7 ways the DfE’s SEND reforms could fail

SEND Green Paper consultation responses highlight concerns over reforms being cost led and failing to promote inclusion
29th July 2022, 7:00am


7 ways the DfE’s SEND reforms could fail

A summary of responses to the government's SEND Green Paper plans.

Ministers have been warned that the government’s planned special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms will not work without sufficient funding and firm proposals to ensure schools are inclusive.

The consultation on the SEND Green Paper has now come to a close after it was extended earlier this year.

The government is proposing a major overhaul of the current system.

This includes creating new national standards in SEND, standardising and digitising the education health and care plan (EHCP) application process and creating a new national system for banding and tariffs of high needs.

But consultation responses from organisations representing headteachers, teachers and parents have highlighted several areas where there are concerns that the reforms could fail or are not needed.

Here is a summary of some of the key warnings the Department for Education (DfE) has been given.

1. SEND green paper ‘will fail’ without investment in teaching

One of the driving aims of the SEND Green Paper is to improve early identification and support for pupils with SEND, improve parents’ confidence in the system and reduce the demand for EHCPs.

However, headteachers’ leaders have warned that focusing on early intervention “will not be sufficient to stem the increasing demand for EHCPs and their consequent costs if quality inclusive teaching is not made a central tenet of the proposed changes”.

ASCL’s consultation response said: “Inclusive teaching and teacher development requires investment, which would be easily recouped by the resultant decrease in EHCPs. Without this investment, the Green Paper proposals will fail to reduce the need for additional resource (an EHCP).”

Its consultation response added: “We would like to see far greater emphasis on how teacher education, teacher development and teacher supply will be an investment focus, providing the young people who need it most with access to teacher time and the teacher expertise they deserve.

“Current evidence shows that young people with SEND have considerably less time with a teacher than their peers without SEND.”

2. DfE warned over lack of high-needs funding

School leaders have also warned that the government’s SEND Green Paper plans “appear to be based on the premise” that current funding levels are sufficient.

The NAHT school leaders’ union has claimed that it remains unclear how a combination of earlier intervention, increased confidence in the system to support pupils with SEND and more efficient resource allocation across the wider system will be achieved at current funding levels.

It has called on the government to publish a comprehensive financial impact assessment of the Green Paper proposals. 

Its consultation response said: “Without producing such an assessment, it is unclear how confidence can be built, nor the proposals effectively implemented.”

The NAHT said the DfE should create a level playing field in terms of access to education for all pupils with high needs, but said “this can only be achieved if the quantum of funding is sufficient in the first instance”.

In the union’s response, it added: “Too many children and young people with SEND are currently being failed as a result of the shortage of specialist support, insufficient funding levels and inadequate systems required to deliver effective early intervention.

“A successful system should reasonably expect the government to provide appropriate funding in each sector.”

The National Governance Association has also raised concerns about whether sufficient funding is in place.

In its consultation response the NGA said that it was concerned about the trend of an increasing proportions of appeals to the SEND tribunal over the contents of EHCPs.

It added: “In our experience, local authorities, mainstream and special schools alike work incredibly hard to support the needs of all children. The overwhelming majority of governing boards strive to embed a highly inclusive culture, supporting every child to the best of their abilities and putting additional support in place where it is needed.

“That this is at odds with the number of parents who feel their child’s needs are not being met. It suggests that the challenge is not culture, but a persistent lack of funding from central government.”

3. The system must be ‘needs led’ and not ‘resource limited’

Another key warning that emerged in education union responses to the consultation is that the proposed reforms should not lead to provision for pupils with SEND being based on cost rather than need.

The NAHT raised this issue in response to the government’s plan to create a new set of national standards in SEND provision.

It said: “Principally, the system must be needs led and never resource limited.”

The National Education Union raised a similar concern over the government’s plan to create a system of bands and tariffs for how much provision should cost.

The Green Paper proposes a new national framework of banding and price tariffs for high needs funding, matched to levels of need and types of education provision set out in the new national SEND standards.

