DfE planning 'large-scale' value-for-money review of pupils' EHC plans

The government is planning a “large-scale” value-for-money study of the provision provided to children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The Department for Education has today finally responded to the education select committee’s damning SEND inquiry, rejecting accusations that government reforms had “set councils up to fail”.

But in its six months overdue response, the DfE did admit the “SEND system is not working as well as it should”.

Teachers have been waiting to hear how the Government intends to fix the flaws that lead to young people missing out on support

The committee’s report, which followed an 18-month inquiry, concluded while the 2014 SEND reforms were the right ones, poor implementation had put councils under pressure, left schools struggling to cope and thrown families into crisis.

Among other things, the reforms saw the introduction of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) as a replacement for statements, and the extension of support to young adults up to the age of 24.

One of the report’s more serious accusations was that the government had set councils up to fail by making “serious errors both in how it administered money intended for change, and also, until recently, failing to provide extra money when it was needed”.

But the government rejected this, saying it’s working with the treasury and other government departments to “understand the total costs of supporting pupils with SEND”, so they can take a “joined-up approach to considering questions of value for money and sustainability”.

The department also revealed its planning to launch a value-for-money study of SEND provision to provide information on the outcomes achieved and costs of different types of settings for youngsters with EHC plans.

It follows evidence that getting an EHC is a postcode lottery.

But while “preliminary analysis needed ahead of the commissioning of such a study is currently underway”, the department admitted publication of the survey has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They added it would be published “as soon as possible”.

The government also agreed the process for awarding EHC plans “should be looked at, with a view to clarifying and, as far as possible, seeking to simplify it”. This is being considered under the DfE SEND review.

Robert Halfon MP, chair of the education committee, said families, schools and children have been “waiting to hear how the Government intends to fix the flaws that lead to many young people missing out on the support they need”.

While he was “pleased” the government “recognises the system ‘must improve’”, he said families “continue to face a treacle of bureaucracy, a postcode lottery of provision, buck-passing and confusion in a system that breeds conflict”.

Halfon will be following up on the government’s response with education secretary Gavin Williamson in the autumn, adding: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought new challenges for young people with SEND.”

The government also revealed in it’s a response that the National SEND Tribunal Trial is piloting whether the First Tier Tribunal making non-binding recommendations on health and social care matters is “an effective means of ensuring better join up”.

The government’s reforms have been blamed for causing a “record backlog” in SEND tribunals.

The trial was due to end in August, but the government said it’s “not the right time” to introduce any policy changes during the coronavirus pandemic. The trial has instead been extended until August next year.

The DfE added it’s “committed to making sure that every child gets the support they need to thrive, which is why the SEND Review is actively considering ways to deliver greater consistency in the quality and availability of provision to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, including those without EHC plans”.