How can the #SENDReview implement new changes while avoiding the same mistakes of the last reforms?

Let’s kick off with some Green Paper quotes:

“Disabled children and children with SEN tell us that they can feel frustrated by a lack of the right help at school or from other services. For children with the most complex support needs, this can significantly affect their quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of families have a disabled child or a child with SEN, and parents say that the system is bureaucratic, bewildering and adversarial and that it does not sufficiently reflect the needs of their child and their family life.”

“We want to put in place a radically different system to support better life outcomes for young people; give parents confidence by giving them more control; and transfer power to professionals on the front line and to local communities.”

“We will help professionals identify and meet children’s needs early by ensuring that health services and early education and childcare are accessible to all children; work in partnership with parents to give each child support to fulfil their potential; and join up education, health and social care to provide families with a package of support that reflects all of their needs.”

“We will strip away unnecessary bureaucracy so that professionals can innovate and use their judgement [and] establish a clearer system so that professionals from different services and the voluntary and community sector can work together.”

“Too often, the particular support that children and their families require is put in place needlessly late… …And even when needs have been identified, parents tell us that it can feel like a struggle to get the right support for their family from education, health and social care services. It can be slow and complicated, with different services working in isolation and each having its own approach.”

“The ambitious vision for reform set out in this Green Paper includes wide-ranging proposals to improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN, minimise the adversarial nature of the system for families and maximise value for money.”

Inspiring stuff, right? 

Except these aren’t quotes from the 2022 SEN & AP Green Paper. They’re quotes from the 2011 SEND Green PaperThese quotes are 11 years old.

And the reality that followed the 2011 Green Paper – the 2014 SEND Reforms and the Children and Families Act - ended up being a pale and distorted imitation of that paper’s vision.

Implementation is crucial

Writing a Green Paper is the easy bit. It’s how things are implemented on the ground that counts. And inquiry after inquiry found that the 2014 SEND reforms were implemented very, very poorly.

The Department for Education (DfE) know this. They’ve been told, again and again, that “the primary reason the high aspirations of the 2014 [SEND] reforms have yet to be achieved is because insufficient attention was paid to implementation.”

In the new 2022 SEND and Alternative Provision Green Paper, the DfE say that they are “determined to create the right conditions for lasting change that delivers on our shared aspirations for children and young people with SEND.”

That’s going to be challenging. Not least because the SEND Review has been developed, co-produced and executed by most of the organisations and leaders who are responsible for the current system’s toxic, smoking, gamma radiation-spitting state. Some of those leaders are only just starting to admit their part in that failure. Others don’t think they did anything wrong at all. None of them has paid any meaningful professional price.

So, given that we’ve got the same groups of leaders and organisations, with the same rigid grip on the wheel, with a track record of failure visible from Mars, how will the proposals in the 2022 Green Paper succeed where those in the 2011 Green Paper failed? 

The DfE’s Implementation Plan

The 2022 Green Paper doesn’t directly take this question on – but it does lay out a series of steps that government plans to take to ensure success this time round

You’ll find the details in Chapter 6 of the SEND and AP Green Paper. The DfE plan to put the following in place: 

“a well-designed delivery programme with a clear roadmap for improvement that stabilises the system in the immediate term and delivers the necessary culture change to build an inclusive system in the longer term so that more children and young people are supported to thrive and succeed.”

“We will have a strong focus on evidence-based delivery, using well-designed feedback loops and processes to identify and manage unintended consequences promptly. We will learn from best practice in the system. We have seen that the best performing SEND systems are those with a consistent focus on co-production. We will therefore embed co-production with children, young people, and their families at every level in our delivery planning.”

What will this management-speak actually mean in practice?

The ‘system stabilisation’ described in this chapter appears to be financial – an extension of the DfE’s current ‘safety valve’ programme, and introduction of another financial package, the Delivering Better Value in SEND programme. We covered these in a previous article on funding, but the basic aim is to stop SEND funding from bleeding out by massaging and curbing "demand" from people like us (i.e money-grubbing parents).

There will also be some bureaucratic reform within the DfE – reform that will try to focus the department to do better at delivery, both at a national and a local level.

Most of the change at local level will be delivered by the usual suspects in schools, local authorities, and NHS bodies. The DfE’s newly formed Regions Group will be in charge of monitoring local implementation. You can read more about these proposed arrangements in one of our previous Green Paper summaries on accountability, here.

Delivering the National Standards

The main DfE SEND policy unit in Whitehall will be leading on delivering for one of the most significant proposals of this Green Paper: the development of new ‘national SEND standards’, working with the Department of Health & Social Care. You can read Catriona Moore’s summary of the ‘national SEND standards’ proposal here.

This is aimed at ensuring that, “expectations remain relevant and appropriate in delivering better outcomes for children and young people” 

This part of Chapter 6 invites more questions than it answers – because like a typical draft EHCP, there are not a lot of specifics.

  • Whose expectations will remain relevant?
  • What’s the threshold of relevancy?
  • Who decides what’s ‘appropriate’, and on what basis?
  • Whose culture does the DfE think needs to change, and why?
  • Who co-produces, on whose terms, and with what freedom to dissent?

What happens if, like the last 8 years, the centre’s expectations and perceptions of relevance end up being largely disconnected from the reality of life in the SEND trenches? How would the centre even know if it had become disconnected? 

