SEND review

SEND review: Three-year trial before national roll-out of flagship reforms

It means the major proposals to fix broken system might not be rolled out until 2026

It means the major proposals to fix broken system might not be rolled out until 2026

Flagship policies proposed in a major government review to fix the broken SEND system won’t be rolled out nationwide until potentially 2026, government has announced today.

The Department for Education will publish its delayed special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) improvement plan this morning in response to a review first launched 1,274 days ago in September 2019.

The green paper, published in March last year, proposed legislation to create new national SEND standards, as there has been “too much local discretion”.

It also put forward plans for controversial “tailored lists” of schools for parents of SEND children to choose from, as well as digitised education, health and care plans and mandatory mediation when parents dispute a council’s decision.

In the original review, the DfE said it would support delivery through a £70 million “change programme to both test and refine key proposals and support local SEND systems across the country to manage local improvement”.

Today, the department confirmed this process will take two to three years, with only “selected local authorities” testing the proposals set out in its improvement plan.

This means reforms will not be rolled out nationwide until potentially 2026. No new legislation will be enacted in this parliament.

Unions said they are “yet to see anything to suggest the government understands the gravity of the situation and the urgency with which they need to act”.

Confederation of School Trusts chief executive Leora Cruddas welcomed many of the proposals, adding: “We do need to take the time to get these important reforms right, but we must also better support children and families in need today.”

In a press release, the department said the new SEND system would be “underpinned by new national SEND and AP standards”. There will be “new guides for professionals” on the standards, including “how to make adjustments to classrooms to help a child remain in mainstream education”.

However, it is not clear when or if the new standards will become statutory, as originally promised.

Proposals for “digital-first” EHCPs and a new NPQ for SENCos are going ahead.

But the DfE said it was “exploring options for strengthening mediation” by testing mediation approaches, before deciding whether to bring forward legislation to make it mandatory.

The reforms will be tested by up to nine “regional expert partnerships” each made up of three to four “local areas”. This will include piloting of the new standards.

DfE said this meant trialling in 30 areas, which could increase to between 50 and 60 during the programme.

Meanwhile, thirty councils – mainly those with large high needs deficits – have been approved for new special free schools as part of a previously committed £2.6 billion investment for specialist places.

Schools Week revealed in September that just one of a previous wave of promised special free schools had actually opened in a permanent home.

There will also be a “new approach” to alternative provision to prepare children to “return to mainstream” schools or “prepare for adulthood”. AP specialist taskforces will be extended, backed by a £4.8 million investment.

Government also pointed to the increased funding it has provided for the high needs budget, up to just over £10 billion this year.

Children’s minister Claire Coutinho said the plan “sets out systemic reforms” so that “every child gets the help they need”.

Margaret Mulholland, SEND specialist at heads’ union ASCL, welcomed changes but said “we are concerned about the length of time it is going to take to implement some of these policies”.

“It has taken an awfully long time to get to this point… We are yet to see anything to suggest the government understands the gravity of the situation and the urgency with which they need to act.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of heads’ union NAHT, said: “While there can be value in piloting different approaches, action and investment is also needed now so that children in large parts of the country are not left behind.”

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