We know that the SEND figures are rising year on year

By Pauline Holbrook, Head of SEND

We know that the SEND figures are rising year on year. We know that we will have a legacy of poor mental health resulting from the pandemic for years to come. We know that most LA’s high-needs budgets are overspent. We know that specialist provision and specialist services are at breaking point.

On the 11th January 2024 there was an excellent cross-party discussion about SEND and the challenges facing learners, parents and local authorities. Yet there has been no significant discussion about SEND from any of the parties in the lead up to the general election.

Why is this?

Is it because ministers just intend to carry on with the work currently underway as set out in the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan March 2023, together with the safety valve program, where many of the local authorities engaged in this are declaring themselves bankrupt or are on the verge of doing so? I am more inclined to believe it is that all parties recognise the state of SEND, but essentially have no answers as to how to fix it. So politicians keep putting it on the too difficult pile, in the hope that by burying their head in the sand, it will somehow go away or fix itself.

Whichever party is elected they need to:

  1. Address underfunding – when the EHCP’s were introduced in 2014 they came with baseline funding of 10K regardless of where a child or young person was educated. This baseline funding has not increased since it was introduced.
  2. Address the post code lottery with regards to number of:
    1. Specialist places available.
    2. SEND students in mainstream settings and particularly variation between mainstream settings within a locality.
    3. Additional support such as educational psychologists, CAMHS, speech and language therapists together with how they are allocated.
    4. The variation in the value of high needs top up available for those with complex needs from LA to LA.
  3. Consider the learning from the recent and current initiatives, some of which, like the AP taskforce, showed the impact on young people when services are located in the same space rather than working in silos. This is minimal to zero cost, but has been shown to have massive impact on the lives of these learners. Equally, we know that some of the work undertaken by safety valve LA’s has not had the huge savings expected, in fact 1/3 are facing bankruptcy. So why is this still being pursued as an appropriate model.
  4. Consider the training teachers and leaders need throughout their careers to ensure that they can build an inclusive culture within their classrooms and schools where diversity is welcomed, celebrated and embraced. A one size fits all model does not work and as such schools and teachers need to be rewarded for meeting the needs of all learners within their setting, especially when that doesn’t translate into high SATs, GCSE results etc. Let’s look again at what is important to lead a happy and fulfilled adulthood.
  5. Address the shameful figure that only around 6% of SEND learners are in employment. So many more with appropriate support could and indeed want to work.
  6. Consider the lifelong needs of people with SEND – It does not go away with age. Recently Sir Ed Davey shared his worries about who would care for his son when he was no longer able to. It is good to have a 0–25 plan, but what happens when the young person turns 26?

It is not the time for tinkering around the edges, it is the time for transformational thinking that:

  • recognises the needs of every child, young person and adult,
  • recognises that there needs to be a continuum of educational, health and social support which is matched to each individual,
  • sees beyond a medical diagnosis to the actual person,
  • sees what is possible with the right support and understands that in doing so we will create a truly inclusive country where everyone is respected and valued and not judged against narrow outdated success criteria.

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