In the NEU consultation response, it said: “A new national framework for councils for tariffs and banding of high needs must be set at a level to match actual need to avoid levelling down and to address gaps in provision.

“The fundamental principle should be that need drives provision. A national framework for funding bands and tariffs detracts from that and puts funding first and need second.

“A funding rather than a needs-led system will not increase staff or parental confidence in the SEND system or grow collaborative practice.  The proposal to align funding bands and tariffs with the national standards will set a ceiling on funding for more specialist provision and may leave schools with responsibility but insufficient funding for young people who need more specialised support.”

4. DfE needs firm plans to promote inclusion 

As the children’s minister when the SEND Green Paper was launched, Will Quince talked about the need to ensure schools are inclusive. The paper includes a new legal requirement on councils setting up local inclusion plans and will allow them to direct academies in their area to take on pupils.

However, concerns have been raised about whether the Green Paper does enough to ensure the system becomes more inclusive.

In its response, ASCL said that SEND policy needs to be aligned with wider schools policy. It noted that the government’s Schools White Paper refers to a strong academy trust as being an inclusive trust.

But it added: “ASCL believes that clearly defining the expectations of an inclusive school and trust is essential but this has not been attempted in either the Green Paper or the White Paper

“ASCL is concerned that the Green Paper lacks a definition of inclusivity along the above lines. This will impact on the efficacy of the proposed changes.”

ASCL has called on the government to define inclusion “based on the quality of access to, and participation in, school and the curriculum”. It also said the DfE needs to address the perverse incentives in the system that discourage schools from being inclusive, rather than simply acknowledging them.

5. Concern that new EHCPs could restrict parent choice

The government’s plan to standardise and digitise a template for applying for an EHCP has been broadly welcomed.

However, concerns have been raised that the Green Paper also includes plans to “support parents and carers to make an informed preference for suitable placements for their child by providing a tailored list of settings - including mainstream, specialist and independent - that are appropriate to meet the child or young person’s needs.”

Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) is concerned that this could mean “a lot of potential education settings will come ‘off the table’, particularly for children with the most complex needs whose needs cannot always be met by their nearest schools”.

IPSEA’s consultation response added: “It’s unclear how the list will be determined, with a strong risk that it will be restricted to what exists in a local area rather than what a child’s actual needs are.

“Decisions about which schools to include on a list are likely to be cost led, with local authorities listing the cheapest options - particularly since the government’s wish to reduce the amount of money spent on specialist settings has been made very clear.”

The NEU also said that families will be concerned about limitations on naming schools on an EHCP.

And the union warned that it could lead to increased pressure on schools that have a reputation for being good on SEND, which will see their “already stretched resources put under further pressure”.

6. Concern over Sendco qualification plan

The Green Paper says the government wants to consult on the introduction of a new national professional qualification (NPQ) for school Sendcos (special educational needs and disabilities coordinators).

The NAHT has warned that this “cannot simply be integrated easily into the current suite of qualifications”.

In its response, it said: “It would be an enormous mistake and potentially very damaging to try to align a Sendco NPQ with the current NPQs too closely and not to acknowledge the fundamental differences that exist.

“The goal should be to design a qualification that supports and empowers Sendcos, not simply to artificially align it with existing NPQ frameworks for the sake of a perceived central consistency.”

7. DfE needs to ensure current legal duties are being met

IPSEA’s response took issue with the government’s case for the need to create a new SEND system in the first place.

It said: “The main point we made to the government is that the SEND system is broken because the law is routinely not applied and there is insufficient accountability for unlawful decision making. 

“It’s our firm view - based on our experience of hearing about families’ experiences, and advising parents and carers on how to get the support their children need and are entitled to - that the system doesn’t need to be reformed again. It needs to be made to work.”

Earlier this year, IPSEA said that the government’s SEND reforms are aimed at saving money rather than improving the experience or outcomes for pupils.

Ali Fiddy, its chief executive, told the Commons Education Committee that ministers’ SEND review plans could achieve this only by “diluting rights and entitlements of children and families”.

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