My recommendations for a transformation of the SEND system

Children's commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza sets out three ambitions and a host of recommendations to reform the SEND system and drive inclusion

Children's commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza sets out three ambitions and a host of recommendations to reform the SEND system and drive inclusion

17 Nov 2022, 17:00

No matter where they live, no matter what their needs, all children deserve an education that believes in them and helps them achieve their ambitions. And this generation is ambitious. When I launched the ‘The Big Ask’ survey, they told me how much they prized a good education as a life priority. Vulnerable children, such as those with SEND, were even more likely than their peers to say education was important to their future plan. And, when children needed additional support and received it quickly and locally, they were happier than the overall cohort.

But the reality is that hundreds of children are not receiving the support they need to flourish in the classroom. When I launched my investigation into the attendance crisis, countless children and families cited a lack of support for additional needs as the reason for persistent absence or worse, falling out of education altogether. This is unacceptable.

As part of my research for my new report, Beyond the Labels, my office spoke with 55 children and young people with additional needs across a range of settings. We analysed the consistency of accessibility of 650 Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and conducted a representative survey of 3,019 children, including 431 with SEND.

This research confirmed that there are some fantastic examples of support for children with additional needs. But there were too many examples of places getting it wrong. The message was simple: a child’s experience of support and care is only as good as the worst part of the system.

What I heard, I have transformed into three simple ambitions that could transform children’s experience of the SEND system.

Support that reflects children and young people’s ambitions

To achieve this, I am asking for a stronger focus on EHCPs, with delays closely monitored by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission through strengthened SEND inspection.

For parents, children and educators I am calling for updated statutory guidance to lay out the different forms of support available at different levels (for example SEND funding and EHCP assessments); how these link together and what children, families and schools can expect at each level, in a form that is easy for children and families to navigate. The aim of this guidance should be to make the move between different categories of support as seamless as possible. This statutory guidance should include the Parent Pledge, and how this interlinks with other types of support children can access.

Advocacy for vulnerable children is sadly vital for children to access the support the deserve. I want improved advocacy for children to shape and challenge their support, to  improve the quality of plans, and to reduce the need for slow and expensive challenges through the SENDIST tribunal.

Timely and effective support, locally, with a focus on early intervention

Children who are below the age of formal education rarely have an EHCP, so if an additional need or developmental delay is identified before school, they should be automatically entitled to free childcare hours.

Identifying additional needs and supporting children early is crucial. So I am calling for increased training for the early years workforce and easier access to speech and language therapists in early year settings.

I also want persistent absence to be used as a trigger for considering additional need.

Consistent, excellent experiences wherever children and young people are in the system

This ambition focuses mostly on smooth transitions. No child should go without an education because an alternative provision (AP) placement cannot be secured. AP should be available as soon as it’s needed.

Next, there should be no ‘cliff edge’ whereby AP support ends when a child reaches 16. Local authorities should have the statutory duty to arrange AP for young people with SEND aged 16 to 18.

Alongside improvements in the AP sector, I want to make sure mainstream schools are better equipped to support young people with SEND. This should include more support for schools and trusts looking to develop in-house or collective AP offers.

For children in special schools, there must be more options once they leave school. I want new ways to be developed for mainstream schools to offer subjects and skills training that aligns with the bespoke training provided in specialist settings.

Finally, nothing undermines children’s experiences as much as responsibility being passed on, rather than grasped. We need to work together to get this right, so that every child, no matter their need or their postcode, has an education system that believes in them and helps them achieve their ambitions.

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  1. Ray James

    Identification of SEND at an early age is vital. Our school, OFSTED outstanding ignored and continues to ignore need even 3 years after being found guilty of Disabled Discrimination. Funding for and promotion of SENDIASS helps families access support. It can change the whole family’s life! That is not an overstatement.
    Once identified you need CAMHS to be more accessible for assessment. South Ox has a 3 year waiting list. That is 3 years of lost education for a child with need. This education cannot be recouped and that child is already lost to education. Junior schools are the problem that needs fixing. By the time they get to senior school the child is lost to education and they can only manage the fall out.

  2. S Pinkney

    I agree with what you are saying, but a major point that needs to be changed as well, is the putative behaviour practice most secondary school follow, when children act out, continues misbehave, have meltdowns it their way of communicating that’s something is wrong. Schools are failing these children with continuous Detentions, isolation, exclusions which isn’t going to make a child struggling all of a sudden start to learn, especially if they aren’t getting the correct support even with QFT. School need to stop this cycle and opt for a restorative practise instead of Detentions, exclusions, they are spoken to to let them express their feelings, build up a rapport with a member of staff, find out why they are acting out, learn techniques to control their tempers, Express how they are feeling. The money that the school will save on Detentions, exclusions, isolations that could be put into to a really well run restorative practise so these children are heard, understood and begin to get self-confidence back and their self belief they can learn, if they are taught in the correct multi-sensory way that their brains learns they can succeed, they can pass exams. but the school needs to find out and change their ways it’s the school choice to go with which behaviour policy they choose, they can change it, if they want to, they can write their own, only if they want too, which a lot of secondary school don’t.
    How many lives of neurodiverse children would this change if all schools had a restorative practise, and a senior leadership team that believes in it.