SEND review

No, Mr McArdle. The SEND system is not a game we play

A recent Schools Week interview with DfE SEND expert, Tony McArdle gives a rare insight into the minds of those who crashed the system and have captured its 'recovery', say Tania Tirraoro and Matt Keer

A recent Schools Week interview with DfE SEND expert, Tony McArdle gives a rare insight into the minds of those who crashed the system and have captured its 'recovery', say Tania Tirraoro and Matt Keer

25 Jan 2023, 17:00

Last Friday, Schools Week ran an interview about the SEND system with Tony McArdle, an adviser to the Department for Education. It wasn’t a pleasant read – but it was an important one. The public doesn’t often hear from McArdle, and he offered an important glimpse into the future of the SEND system.

However, while McArdle is right to say that the SEND system “manifestly doesn’t work any more”, he’s wrong in his diagnosis and his framing of risk. We have deep concerns about the SEND review’s direction of travel. It’s largely been carried out behind closed doors by the same cadre of leaders and advisers who blithely drove the SEND system over a cliff pre-pandemic. These leaders have concluded that we – families and schools – are the main problem with the SEND system.

Mr McArdle sees the SEND crisis as a “demand” problem. Too many children and young people with EHCPs, too many who don’t really need them, too many in expensive specialist provision. His recipe for a healthy SEND system means families and schools have to stop sucking an already depleted system dry. It’s about parents knowing their place, and schools – particularly mainstream – doing more with less.

What specific evidence does McArdle offer for this alleged EHCP excess? He doesn’t – which is surprising, given we’re over 1,270 days into the SEND review, with a supply-side crisis visible from space.

Ofsted has now inspected every local area’s SEND services. Most have significant weaknesses, and none of those that Ofsted identified featured an excess of EHCPs. Dysfunctional leadership? In spades. Defective joint working? Widespread. Kafkaesque processes? Rampant. All supply-side problems.

The only people who believe it’s too easy to get an EHCP are those who’ve never tried to get one. And nobody gets a first-draft EHCP as tightly-written as McArdle’s own ‘golden ticket’ – a 28-page, £50,000 contract. Poor LA decision-making is why they only have a  3.7 per cent success rate at SEND tribunal hearings, a performance 12 times worse than the Home Office achieves at immigration tribunals.

How leaders frame risk tells us a lot. McArdle made his views clear: he primarily wants to stop the financial dysfunction in the SEND system damaging more important things. These leaders are not acting to save children with SEND from the system but to save the wider system from SEND.

McArdle’s ‘safety valve’ scheme demonstrates this. We dug into the KPIs that councils have to meet. They’re financial, psychotically precise, and come with swift consequences if LAs fail to meet them. Without meaningful accountability elsewhere in the system, they’re an open invitation to more unlawful behaviour from LAs.

We have not seen a single ‘safety valve’ KPI that tracks outcomes for disabled children. Over three years into the SEND review, we still don’t know how the DfE measures value for money in SEND. We asked them. They’re not telling.

Getting parents and schools to do more with less might work for system leaders. But you’d have to be absolutely detached from front-line reality to believe that it’ll work for children with SEND, particularly given the pressures that schools and colleges are under right now.

Are they detached from reality? Ask McArdle, who thinks parents and school staff do what we do “because that is seen as the game you need to [play]”.

It’s not a game to us, Tony. It’s not a game to the deaf pupil we recently supported whose LA tried removing him from his special school while his mother was dying from cancer. It’s not a game to special school leaders with ravaged budgets and staff shortages who are desperately trying to work out how to operate safely.

It’s not a game to mainstream teaching assistants who are losing their jobs because their LA won’t increase top-up banding because their safety valve agreement forbids it. And it’s not a game to families who lose their jobs, savings, houses and mental health to get something that most families can take for granted – an adequate education for their children.

It’s not a game, Tony. It’s our lives and our children’s futures. We don’t get to choose if we play.

Latest education roles from

Internal Quality Assurance Employability and Distance Learning

Internal Quality Assurance Employability and Distance Learning

Capital City College Group

Distance Learning Tutor

Distance Learning Tutor

Capital City College Group

Event Support Team Leader

Event Support Team Leader

MidKent College

E-Sport Technician

E-Sport Technician

MidKent College

Digital Technician

Digital Technician

MidKent College

Student Welfare Officer

Student Welfare Officer

MidKent College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

SEND review

Revealed: The 21 experts to oversee roll-out of SEND reforms

Board members tasked with holding government to account for 'timely development and improvement' of SEND system

Freddie Whittaker
SEND review

Councils shortlisted to test SEND reforms

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

Samantha Booth
SEND review

SEND contextual league tables plan shelved

DfE claims proposals had 'mixed feedback', with concerns it could 'risk generating perverse incentives'

Samantha Booth
SEND review

Sluggish SEND review risks leaving kids ‘stuck in vicious cycle’, says de Souza

'We have two more years of children being fed into this cycle with commensurate poor outcomes that has necessitated...

Samantha Booth

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *