SEND review

Councils shortlisted to test SEND reforms

Groups will trial new policies put forward in the SEND and alternative provision green paper

Groups will trial new policies put forward in the SEND and alternative provision green paper


Twenty councils have been shortlisted to lead a £70 million pilot of SEND reforms across their schools – but one has already declined to take part.

Up to nine “regional expert partnerships” in England will test reforms that include new national special educational needs and disabilities standards and “tailored” lists of schools for children with education health and care plans.

The groups are set to launch by the end of this year to trial new policies put forward in the SEND and alternative provision green paper.

Two or three other local authorities based “predominantly on their geographical proximity” to the lead council will join the partnership.

This will enable reforms to be tested “in a wide range of local areas with differing performance, capacity and capability”, said Claire Coutinho, the children’s minister. 

“Real-time” learning will be fed back to the government to “build a strong evidence base to inform future funding and legislation”, said the Department for Education.

Schools Week understands 20 councils have been shortlisted.

Officials used publicly available data to help identify local authorities with “potential to lead” partnerships, Coutinho said in a parliamentary question this week.

Three areas previously had “significant weaknesses” in SEND services, but sufficient progress was made when they were reinspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

Council declines DfE’s offer

Fifteen of the councils have ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ children’s services, with four ‘requires improvement’ and one ‘inadequate’.

However, Herefordshire – which has the ‘inadequate’ judgment – said while it was “delighted” to be selected, it declined the offer.

A spokesperson said it was “a small authority in terms of staff” so “has made the decision that at this point we need to prioritise our resources for delivery and development work”.

Brighton and Hove said it was considering proposals with NHS colleagues before deciding whether to submit “an expression of interest”.

The DfE said partnerships, “wherever possible”, would be within a single integrated care board to ensure “close collaboration with health partners”.

The shortlist does not include any council that, under the government’s “safety valve” programme, has received multi-million pound bailouts to plug their high-needs deficits. In exchange for the cash, the councils must follow strict conditions to cut SEND spend.

Consultants handed £16k contracts

But Coutinho said these councils would not “necessarily” be excluded from “sharing and/or receiving learning” during the pilot.

Meanwhile, six consultants have been given £16,000, one-year contracts to become “safety valve financial advisers”, according to contract documents published this week.

The DfE said the consultants would advise ministers on the “viability and credibility” of councils’ funding recovery plans to ensure plans were “sustainable” and “effective” for children and to help monitor councils’ progress.

Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, has previously warned ministers their reforms risked “more years of children being fed” into a “vicious cycle” of poor outcomes.

Many of the major reforms will not be rolled out nationwide until as late as 2026. The review was launched in 2019.

Coutinho defended the timescales, saying it was “important” to “take time” to get the reforms right.

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