The Government has published its long-awaited review into the SEND and alternative provision system in England.
It is a ‘green paper’ which means it is Government’s initial thinking on changes to the SEND system. The proposals in it will be shaped during the consultation period into firmer policy, which over time - usually a year or two - becomes a change in the law and guidance, and then results in changes in practice on the ground.
During the consultation period we asked for the views and experiences of autistic young people and their families. We had nearly 2,000 responses to our SEND system survey – completed by autistic young people, parents and carers.
What does the review say?
The Green paper identifies three key challenges in the SEND system:
- Outcomes for children and young people with SEN or in alternative provision are poor
- Navigating the SEND system and alternative provision is not a positive experience for children, young people and their families
- Despite unprecedented investment, the system is not delivering value for money for children, young people and families.
What is the government proposing?
The Government says it wants to creates ‘an inclusive system, starting with improved mainstream provision that is built on early and accurate identification of needs, high-quality teaching’ and ‘prompt access to targeted support’. It says we need a ‘strong specialist sector that has a clear purpose to support those children and young people with more complex needs who require specialist or alternative provision.’ It highlights the need for national consistency, co-production and better accountability, and aims to end the postcode lottery of support.
Our views on the proposals
Getting the SEND Review right for autistic children and young people is critical.
Autism is the most prevalent primary need among children with an education, health, and care (EHC) plan. A significant proportion of children receiving SEN Support will be autistic. The needs of autistic children and young people cut across health, care, and education, and are very individual. Many autistic young people have physical or mental health needs, and some have a learning disability. Like all young people, autistic young people can have significant areas of strength alongside significant challenges.
All these things put autistic young people at the heart of the SEND system. It must work for them if it is to work at all.
What we support
We support the aims of the SEND Green Paper, for children and young people to have ‘the opportunity to thrive, with access to the right support, in the right place, and at the right time, so they can fulfil their potential and lead happy, healthy and productive adult lives.’
We also support specific proposals to:
- Standardise and digitise EHC plans, and
- Collect and share better data on the performance of the SEND system
Where we see risks for children and families
To protect children and families’ rights
Families’ essential rights to an assessment of need, the provision of support to meet needs, the ability to express a preference for a school, and timely access to the Tribunal, are at risk via the national standards, the ‘tailored list’, and mandatory mediation. This risks further reducing parental confidence.
- Government clarifies as soon as possible that the rights in the Children and Families Act 2014 will be protected as these reforms are enacted. This includes families’ rights to have an assessment of their child’s needs, the provision of support to meet needs, and the ability to express a preference for a school place, as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.
To create a transparent, sufficient, and responsive funding system – not national banding
The sustainability of specialist schools and colleges, and their ability to meet children’s individual needs, is under threat from a national banding system intended to reduce costs. The evidence from families in our survey, and our 25-year experience as a service provider, shows that restricting necessary provision leads to higher needs, higher costs, and lower achievement in the long run.
Plans for national banding should be replaced with funding reforms that prioritise:
- transparency - so we can see where SEND funding is used and what outcomes are delivered through it;
- sufficiency – so that services have the right funds to meet needs; and
- responsiveness – so that information about where funding leads to positive outcomes is fed back into system design to improve efficiency and sustainability.
Immediate improvement to support in universal services through national inclusion standards
We support the aim of the national standards to clarify what should be ordinarily available for children with SEND. Conflating the national standards with wholescale change to the legal framework for SEND would be costly, unnecessary and frightening for families. Instead, we want to see national inclusion standards which create clear and consistent expectations of schools, colleges, and services without undermining rights.
- Government adapts plans for national standards into plans for national inclusion standards, which set clear, high expectations for services about what SEND provision should be ordinarily available in each area and highlight the Equality Act duties.
Children with SEND to have better access to specialist support, whatever setting they attend
The lack of vision for building stronger and more flexible links between specialist and mainstream providers is a missed opportunity. Achieving the aim of ‘right support, right place, right time’ will rely on more creative partnership approaches between mainstream and specialist providers, and the funding models to deliver that. We propose that, done right, this could help improve financial sustainability.
- National Inclusion Standards set a clear vision for increased collaboration between mainstream and specialist education providers, and funding models to support these partnerships are explored and consulted upon.
A system of accountability with real bite
Families are unconvinced that the national standards will be any more enforceable than the current legal framework. We know that Ofsted has a meaningful impact on schools’ and colleges’ behaviour and priorities. As the only universal accountability system in education, it must work better for children with SEND. Other layers of accountability must also result in action. Tribunal rulings against LAs, Local area SEND inspections, and Ombudsman decisions must have consequences that improve practice rather than just highlight failings.
- Ofsted further prioritises SEND in the education inspection framework, including making quality of SEND support a limiting judgement
A long-term plan for a sufficient and capable SEND workforce
We support steps to improve the workforce, such as research into the needs of the health workforce. But we need to see a coherent plan to develop a skilled and valued SEND workforce across education, health, and care, backed by funding and with clear dates and targets. This includes reinstatement of autism in initial teacher training and CPD, and a target for all schools to be whole school autism trained.
- Government publishes a long-term SEND workforce strategy, across education, health and care, from 0-25, backed by funding and clear implementation dates.
Clearer parity of rights to health and care support, and better join up across education, health, and care
The ‘education spine’ of the EHC plan continues to create disparities for families accessing their rights to health and care support, leaves children falling between gaps, hampers transitions from children’s to adult’s services, and contributes to the lack of sustainability in the SEND funding system.
- Government clarifies that the rights to health and care support have parity with those for education support in the Children and Families Act, to improve join up across the services from 0-25.
Improved support to move from education into employment and independence
We support the aims in the Green paper to improve transitions to successful adulthoods for young people with SEND. A practical way to do this would be for EHC plans to evolve into Employment Health and Care plans as young people move on from education, rather than all support falling away, and starting from scratch with DWP systems like Access to Work. This would be more efficient administratively and would create a smoother path into work and/or independence for young people.
- Education, Health and Care plans to evolve to become Employment, Health and Care plans (or employment and health support plans), once a young person is ready to make the transition from education to employment.
We have sent out key recommendations to the Government to ensure that the views and experiences of autistic young people and their families are heard. We will continue to stand with autistic children and young people and work to ensure their rights are protected.
Read out five asks of the SEND Review
Hear autistic young people’s views on the SEND Review
Meg from our Ambitious Youth Network explains why she is passionate about making change for other autistic young people through the SEND Review.
Etta says the SEND Review must work for all autistic pupils.
Teachers and support staff need more training to understand autistic pupils, says Saffron.
Jo says the Government must ensure all schools can welcome autistic learners.
Watch Jessie explain what she thinks needs to change in the SEND system.
Ambitious Youth Network member Megan says proposals in the SEND Review will not work unless those responsible for them are held to account.