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Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – February 2023

As I started to compile this summary, rumours were rife that the government’s response to the SEND Review: right support, right place, right time consultation would be out by the end of February. As February turned into March, we were told it would emerge at the beginning of March. Happily, this proved to be the case and it finally appeared on 2 March, almost a year after the original green paper. This time, the cover makes it clear that alternative provision (AP) is fully included in a new SEND and AP system.

Running alongside the SEND Review was another important development, that of The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. Although this review was published a couple of months after the SEND green paper, the government’s response to it was published first. I’ll therefore take these two responses in the order in which they appeared.

The government’s response to The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (February 2023)

The Stable Homes, Built on Love: Implementation Strategy and Consultation – Children’s Social Care Reform 2023 document was presented to parliament by secretary of state for education Gillian Keegan. It runs to over 200 pages and, in addition to setting out six pillars to transform children’s social care, there is a detailed action plan of what should happen over the next couple of years to address the most urgent issues facing children and families as soon as possible. After two years, the strategy is due to be refreshed.

The eight chapters are headed:

Ch 1   Introduction
Ch 2   Family help
Ch 3   Child protection and multi-agency arrangements
Ch 4   Unlocking the potential of family networks
Ch 5   The care experience
Ch 6   Workforce
Ch 7   Improving the system
Ch 8   Delivery

The six pillars are:  

1. ‘Family Help’ provides the right support at the right time so that children can thrive with their families
2. A decisive multi-agency child protection system
3. Unlocking the potential of family networks
4. Putting love, relationships and a stable home at the heart of being a child in care
5. A valued, supported and highly skilled social worker for every child who needs one
6. A system that continuously learns and improves, and makes better use of evidence and data.

A further consultation is threaded through this document, with the 31 questions also being listed in an annex at the end. The closing date for responses is 11 May.

In setting out the context to the implementation strategy, it is described as the first step on a roadmap that incorporates wider government reforms. These include the Supporting Families Programme, Family Hubs, the NHS 10-year plan, the SEND and AP Review and the Schools White Paper.

At a meeting in February, the Special Educational Consortium heard from Stephen Kingdom, who spent many years in the Department for Education (DfE) and is now the campaigns manager for the Disabled Children’s Partnership. He pointed out that the money the government was proposing to spend was a tenth of what was needed to carry out Josh MacAlister’s carefully costed recommendations. Hopefully, however, this will help to make a start and there will be more to follow.

Read the document:

As well as the main consultation, there are two smaller consultations running alongside it:


The government’s SEND and AP Improvement Plan (March 2023)

The full title of this document is Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time, which echoes the title of the original green paper. It runs to around 100 pages.

After the ministerial foreword – which is jointly signed by Gillian Keegan, secretary of state for education, and Steve Barclay, secretary of state for health and social care – followed by an executive summary, there are six chapters, whose titles give a flavour of the content:

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: A national system underpinned by National Standards
Chapter 3: Successful transitions and preparation for adulthood
Chapter 4: A skilled workforce and excellent leadership
Chapter 5: Strengthened accountabilities and clear routes of redress
Chapter 6: A financially sustainable system delivering improved outcomes

The conclusion is followed by three annexes, each two pages long:

Annex A: Consultation response summary – this is a very brief account of the 6,000 written responses and information collected at a series of events. However, for those who have the time and are interested, a more detailed account is provided in a 90-page document listed at the end of this piece.

Annex B: This encapsulates the government’s vision, mission, values and approach.

Annex C: This lists the main changes the Improvement Plan is proposing as:

  • National Standards
  • Workforce
  • Education, Health and Care
  • Preparation for Adulthood
  • Accountability
  • Financial Sustainability.

Quick off the mark to comment on the Improvement Plan, Annamarie Hassall, CEO of nasen and chair of Whole School SEND, wrote:
“We feel encouraged by the plan that the government has put before us today. It appears that they have listened, acknowledged the issues, and committed to change. We recognise alignment with nasen’s vision of an equitable learning experience for all. We acknowledge that this improvement plan is not presented as a finished article, but rather marks the beginning of a new phase…….There are many children and young people for whom this transformational change to the system will arrive too late. And there is a great deal of trust required that the emphasis on SEND, the progress we’ve made to date and the plans for future change, will not be diminished by subsequent governments.”

