Education Select Committee blasts DfE for failing to join the dots in SEND provision


26th October 2019

This week, the Education Select Committee confirmed what most of the sector has known for five years, that despite good intentions, the 2014 SEND Reforms have created chaos and systemic failure. The influential group of MPs pulled no punches in its criticism of the way the reforms have been implemented, concluding that:

“This generation is being let down—the reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood.”

The Select Committee’s report reflected on the landscape that has unfolded since the Children and Families Act 2014. The Act brought a raft of reforms that the coalition government said would offer “simpler, improved and consistent help” for children and young people with special educational needs and disablities (SEND). Provision was extended to provide support from birth to age 25 and new Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were introduced to ensure young people with SEND benefited from tailored support. Alongside this, a new SEND Code of Practice was created, with the aim of giving families a greater say in decisions that affect them and offering more guidance for local authorities (LAs).

It is good to see the Committee highlighting the widespread problems with the implementation of the SEND reforms, but families, schools and other sector organisations have been calling for change for much longer. Already stretched teachers and support staff are under pressure to fill the gaps where local authority provision has failed to deliver, and concerns have been raised about SEND pupils increasingly being pushed towards special schools or alternative provision.

In 2015, CfEY published a report with the Driver Youth Trust entitled ‘Joining the Dots’, which explored whether the reforms were working for young people with SEND. In it, we highlighted that in some places the reforms were creating confusion rather than improving support. It revealed that fragmented provision was making it harder for families to access the local support that they needed and highlighted that reduced funding was restricting local authorities’ ability to maintain their legal responsibilities. The report also emphasised the importance of properly engaging with young people and their families when making decision about their future.

Families, schools and other sector organisations have been calling for change for much longer Share on X

Many of these issues have been raised again this week by the Education Select Committee. The group has stressed that while it believes the 2014 reforms “were the right ones”, challenges within the system – such as a “significant shortfall in funding”, a lack of accountability and oversight, and a heavy burden of paperwork – are preventing LAs from delivering meaningful change.

The reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood Share on X

The report sets out 38 recommendations that illustrate how much still needs to change to ensure the system supports young people with SEND to reach their full potential. Here is a summary of those recommendations:

  • Better collaboration between the DfE and the Department for Health and Social Care
    The two departments should look for ways that costs and workload could be shared between them more evenly. They should also jointly conduct reviews every two years of each LA’s offer, a suggestion CfEY put forward in 2015.
  • Annual joint inspections of LA provision by the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted
    The two bodies have worked together to inspect provision already, but the committee wants to see this become a regular process with ringfenced funding. As part of these inspections, Ofsted and the CQC should also look at the availability, take up, quality and provision of the training and professional development on SEND law of all local authority professionals who are involved in Education Health and Care Needs Assessments, plan writing and reviewing and Tribunal work.
  • Clearer judgments from Ofsted on schools’ SEND provision
    Either through Ofted’s existing programme of inspections, or through a new type of specialised inspection. Special attention should be paid to SEN Support, while inclusive schools should be given recognition. CfEY has previously called for Ofsted to ensure all inspectors receive training on identifying SEND good practice or use specialists as part of inspection teams.
  • A reporting mechanism for parents to contact the DfE directly to help hold LAs to account
    This would allow parents and schools to flag when an LA is not complying with the law. DfE would also create an annual ‘scorecard’ for LAs to measure their performance in areas such as the numbers of young people with SEND without a school place and the number and outcomes of tribunal hearings. These would be placed in the House of Commons library.
  • Improvements to the SEN support system
    Examples where LAs are successful in early identification, preventative measures and the spending of budgets upstream should be highlighted and shared.
  • Clearer guidance on EHCP Assessments
    With the aim of reducing paperwork and simplifying processes for all involved. Children should also be more involved in the writing of their plans and any decision-making about the support they receive, something CfEY believes strongly in.
  • Updated guidance for schools on CPD for SENCOs
    All SENCOs should take the NASENCO course. The DfE should also commission an independent review of the cost of requiring all schools and colleges to have a full-time SENCO, and encourage LAs to bring together all local SENCOs to share best practice – another move CfEY has been calling for since 2015.
  • Allow LAs to create new maintained specialist schools where they are needed, including post-16 provision, outside of the free school programme
    If necessary, LAs should also be able to build more mainstream schools outside of the free school programme, to “create a level playing field for provision”.
  • A working group across departments to improve transitions to adulthood
    This group should develop a strategy to support young people after they leave school, considering access to supported internships, apprenticeships and employment opportunities for young people with SEND. It should report to the Education Committee on its progress. The government departments in this group should also review the capacity of LAs to meet the independent living needs of young people with SEND and develop an action plan to increase the opportunities available.
  • A yearly summary from the Ministry of Justice, as part of its reporting on SEND Tribunal cases
    This should set out trends and information that enable LAs improve their services and ensure they are making lawful decisions.

The Committee’s report builds a stark picture of the challenges that young people with SEND and their families are facing, and makes many helpful suggestions for positive change. But improvements should have been made years ago, and the government needs to act fast to support the flow of young people moving through the system without the provision they deserve. Five years is most of a child’s secondary schooling, and they don’t get a chance to come back round and try it again when the system has improved.

LAs need more funding and capacity to manage caseloads and provide consistent, high quality support, and more oversight is needed to make sure this is being delivered. They must step up and remove some of the burden that is currently falling on schools, where time, money and resources are already stretched to breaking point. Stronger and clearer SEN support is also a must, in order to reduce the overwhelming numbers of applications for EHCPs that LAs are dealing with, because parents see the plans as the only way their children will get adequate help.

The government needs to act fast to support the flow of young people moving through the system without the provision they deserve Share on X

If the government acts on the Education Committee’s recommendations positive change will happen, but the Committee must keep up the pressure to drive through improvements as quickly as possible. For many young people with SEND and their families this report will already seem too little too late.