The Children and Families Act came into effect in September 2014, with a revised special educational needs and disability (SEND) code of practice and a programme of implementation until April 2018.

But half way through the reform, it has divided opinion to such an extent that two parallel Westminster reviews are underway.

So what’s happened so far, and what might the future hold? Cath Murray investigates

PAST: Key points of the reforms

Families at the centre

The views, wishes and feelings of young people with SEND and their parents, to be at the heart of the decision-making process. They are to be seen as equal partners, and involved in discussions and decisions about their individual support and local provision.

Integration with health

Education and training to be integrated with health and social care provision, with “joint commissioning” of these services with the NHS, through local clinical commissioning groups.

Local offer 

Councils to consult with local families and service providers to publish a “local offer” detailing the SEND services families should expect across education, health and social care, from birth to age 25. The code states that schools must work with the local authority in developing the offer, which can include services commissioned by schools to support pupils.


For those with the most complex needs, a single education, health and care plan (EHCP) has replaced statements of special educational needs and learning difficulty assessments. Councils have up to April 2018 to transition everyone to EHCPs.

The new plan should place more emphasis on personal goals and clearly describe the support a child will receive across different services, including school, to achieve these ambitions.

While the creation and delivery of these plans is led by the council, schools, colleges and other educational settings should be involved in developing, delivering and reviewing these plans, working closely with parents.


The code says councils should review EHCPs at least every 12 months, with the cooperation of schools.

Increased school choice

The reforms aim to support increased independence by giving young people with SEN a greater say over school preference. Eligible institutions were expanded to include academies, further education colleges, sixth-form colleges, non-maintained special schools, independent special schools and approved independent specialist colleges.

SEN information report

Each school must publish on their website clear and detailed information about their SEN policy, answering 14 questions about provision on offer.

Every teacher a SEN teacher

The new code places responsibility for the progress of pupils with SEND with each class teacher, to provide high-quality, differentiated teaching. It also calls for appropriate training of teachers to identify and support vulnerable pupils.

The philosophy is that “every teacher is a teacher of children with special educational needs” and the code states that special needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) should be qualified to support other teachers in meeting pupils’ needs.

“Plans” but not IEP

There is no mention that schools must maintain individual education plans (IEPs), although the code does recommend that schools draw up plans. These should take into account the desired outcomes for the child, and their views and have a clear date for review. Related staff development needs also should be identified and addressed.

SEN support

School Action and School Action Plus were replaced by a single, “graduated” approach called SEN Support. This is based on four stages: Assess, plan, do, review, and should be led and co-ordinated by the school’s SENCO.

If the child does not make “expected progress”, despite the school having taken “relevant and purposeful action” to identify, assess and meet the SEN, the school should consider an EHCP assessment.

Parent feedback

Schools must meet with parents of pupils receiving SEN support at least three times and year, and provide a report at least annually.

Pupil integration

Schools have a duty to ensure that pupils with SEN engage in school activities with other pupils.

The 4 “broad areas” of SEN

1. Communication and interaction 

Includes: Speech, language and communication needs and autistic spectrum disorders

2. Cognition and learning

Includes: Moderate, severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties, and specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia

3. Social, emotional and mental health difficulties

Includes: Anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders

4. Sensory and/or physical needs

Includes: Vision or hearing impairment, multi-sensory impairment and physical disabilities

EHCP transfer progress

The timeline set for transfer of all statements to EHCPs was September 2014 to April 2018. The DfE’s most recent progress report shows that 18.2% of statements existing in January 2015 were transferred to EHCP plans by January 2016.

Continuing to work at this rate, the process will take five and a half years and be completed by March 2020.


Who’s reviewing the reforms?

DfE informal reviewNicky-Morgan-ASCL

Commissioned by: Nicky Morgan

Conducted by: Lee Scott, Former Conservative MP for Ilford North

Launched: May 2016

Due date: “Summer” 2016

Structure: Talk to parents and young people, visit schools and colleges and hear directly from organisations supporting them.

Purpose: To develop greater understanding of how parents and young people with special education needs and disabilities experience the education system.

Sharon-HodgsonLabour party review

Run by: Shadow Minister for Children and Families, Sharon Hodgson, MP

Launched: May 2016

Due date: September 2016

Structure: 2 roundtables, plus call for evidence

Purpose: To inform Labour policy

The review will consider: the impact of academisation on SEND admissions and provision; EHCP drafting; transition from Statements to EHCPs; variability in the “local offer”; the Code of Practice; provision of SEND in Initial Teacher Training; accessing specialist services in schools.

More on the SEND reforms

Present: Where are we now with special needs?

Future: What’s the future for SEND?


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  1. Emma godson

    As a parent of yp with send in mainstream college. The delayed transfer has put her at high risk from physical and sexual abuse. Transfer stsrted Jan 15. Plan still not finalised and original became unfit for purpose. This is a national ever growing issue . How can we have laws that cannot be upheld?? Yes I worked on pathfinder and for what ? You have pulled together clearly all the issues in your article. Where do we all go from here??