The last comment flags up the possibility that there is little, if any, room for any more bills before the next general election. Although only part of the Improvement Plan will require legislation, there are important developments, such as an amended SEND code of practice (see page 8, item 16), which has to be consulted on before going through parliament.

In its press release accompanying the improvement strategy, the government gave an indication of the slow pace of change, when it said:
“The £70 million change programme will work over the next 2 to 3 years with selected local authorities in 9 regions, working alongside families to implement, test and refine longer-term plans – including new digital requirements for local authority EHCP processes and options for strengthening mediation.”

This would indicate that, even if everything goes to plan, implementing the proposals won’t be completed before 2026. The DfE seems to have realised, for instance, that the contentious question of what National Standards might look like, will be far from straightforward and says that a significant proportion of them will be published by the end of 2025. This raises the question of how many changes of government and secretaries of state for education may have occurred by then and what the effect might be on implementing an SEND and AP system.

Paul Whiteman commented: “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.”

Read the documents:


Absence and Attendance

Following the pandemic, the government is keen on improving school attendance. Nick Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (who may hold the record for returning twice to the same department in between spells on the backbenches), has responsibility for behaviour, attendance and exclusions as part of his brief as minister of state for schools.

The government’s Attendance Action Alliance

As part of its drive to improve school attendance, the government has reconvened its Attendance Action Alliance (AAA) – a popular set of initials shared by the ‘Amateur Athletic Association’ and ‘Ambitious About Autism’, to name but two. This AAA is chaired by Nick Gibb. NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman sits on it, along with other people of note, including Gillian Keegan, Dame Rachel de Souza, (children’s commissioner for England), HMCI Amanda Spielman, Sir Peter Wanless (NSPCC), Isabelle Trowler (chief social worker for children and families), the co-chairs of the National Network of Parent Carer Forums, and Geoff Barton of ASCL.

The first meeting was held on 19 January 2023, (with Nick Brook deputising for Paul Whiteman). The government presented figures showing that, prior to the pandemic, attendance figures had been improving. Since then, absence has been lower at the beginning of a term and immediately after half-term, and consistently higher on Mondays and Fridays.

The Department for Education's attendance and mental health guidance

In February, the DfE published its Summary of responsibilities where a mental health issue is affecting attendance (February 2023). The introduction says it builds on the guidance published last May, Working together to improve school attendance and that it needs to be read alongside other statutory guidance.  

The document sets out the expectations of what school staff and governors, parents/carers, and local authorities should do for pupils experiencing social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) issues. It also covers children with SEND, with or without an education, health and care (EHC) plan, and/or an assigned social worker. It says that school staff should consider whether a child with SEND may be more anxious about attending school, and where a child is disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, that schools will need to consider their duty to make reasonable adjustments under section 20 of that act.

As well as this guidance, there is another document entitled Support for pupils where a mental health issue is affecting attendance – Effective practice examples, which. gives five examples of how pupils with different needs might be supported to attend.

Read the documents:

The Education Committee’s inquiry

Meanwhile, the Education Committee’s inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils moves on. The call for evidence closed on 9 February.

On 7 March, the committee held its first oral evidence session, when NAHT senior policy adviser Rob Williams was one of the speakers. The other members of the panel were Dame Rachel de Souza; Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council; and Alice Wilcock, head of education at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). Alice Wilcock was particularly concerned with severe absence, which is defined as missing 50% or more of sessions, as opposed to the the 10% or more for persistent absence. Research done by the CSJ has shown that the number of children in this category increased before the pandemic and has risen sharply since.  

Rob Williams made the very valid point that following suggestions that schools should be doing even more by way of activities before and after school, and being a focal point for their communities, they need to be given the resources and that other services should also play their part. There was much agreement about the need for schools to be places where pupils want to be, and how this could be in conflict with the government’s focus on academic achievement at the expense of pastoral care. Counteracting the influence of social media and problems with becoming addicted to gaming were raised as extra pressures that hadn’t existed in the past.  

There will be further oral evidence sessions before the Education Committee publishes its findings.

There hasn’t been room to include details on the Use of reasonable force and restrictive practices in schools consultation, but as the call for evidence runs until 11 May, it will be covered next time – along with an account of an additional meeting NAHT’s SEND Council is having, in order to have a detailed discussion on the SEND and AP Improvement Plan – Right Support, Right Place, Right Time.

First published 14 March 2023

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