Home Menu

Members' home

Our people icon.jpg

Rona Tutt’s SEND Summary – July 2023

Although I had planned to get this summary written before the holiday period started, in the end I decided to wait for the final meetings of term and then reflect on all the information before giving a round-up of the latest events in relation to the 'Special educational needs and abilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) improvement plan: right support, right place, right time'. The wheels may move slowly, but they have begun to turn since the improvement plan was published in March this year. My apologies to members in Northern Ireland and Wales, who may have rather less interest in the minutiae of the latest changes.

The original green paper and the improvement plan that followed a year later haven’t been set out in a way that makes it easy to see how the various strands, groups and partnerships fit together. Consequently, it’s rather like looking at the pieces of a jigsaw without a picture to follow. This has driven me to concoct my first ever word cloud. While it may not be as useful as the chart I’ve put together at the end of this summary, showing the connection between some of these terms, it’s given me a moment of light relief and a determination to create a more artistic word cloud next time I feel the need to invent one!

SEND and alternative provision improvement plan

In the information that follows, I’ve put together the current state of play, gleaned from meetings and other events, including some in June and July when the Department for Education (DfE) was in attendance.

I’ve organised the information into general information, key proposals and other developments. 

1. General information

The DfE has divided the reforms into three stages, depending on how much work they may need before seeing the light of day:

  • In delivery: reforms in the process of being delivered, as they are seen as helping to stabilise the system.
  • In development: these are being worked on now but may take a year or more to complete.
  • Future: these require further discussion and may be amended in the light of feedback.

The £70 million change programme is being used to refine and test out key proposals. Nine regional expert partnerships (REPs) – consisting of one high-performing lead local authority (LA) and two to three supporting LAs, as well as an integrated care board (ICB) – are due to be formed during this summer, ready to start work in the autumn on piloting some of the key proposals.

(For those of you who may have missed it, further details of the timescales are given in the SEND and alternative provision roadmap, which was published as a separate document alongside the improvement plan. The roadmap sets out what actions should happen this year and which are due to be completed by the end of 2025. Even then, some of the changes won’t have been finalised.)

2. Key proposals

Since the SEND and alternative provision green paper was published in March 2022, it has been clear that a central plank of these reforms is the introduction of a single system embracing both SEND and AP. Given that over 80% of pupils in AP have SEND, most people agree that it makes sense to bring the systems together, provided that each maintains its identity and children land up with ‘the right support in the right place at the right time.’

Alternative Provision (AP)

Whereas it is fairly easy to define SEND provision, AP is rather more difficult, as it ranges from pupil referral units (PRUs), AP academies and free schools, to the use of vocational & practical courses indoors and out, including, for example, equine assisted therapy in places such as donkey sanctuaries. Although well known for working with excluded pupils, AP is also used for pupils whose physical or mental health makes it hard for them to be included in mainstream provision.

At the June meeting of the Special Educational Consortium (SEC), Tom Sutton, who leads on AP at the DfE, said the thrust of the 3-tier model outlined in the green paper and in the improvement plan, is to move away from long-term placements in AP towards supporting pupils to stay in mainstream education or to return there as soon as possible. As a reminder, the three tiers are:

  • Tier one
    Targeted support to help pupils at risk of exclusion to stay in school.
  • Tier two
    Time-limited placements in AP before returning to their mainstream school.
  • Tier three
    Transitional placements for pupils needing support before moving on to a different mainstream school or to a post-16 destination.

To many working in AP, there may be little that is new here. For others, while some tightening up may be necessary, there are concerns that any model needs to have sufficient flexibility to allow for the fact that returning to mainstream education may not be the right path for every pupil. I mentioned this to Tom Sutton, saying that it would be important to maintain a wide range of provision in order to cater for pupils who need a variety of ways to re-engage with education. Encouragingly, Tom’s reply was that the DfE wanted to find a balance between making sure pupils’ educational needs are met, while allowing for niche providers to respond to local need. He added that they are testing how to make it work better through the change programme, including how to fund AP in a way that creates a more stable system.

Meanwhile, the AP Specialist Taskforce (APST) pilot, which started work in 2021, has been extended until 2025. This is funded by the Treasury and has cross-governmental support from the DfE, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB). It involves embedding teams of specialists, such as mental health workers, youth workers, speech and language therapists, family support workers, youth justice workers, and post-16 transition workers, in 21 AP schools which are described as being in ‘violence hotspots’.

At a meeting in July of the National SEND Forum (NSENDF), Steve Deadman, who represents NAHE (National Association for Hospital Education) on the forum, gave an update on the Children’s Hospital School, Leicester, where he is the head teacher. NAHE represents professionals working with children and young people who are unable to attend school due to physical and/or mental health difficulties. Steve has been working with Tom Sutton, defining where hospital education sits in relation to AP.

From time to time, a meeting is called of Ofsted’s Area SEND Advisory Group. At recent meetings, as well as hearing how the new framework for area SEND inspections is bedding down, we heard about the thematic reviews that are being undertaken. The first of these is on alternative provision and the report is due out this autumn. This will add to the spotlight on AP, which has been too long in the shadows despite some incredible examples of how young lives have been turned round.

The improvement plan introduces the idea of local SEND and AP partnerships, which are tasked with developing local inclusion plans (LIPs), setting out how support for pupils with SEND and in AP will be planned and commissioned in line with National Standards, which will be discussed next.

