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Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – December 2022

When I last wrote, the dust was just beginning to settle after the latest crop of ministers had arrived at the Department for Education (DfE). At that time, the responsibilities of individual ministers hadn’t been allocated, and the appointment of someone to replace Robert Halfon as chair of the Education Committee had yet to be considered. Since then, Claire Coutinho has become the minister for children, families and wellbeing, while Robin Walker has taken over as chair of the Education Committee.

Developments in SEND/AP and children’s social care

Claire Coutinho is the MP for East Surrey and a former minister for disabled people. Her present role includes:

  • SEND, AP and high needs funding
  • children’s social care
  • early years and childcare, family hubs and early childhood support
  • disadvantaged and vulnerable children
  • children and young people’s mental health
  • online safety and preventing bullying in schools.

When the new team from the DfE were answering questions in parliament, Robin Walker asked for some information on the progress the DfE had made “on the delivery of measures proposed by the Right Support, Right Place, Right Time green paper.” In answering the question, Claire Coutinho said:

“The SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) green paper consultation closed on 22 July 2022. The department is currently reviewing the feedback received and using this, along with continued engagement with the SEND system, to inform the next stage of delivering improvements for children, young people and their families. The department is committed to publishing a full response to the green paper in an Improvement Plan in early 2023.”

Although this means the timetable has slipped once again from the expected date of the end of this year, given the amount of changes at the DfE during the autumn it hasn’t come as a surprise. At the same time as Claire Coutinho was giving this information, education secretary Gillian Keegan announced that, ahead of the Improvement plan being published, further support for SEND children would include:

  • an investment of £21 million into training 400 more educational psychologists (EPs)
  • the extension of a training programme for up to 150 more schools, for teachers to use assistive technology to better support their pupils with SEND.

Both of these are welcome developments. However, the training of 400 EPs, even if they are in addition to the 200 already announced, means the mismatch between the number of children and young people waiting for EHC needs assessments and the number of EPs available to carry out these assessments, is likely to be an ongoing problem for some time, unless another solution is found.

Moving on to children’s social care, Claire told MPs that, in addition to the National Implementation Board already established:

“I am committed to publishing our Implementation Strategy early in the new year and look forward to returning to this House to set out our plans in full, and I’m sure I will see many of these members to return to scrutinise them.”

It is interesting to note that the government’s response to the green paper, and its  improvement plan, are scheduled to appear at the same time as the implementation strategy arising from the recommendations in Josh MacAlister’s review of children’s social care.

The Education Committee and the early years

Robin Walker is MP for Worcester. He had a short spell at the DfE in 2021/22. On being elected to the chair, Robin said:

“Nothing can be more important than education, which unlocks opportunity. The work of the Education Committee is more relevant and important than ever. I am looking forward to working with the committee on issues such as childcare and the cost of living, attendance, safeguarding, skills, careers and SEN.”

Robin has wasted no time in launching an inquiry into support for childcare and the early years. This will include:

  • whether the early childhood education and care system is meeting the needs of pupils with SEND and how these young children could be better supported in early years provision 
  • whether the early years system adequately prepares young children for their transition into primary education, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • the extent to which the reduction of Sure Start children’s centres has affected children and families, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the role of family hubs 
  • current workforce issues faced by early years practitioners
  • government consultation on changing staff-to-child ratios in early years settings.

This consultation ran from 4 July this year to 16 September, amid concerns that altering the ratios would lead to a reduction in standards.


Among Ofsted’s publications this year were three that appeared in the following order:

  • Ofsted Strategy 2022- 27
  • Area SEND inspections: framework and handbook (with CQC)
  • HMCI’s Annual Report

Ofsted strategy 2022-27

The Ofsted strategy 2022-27 was published in April and the introduction makes the following statement:

“Much of our work is directed at those with the hardest start in life, including those experiencing significant harm, those needing the care of the state, and children and learners with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).”

New framework for area SEND inspections

Following a consultation at the end of November, the new Area SEND inspections: framework and handbook was published.

The first round of area SEND inspections were completed earlier this year and concentrated on how well local areas were embedding the 2014 SEND reforms. This resulted in over half the local areas being asked to produce a written statement of action (WSoA) showing how they would introduce improvements. The new framework focuses much more on children, young people and families’ experiences of the SEND system and the impact of local area partnership arrangements.

The changes also mean that inspectors from Ofsted and CQC will have more regular contact with local areas, with the aim of strengthening accountability and supporting continuous improvement across the SEND system. A written statement of action (WSoA) will no longer be required, but some local areas will be asked to write a ‘priority action plan (area SEND)’ which will have a similar purpose, and all areas will be expected to publish a strategic plan for SEND and update it after they have had an inspection.

Some of us who have been on an Ofsted working group looking at the development of the new framework have pointed out that schools don’t always get to hear when these inspections are taking place, yet may have some comments to make about how the SEND system is working in their area. This point was recognised, and hopefully schools will know when one of these inspections is taking place.

