7 ways DfE has been told to improve the SEND system

National Audit Office calls on ministers to work out how much high-needs funding the system needs

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The Department for Education has been told to investigate why standards of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) vary in different parts of the country.

The recommendation is part of a hard-hitting report into SEND published by the National Audit Office (NAO) today.

The report warns that many children with SEND are not having their needs met and that the system is financially unsustainable – with more than three-quarters of councils overspending their high-needs budgets.


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Here are seven of its main recommendations.

1. DfE should find out how much money the SEND system really needs

The NAO says the department should prepare for the next full spending review by making an “evidence-based assessment” of how much it would cost to deliver the system for supporting pupils with SEND which was created by the 2014 reforms.

It says ministers should use these findings to determine whether the system is affordable, and to inform its funding and spending plans.

2. DfE should measure whether SEND reforms are working

To do this the report calls for “quantified goals” to be created from 2020-21 onwards which could measure how well young people are being prepared for adulthood.

It says the department needs to make clear what would constitute success for the support provided for pupils with SEND and then measure whether this is being achieved.

3. Mainstream schools need to be made more inclusive

The NAO says that the DfE should review the incentives in both the funding arrangements and the accountability system, to “encourage and support mainstream schools to be more inclusive in terms of admitting, retaining and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND, whether they have EHC plans or require other support”.  Earlier this month the Local Government Association called for schools to be give more incentives to be inclusive to pupils with SEND.

4. Raise the profile of SEND in Ofsted inspections of mainstream schools

It calls on the department to work with Ofsted to identify how it can provide more information to parents about SEND provision in the inspection of mainstream schools.

The report says there needs to be more information about this which is easily accessible and clear to parents.

5. Investigate why SEND provision is weak in some parts of the country

The DfE has been told to robustly investigate the reasons for local variations in the quality of services for children and young people with SEND.

The NAO said the department should challenge local areas that are outliers in terms of numbers of young people with EHC plans or in the use of high-cost provision.

The report says this would “reduce unnecessary variation, increase confidence in the fairness of the system, identify good practice and promote improvement”. 

6. Promote the successful work of mainstream schools 

The report calls on the DfE to “identify and share good practice” on how mainstream schools can effectively meet the needs of those pupils with SEND but who do not have EHC plans.

7. Limit the public money being spent on private provision

To do this the department should set out under what circumstances public money should be used to pay for independent provision for pupils with SEND.

The NAO says the aim should be for the amount that local authorities pay for independent provision to be comparable with the amount paid for state provision for children with similar needs, “unless there is a good reason for paying more”.

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