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Headteachers welcome publication of SEND paper but bemoan lack of urgency

A report says new national standards should be set across education, health and care to improve performance (Danny Lawson/PA)
A report says new national standards should be set across education, health and care to improve performance (Danny Lawson/PA)

Headteachers have welcomed the arrival of the long-awaited special educational needs and disability (SEND) Green Paper but said the Government has not shown enough “urgency” in dealing with a system “in crisis”.

The SEND and Alternative Provision paper, published on Tuesday, proposes an end to the “postcode lottery” which means children with additional needs around the country get varying levels of support.

It says that new national standards should be set across education, health and care to improve performance while education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which help pupils with SEND access support in school, should be digitised and simplified to reduce unnecessary paper work.

Under the plans, councils will be legally required to set up “local inclusion plans” which would bring education and health services together, which would make providers’ responsibilities clearer.

Councils would also have a new national framework to simplify funding for pupils and young people with SEND up to the age of 25.

The paper also proposes that mainstream schools need to become more inclusive and identify SEND needs earlier to improve support.

It plans for a reformed role for alternative provision (AP) – education that takes place outside of schools, for example pupil referral units – with a new focus in every local area on early intervention.

The proposals are backed by the equivalent of £70 million in additional funding and the consultation on the plans will be open for 13 weeks.

The Government has said it will look at approving 40 new special and AP free schools in areas of need, while over £10 million will train more than 200 extra educational psychologists from September, who can give advice on EHCPs.

Heads have expressed frustration that the publication of the SEND review was delayed for so long, with the work on it beginning in 2019.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The current system for supporting children with special educational needs is in crisis.

“It is driven by a vicious cycle in which parents and schools are left desperately trying to access support and funding for children through education, health and care plans, often facing a postcode lottery of processes, delays and bureaucracy.”

He said that the paper’s proposals of identifying needs early and setting up common standards on what support should be provided ,and when, seemed “right and sensible”.

“The frustration is that the Government’s SEND review began in September 2019, it has taken nearly three years to reach this point, and full implementation of the green paper is some way off,” he said.

“In the meantime, many thousands of children and young people will continue to pass through a broken system, with schools left to pick up the pieces without sufficient resources.

“We understand that the pandemic has delayed this review, but the Government has not shown enough urgency.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Mainstream and special schools alike work incredibly hard to support the needs of all children.

“Schools cater for pupils with a diverse range of needs and the overwhelming majority already have a highly inclusive culture, supporting every child to the best of their abilities, and putting in place additional support where it is needed.

“However, they need the resources to be able to do this – the challenge here is not one of culture, but of a persistent lack of funding from central government.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Every child has the right to excellent education – particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, who often need the most support.

“We are launching this consultation because too often this isn’t the case. We want to end the postcode lottery of uncertainty and poor accountability that exists for too many families, boost confidence in the system across the board and increase local mainstream and specialist education to give parents better choice.

“I want to make sure everyone knows what to expect, when to expect it and where the support should come from.

“I know there are strongly-held views and I want to hear from as many parents, teachers and children with experience of the system so they can help shape a future policy that works for them.”

Councillor Lucy Nethsingha, deputy chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Despite the best of intentions, the current SEND system is not working and we are pleased government has set out reforms to address this. They will only succeed if parents and carers have confidence in the system.

“It is good to see measures to increase mainstream inclusion and ensure financial sustainability for councils.

“It is also positive that councils, as conveners of local SEND systems, will be able to bring education and health partners to the table where everyone is accountable for SEND provision. Having a collective responsibility will be crucial in delivering a system that works for children and their families.

“These reforms will take time to be implemented and in the meantime we would urge government to move quickly and work with councils to eliminate high needs deficits.”