Could the SEND Review’s “big ideas” wither on the vine of political uncertainty?

Two Secretaries of State ago, back in the politically distant days of July, the House of Commons Education Select Committee wrote to the then Education Secretary, James Cleverly MP, about the Government’s review of the system for supporting children and young people with SEND.

The veteran chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, had a lot to say about the direction the Review had taken and the proposals contained in the SEND Green Paper, particularly in relation to the lack of accountability in the SEND system, the lack of suitable education placements, and the lack of attention given to employment outcomes.

Cleverly has since moved on from the Department for Education, so a reply to the committee’s letter came this month from the current (at least at the time of writing) Education Secretary, Kit Malthouse MP. This reply was made public at the end of last week.

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The art of using words to say nothing at all

In it, Mr Malthouse simultaneously addresses most of the points made by the education committee while not saying much at all. It’s a proper skill, this kind of thing—people are paid a lot to do it. He emphasised two things in particular:

  • the proposal in the green paper to create new statutory national standards and 
  • the contents of the Government’s Schools White Paper, which went on to form the basis of the Schools Bill.

Two problems here, though. Introducing new statutory national standards would mean new legislation and from what we hear, it’s looking pretty unlikely that parliamentary time will be found for a new SEND bill in the foreseeable future. So the national standards as envisaged in the green paper may well never happen. And given that the Schools Bill seems to have been quietly killed off (RIP), the Schools White Paper doesn’t seem the most up-to-the-minute guide to what we might expect.

Is the Education Secretary promising anything?

There’s not a lot of new information, but the main points are:

  • The Department for Education will provide more detail on funding bands and tariffs when it responds formally to the consultation responses it received on the green paper.
  • Schools should have “an inclusive culture” and Ofsted inspectors “will look to see that leaders create an inclusive culture and do not allow gaming or off-rolling”. 
  • The high needs budget has been steadily increasing. 

“Tailored” choices kicked into the long grass?

What the letter does give us is a bit more information about the (unwelcome) proposal in the Green Paper to restrict parents’ choice of education settings to a “tailored list” determined by local authorities. It says:

“In considering responses to the consultation, our intention is to deliver this change in a way that builds confidence amongst parents and carers. To that end, we propose to sequence delivery so that changes to how placements are named within EHCPs are not introduced until the provision is in place across the system.”

That sounds like quite the commissioning task, but if proper planning and commissioning of the provision disabled children and young people need is to be a priority, no-one will cheer more loudly than us at Special Needs Jungle.

Beefing up the Ombudsman?

Mr Malthouse’s letter also suggests that the Government hasn’t ruled out extending the remit of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO). This would be an important step in strengthening accountability for the provision and support that children and young people with SEND receive. Specifically:

“We are engaging with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman on their proposals to extend their responsibilities of independent investigation of complaints that have not been adequately resolved by schools. We will consider these proposals in light of the SEND and AP green paper consultation responses.”

The LGSCO has been making the case for years now – supported by SEND organisations such as IPSEA – for an extension to its remit that would allow it to investigate what happens “inside the school gate”. This would mean removing the current barriers to the ombudsman investigating cases, for example, in relation to exclusions or SEN Support.

However, a change of this kind isn’t something the Department for Education can implement by itself. Discussions will be needed across government, including the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We’d like to think that DfE is leading these discussions, and look forward to hearing more about how it is progressing.

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The age of worry

The only thing that’s certain in the current political and economic climate is that nothing is certain.

Parents of children with SEND are, of course, used to living with high levels of uncertainty. But everyone involved in supporting children and young people with SEND – families, schools, local authorities, all the professionals and specialist services – needs to know what the Government’s intentions are.

Are the proposals in the Green Paper an actual blueprint for what the SEND system will look like in future? If so, how will this work? If only some of the proposed reforms will go anywhere, how will they fit into the existing framework?

Ministers have promised to publish a “SEND Implementation Plan” by the end of the year, which we hope will be detailed enough to answer these questions. In the meantime, as yet another new Prime Minister moves into No 10, we’ll wait to see if there is to be yet another government reshuffle, and yet another set of ministers to whom we’ll have to explain how the SEND system works at the sharp end.

Also read:


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Catriona Moore
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