemic.  

“The White Paper has a welcome focus on parental engagement. Understanding, respecting and listening to the lived experiences of parents, families and young people themselves is critical. This means involving them right from the start of any process and not at the middle or the end. It is unacceptable that families too often feel like they are battling the system, being passed from ‘pillar to post’ and having to share their experiences numerous times with little join-up or progress being made. We want people to be able to tell their story once and get the right professionals involved as early on as possible to take ownership, address challenges, coordinate provision and importantly meet the aspirations and improve outcomes for the learner at the centre."

Annamarie Hassall MBE, nasen CEO and Chair of Whole School SEND

We’re back tomorrow with our early take on the SEND Green Paper. 

Also read:

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Tania Tirraoro

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