Put more bluntly: what, exactly, is going to prevent a minister declaring on prime-time TV that “no-one has said to me that EHCPs aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” because his or her SEND advisers, high on their own supply, gave them appallingly inaccurate advice?

More Boards, more meetings, same outcomes?

Alongside this internal reform, the DfE also plans to set up a new National SEND Delivery Board. This Board will

“bring together the relevant government departments with national delivery partners including parents, and representatives of local government, education, health and care to hold partners to account for the timely development and improvement of the system.”

Like other bits of the Green Paper, without more detail it’s hard to tell what’s actually going to change here

A similar board already exists: the SEND System Leadership Board, set up in 2018, with membership almost entirely made up of the same high-priced help as the proposed new National SEND Delivery Board. It’s unclear whether the SEND System Leadership Board will be continuing. It’s unclear whether anyone at ground level would notice if it didn’t. This is an organisation that has been vantablack-opaque in operation. It’s not obvious from the Green Paper how the new National SEND Delivery Board will operate any differently.

Anyway, the DfE want your views on the following consultation question:

Question 19: How can the National SEND Delivery Board work most effectively with local partnerships to ensure the proposals are implemented successfully?

This is not an easy question to answer, because the Green Paper doesn’t give any meaningful information on how the new National SEND Delivery Board will operate: how frequently it will meet, how it can or will hold anyone to account in practical terms, what information it will put into the public domain on its activity or inactivity, who else the Board will inform at local level about its work, how disputes amongst Board members and between national and local organisations will be resolved, how national leaders will manage their personal and institutional conflicts of interest, and who the Board itself will answer to. Any detail, in fact, that provides basic reassurance on principles of good governance.

If you want to have a stab at answering this consultation question, think about answers to the above points.

Read our ponder points and answer this question via SNJ here

After that, the DfE have another question for you – this one, a catch-all question about how they can make all this work:

Question 20 - What will make the biggest difference to successful implementation of these proposals? What do you see as the barriers to and enablers of success?

“These proposals” means ‘everything proposed in the Green Paper’ - so this is a wide-ranging question

When responding, it’s probably best to assume that you’re writing to people who have been given a carefully filtered, sanitised, top-level PowerPoint and Excel-driven view of the world of SEND.

Assume they know little or nothing about the business end of implementation: how it affects individual kids and young people with SEND, their parents and carers, and the frontline professionals that support them. If you’re feeling charitable, assume that they care about this detail. 

Assume that the people you’re writing to want to know about the ways that change can blow up in people’s faces in ways that they weren’t expecting. Again, if you’re feeling charitable, assume that they care about how change can blow up in your kids’ faces, rather than their own.

But it’s probably best to stick to practicalities. While it might be tempting to suggest that each and every member of the National SEND Delivery Board has to get their pampered flesh tattooed with the Nolan Principles Seven Principles of Public Life in Gothic script before they can join, sadly we have to accept that’s never going to happen.

How will the changes unfold?

The DfE is putting up £70m of funding to implement these changes. This money is for the system, not for front-line provision. At this stage, that’d be roughly one-eighth of the funding provided to implement the 2014 SEND reforms. There might be more to come though: it looks like this £70m will be used to run pilots and test concepts, a bit like the Pathfinder process that pre-dated the 2014 reforms. 

The DfE are careful to emphasise in the Green Paper that they want to move slowly and deliberately. The pandemic is still a factor, and there are other big policy changes that have yet to be finalised or rolled out: things like the Schools White Paper, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and reforms to the way that the NHS organises itself and commissions services. 

Whatever change emerges from the SEND & AP Green Paper will need to be integrated with wider changes to health and social care. And if you’re trying to work out which policy areas will take priority, take a look at the Green Paper and ask yourself why there’s so little firm commitment to anything for SEND health and social care.

Once the SEND Review consultation is done, the government will respond to it, publishing a national SEND delivery plan at some point later this year. After that, the government will then firm up the changes they want - including changes to the law – and then set about doing the actual implementation.

Again, the DfE is at pains to stress that this will happen slowly and deliberately:

“We will pay careful attention to what local areas tell us is realistic and we are clear change will only work if it happens at a pace that local areas have capacity to deliver.”

“We know this will require careful and collaborative planning and clear sequencing. It will also require extensive and continued engagement and communication to enable leadership of change at every level in the system.”

“And most of all it requires genuine and continual co-production with parents from local to national-level to ensure we implement the changes in line with our aspiration and as children, young people, and their families need.”

This is the last, and shortest bit of the Green Paper. It’s also the bit that matters most. 

Because if they get implementation wrong – again – then in the 2030s, people will be pulling quotes out of the 2022 Green Paper and asking why it made so little positive difference to the lived experiences of children and young people with SEND.

Read our Ponder Points for Question 20 and answer the consultation question via SNJ here

SNJ's SEND Review coverage:

Matt's article brings to a close our chapter analysis of the SEND Review Green Paper. It's been a ton of work and Tania & Renata would like to thank Matt, Catriona, and Susie for their help with getting it all together. We will be bringing you further articles from experts in different parts of the SEND sector to raise their own highlights and lowlights with the GP. Please remember, this is a DISCUSSION DOCUMENT, not policy document - you have a chance to influence so please answer the main consultation or if that's too overwhelming, just use our forms linked from the page below. You can answer just one or as many as you like, when you like. We will collate them and send them in for you.

Click here for our main SEND Review page with links to the Chapter Ponder Points and our answer forms

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Matt Keer

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