SEND Community Alliance: A Manifesto

SEND Community Alliance: A Manifesto

We recently announced the establishment of our new campaigning group, led by the teams from Special Needs Jungle, SEND National Crisis and SEND Action.

SEND Community Alliance is an independent and inclusive grassroots campaign group, made up of disabled children, young people, their families and allies. We welcome involvement from similar independent parent and young people's SEND groups and individuals dedicated to the same aims as us: to work towards a fair and level playing field for children with special educational needs and disabilities. That means giving them a real chance to reach their potential, whatever that might be. It means ensuring they can access the help they need in education, health services, care and support services, as well as equal opportunities to careers and employment when they become adults.

We will also, from time to time, work collaboratively with other voluntary organisations on common goals or, for example, during the upcoming general election. But we are, and always will be, independent, standing up for, and alongside, our children and young people. If you'd like to follow us on social media, we have established a Twitter profile: @SEND_CA

The SEND Community Alliance Manifesto

Today we are setting out our manifesto and we call on every political and political party to sign up to its principles to show them that they stand up for SEND. We support the recommendations of the Education Select Committee’s SEND Inquiry report and call for these to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

We'll be promoting our manifesto using the #VoteSEND hashtag on social media. Please join us!

1. Make accountability in SEND a reality

Accountability is key: We call on the parties to commit to ensuring that accountability is at the heart of every public department working in SEND, from the Department for Education, to local government and local and national health services.

This means not only financial accountability but taking responsibility for the quality of services provided.

For the aims, spirit and legislation of the Children and Families Act to become embedded in practice across England, everyone working with disabled children and families must take responsibility for making it happen.

We call on politicians who are seeking election to commit to ensuring that these services work together, putting the people they serve above siloed thinking and the desire to protect their own budgets. They must promote co-ordinated, equal partnerships, with legally-binding responsibilities and a duty to share costs. This includes enabling true co-production with families. They must remember at all times why they are there: to help disabled children thrive, not to protect their own budgets.

We call on political parties to ensure local authorities and schools follow the law and meet their legal duties to children with SEND. There must be robust enforcement and clear consequences for failure to do so, including disciplinary proceedings where individuals are found to be at fault.

The SEND system requires a dedicated regulatory body, independent of Government and local authorities and including representation from families, to ensure the rights of children and young people with SEND become a meaningful reality, and are not dependent on the knowledge, resources and capacity of individuals to enforce them. This regulatory body must have the capacity, authority and powers to assess, investigate and impose sanctions of a robust and deterrent nature.

In recognition of the negative and lifelong impact of delay in meeting needs it is essential that there is a direct and timely reporting system for concerned individuals. Where there is clear evidence of systemic unlawfulness this should be addressed through proportionate compensation.

2. Ensure fair and adequate long-term funding for SEND

Although the Department for Education has promised additional high needs funding, this is a one-off payment and is not sufficient to cover the backdated cost of the 2014 reforms and local authority deficits. The failure to provide sufficient funding and to monitor how funding was used has been a significant factor in the failure of the SEND reforms.

We call on all political parties to show a firm commitment to targeted and sustained investment in SEND. This investment should be directed at frontline services and early intervention to avoid escalating costs in crisis management.

Funding must be tracked and scrutinised to ensure it is used for the purpose for which it is intended and is directed effectively to produce positive, measurable outcomes for children and young people with SEND and their families. The Government must clarify its intentions regarding alternative sources of funding for high needs before closing off the possibility of local authorities transferring funds from other budgets.

Given the particularly poor outcomes for pupils on SEND Support there must be closer monitoring of the progress of this cohort. We call for an urgent review of the effectiveness and transparency of the notional SEND budget and the impact of this arrangement on inclusive schools. This budget must also be ring-fenced.

3. Pledge a commitment to inclusion

To us, 'inclusion' means every disabled child’s family has the right to choose be in a mainstream school if that is their wish. So schools must be accessible, resourced and staffed to offer appropriate support and an equal education. Inclusion means having the same opportunities to thrive now and in the future as part of society.

The disproportionate school exclusion of children with SEND is discriminatory and must be stopped. We would like to see an end to zero-tolerance policies and to internal and external exclusions for children with SEND.

All children have a right to education and yet some disabled children are receiving no education at all, in some cases for years. Where children are unable to attend school for whatever reason, appropriate provision must be secured as a matter of urgency.

We call on the parties to ensure schools are supported to be inclusive through investment in the facilities, accessible buildings, training and specialist expertise they need to meet the needs of children with SEND. We also want politicians to pledge their commitment to inclusion by enabling encouraging and rewarding inclusive education practice, including through adequate funding.

4. Commit to creating consistent support

Children and young people with SEND and their families need reliable, consistent support from a well-trained team. We would like to see limits placed on the use of temporary staff and outsourcing and have a minimum level of SEND and legal training for all local authority staff that work with our children. All SENCOs must be qualified with the NASENCO award or similar, rather than having three years after they take on the role to qualify. Every school leader must be a leader of SEND with an interest in and knowledge of SEND principles and law.

We want politicians to commit to a coherent national SEND system, underpinned by human rights and disability laws. There is no space for local policies that conflict with legal responsibilities.

Initial steps towards this would include:

  • development of a national EHCP template;
  • making health and care elements of EHCPs legally binding;
  • development of a national SEND transport policy that extends from 0-25;
  • an end to non-statutory ‘my plans’ and locally variable ‘banding’,
  • national oversight of therapy and early intervention services in each area,
  • access to free, completely independent legal advice for families,
  • regulation of the Local Offer;
  • minimum levels of support services commensurate with the local profile of needs

5. Action on Post-16 support

The 2014 reforms extended support to age 25. However, this has not been translated into reality and many young people with SEND are faced with extremely limited options outside education settings.

Lack of local authority funding has resulted in the abrupt cessation of EHCPs without social care or other arrangements in place. Promotion of independence must be planned and appropriate, and should not be imposed purely to reduce expenditure.

Realising the ambitions of the reforms requires well-funded integrated commissioning and significant investment in community-based provision, including supported employment and living arrangements.

6. Commit to giving families a voice

A major goal of the Children and Families Act 2014 was to put ‘children and families at the heart of the system’. This has not happened. As a result, the SEND reforms have failed to have the positive impact that was intended. For real change to happen children and families need a voice.

It’s vital we are involved as equal partners in all decisions that affect us. We want representation on national SEND decision-making bodies from independent grass-roots groups like ours, that are not funded by central or local government and restricted from campaigning. And that MUST include empowering young, disabled people to have their voices heard at a national level as part of the central conversation.

How you can help

Do you agree with our central six principles? There is much more we could include, but most come under our six headings and we need to keep it clear for non-SEND people to understand. The details will come after the commitments.

Can you help by sending this post to your local parties that are standing where you live? Ask them to commit to our five key principles for SEND. Let us know what they say

Read more about SEND Community Alliance here

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