Although the framework was finalised before the outcomes of the SEND green paper are known, it covers how alternative provision is used and commissioned. In addition, AP is going to be the first of a series of thematic visits, which will start in 2023 alongside the new way of inspecting local areas.

HMCI’s annual report

This month, Ofsted’s annual report was going to be launched at a London venue, but the train strikes put paid to that. In her commentary at the beginning of the report, Amanda Spielman sets the scene by paying tribute to those who have had to work through unusually difficult times by saying:  

“This report describes the shadow cast by the pandemic over education and children’s social care, and how that was addressed over the last year. In doing so, it reflects the considerable efforts made by everyone working in these sectors.”  (Section 1, HMCI commentary)

The next section is headed ‘The start of the year – COVID impact’, and mentions the effects of the pandemic, particularly on younger children:

“They have lived much of their lives in a time of social distancing, mask-wearing and limited interaction. This delayed some children’s speech and language and slowed their social development. Children often took longer to settle at nursery and arrived at school with a wider range of starting points than normal…     
...As we reported last year, the SEND system was put under even greater strain during the pandemic. Young people with SEND found that services such as speech and language therapy and mental health support were not always available. There were also delays in assessments for education, health and care plans. Demand for services has also grown significantly.” (Section 1.1)

The section goes on to mention the need to differentiate between those who have SEND and those who have fallen behind due to the pandemic, even though both will need support. This is followed by a reminder that an “effective mainstream education – particularly getting a good foundation early on – is integral to an effective SEND system.” Both these themes are expanded on later in the report.

Meetings this term

There has been a considerable overlap in terms of content this term as most of the time, the organisations Rob Williams and I cover for NAHT have been concentrating on the SEND green paper. However, each one has thrown more light on what is happening behind the scenes and other items do creep in as well.

Special Educational Consortium (SEC)

SEC meets on a monthly basis and the last meeting of the term on 1 December was a little different from usual as it included a farewell to Philippa Stobbs, who helped to found the SEC in 1992. NAHT has been a member of SEC since the early days of its existence and has watched it grow into the organisation it has become today – with over 30 organisations represented and with strong links to government departments.

The week before, Philippa had given a valedictory speech in parliament to mark her 32 years of work. This has included a spell with the DfE as a professional adviser, supporting local authorities and schools, and being a key player at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), which links both the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) and SEC. At the meeting, Philippa traced the progress of SEND and the way SEC had been able to influence the agenda. The meeting was a hybrid one, and although I wasn’t able to join the festivities in person, I was able to give a short speech of thanks to Philippa on behalf of NAHT for the part she has played in fighting for the rights of young people with SEND and their families. 

National SEND Forum (NSENDF)

Chaired by David Bateson, and with the support of the Federation of Leaders in Special Education (FLSE) and nasen, the forum has also grown to include over 20 organisations. The forum meets twice a term and the DfE attends every other meeting. At the meeting on 7 December, we had three people from the DfE’s National Standards Unit, which has been established to look at the proposal in the green paper to develop national standards for SEND and AP. Underlying this proposal is the need to have greater consistency across the country.

Following a lively discussion, it became clear that work on national standards would take time and would probably require legislation. Due to a queue of bills, we were told that it was unlikely they would be part of a bill in the near future. 

Joint unions meeting on SEND issues

This usually meets once a term, but due to an expectation that the government’s response to the SEND green paper would be out by the end of this year, as well as a meeting earlier in the term, it was agreed to meet on 9 December.

Joining us on this occasion was Benedict Coffin from the DfE’s SEND Policy Unit. He explained that time was needed to bring new ministers up to date and that he hoped they would be given an early draft of the SEND Improvement Plan in time for their holiday reading. As several departments are involved, Benedict thought it would be wise to expect the response to the consultation and the improvement plan to be published in February or March 2023, rather than January.

He explained that the DfE wants to ‘raise the bar’ and see fewer EHCPs, perhaps by redefining when an EHCP can be requested. We pointed out that, while we would all like to see more pupils in mainstream schools rather than overloading specialist provision, it could only be done if there was support from across the services, as well as schools being able to draw on sufficient specialist teachers and specialist support teams.

It was encouraging to hear about the amount of work going on behind the scenes. As well as a team working on national standards, others were looking at accountability, banding and tariffs, EHCPs, local SEND plans/partnerships, participation, post-16, tailored lists, and a central team bringing the separate elements together.

I’m not sure if this will reach you before the holiday break, but, in any case, I really hope that you won’t spend too much time worrying about how you can balance the books, how to fill staff vacancies, and how to keep going. While it may not be an easy year, let’s hope that in 2023 the clouds will start to lift and education can again be your main focus.

Seasons Greetings.


First published 20 December 2022

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