National Standards          

National Standards will apply across education, health and social care and are said to underpin a unified SEND and AP system. At the Special Educational Consortium (SEC) meeting in June, along with Tom Sutton was Eva Sharma, head of the National Standards Unit at the DfE. She explained that legislation will be needed and will be aligned with existing health care legislation. As a result of the Health and Care Act 2022, for instance, ICBs – which replaced clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – are required to have a named executive board member accountable for SEND.

However, it is accepted that further legislation cannot take place until after the next general election. Eva clarified that although LAs will never look identical in terms of what they offer, the standards should help to reduce the variation between areas and spread best practice by:

  • setting clear expectations for what good looks like in terms of identifying and meeting need,
  • clarifying who must secure support and from which budgets, and
  • establishing what every child and family are entitled to receive and what providers must deliver.

The standards are described as building on what some areas are already doing in terms of ‘ordinarily available provision’ in mainstream education, including early years settings, schools and colleges. Eva confirmed that although work on testing national standards via the change programme will be up and running by the end of the year, completing this work will run on past 2025, with a ‘significant proportion’ being ready by the end of 2025.

Alongside these standards, Eva referred to the promised practice guides which are designed to provide examples of best practice for system leaders and professionals. The first three guides are due to be published alongside the bulk of the national standards by the end of 2025. Eva added that the first one will focus on language development in the early years. The change programme is funding Early Language and Support for Every Child (ELSEC) pathfinders in partnership with NHS England (NHSE). This will cover the cost of one ELSEC pathfinder in each of the nine REPs. They will trial new ways of identifying and supporting children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in early years and in primary schools. Other practice guides will focus on autism, and on mental health and well-being.

Eva said that as the national standards are developed, they will form a basis for developing a system of bands and tariffs. Although these are already used by many LAs, they have caused quite a bit of controversy. Eva said they were necessary to ensure money is well spent and similar needs attract similar funding, regardless of where a child lives. The local inclusion plans, together with national and local dashboards, will help to highlight differences between LAs. However, Eva added that the DfE recognises the need for flexibility as some children have very complex and individual needs.

EHCPs and SEN Support

At the July meeting of SEC, much of the time was given over to discussions with Helen Nix and her team, who are leading on the DfE’s proposals for improving the present Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)  system. Helen said EHCPs would continue to be based on the current legal framework. She showed us a confidential early draft EHCP template for comment, so all I can say at this stage is that it provoked considerable discussion and there may be some way to go before it is finalised. Helen added that, although work is going on in parallel to produce EHCPs digitally, it would take until 2025 to have everything in place. Although the plans will be produced in several different formats, many of us stressed the need for paper-based versions to be available as well.

Another bone of contention has been the idea of ‘tailored lists’, which the DfE says will give parents clearer information, while others are concerned that they might keep to the provision available in the area and restrict parental choice. However, Helen argued that the DfE accepts that some pupils will need to travel further afield to receive the right specialist support. She said new guidance is being produced for LA case worker teams who play a key role in supporting families to navigate the system and making the process run smoothly. 

After lengthy discussions around EHCPs, rather less time was spent on SEN support. We were asked to consider whether or not there should be standardised documentation for this stage of support as well. We discussed draft profiles of what this might look like, one for younger children and one for older pupils. Rather like the draft EHCPs, it was felt that these were very much in development. However, the idea of having standardised documentation is an interesting one, which may have arisen in part from a drive to stop parents heading for EHCPs as the only piece of paper worth having. However, the difference would remain that one is a legal document and the other has no legal backing behind it.

3. Other developments

SEND Code of Practice

An amended SEND code of practice will be written to pick up any significant changes. As it will have to go through parliament, it won’t be appearing before the general election and there would be a consultation on the proposals beforehand. In 2015, when the current code of practice was published, the title was changed from being an SEN Code of Practice to the SEND Code of Practice. So far, there has been no indication as to whether the next one would include ‘AP’ in the title.


Although there was a very mixed response to the idea of changing the mandatory SENCo qualification to an NPQ, the government has decided to go ahead and has already published ‘Guidance: Transition to national professional qualification for SENCOs’ (5 July 2023). The new qualification will be available from Sept 2024 and until then the National Award for special educational needs co-ordinator (NASENCO) qualification remains in place. SENCOs who have already completed this qualification won’t be required to take the new one. Find out more.


There has been some confusion over whether or not the government intends to go ahead with making mediation mandatory in order to stop people going straight down the tribunal route. However, what was clarified in a meeting with Charlie Lang, deputy director for SEND and AP at the DfE, was that this wouldn’t be tested through the REPs. Instead, the emphasis is on improving the training for those involved in mediation, combined with swifter and fuller responses to parental concerns.

Unusually, this summary has been confined to one topic – the special educational needs and abilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) improvement plan. While it’s not possible to give a complete picture, I’ve tried to give a flavour of what has been happening since the plan appeared at the beginning of March this year.  Next time, I’ll get back to reporting on other developments as well.

In the meantime, much of what I’ve outlined has to come with a health warning, as it could be thrown into disarray by the outcome of the general election which is due to take place any time between now and January 2025. In other words, it is bound to happen during the lifespan of the SEND and alternative provision roadmap, which was mentioned earlier in this summary. Although the improvement plan hasn’t met with universal approval, there are elements of it that are promising. Having taken so long to reach this point, it is to be hoped that whoever is in power will continue the drive towards improving the lives of children, young people and their families.

I’d like to finish with a chart showing the links between some of the elements of the improvement plan. This is a work in progress which will need updating as more information emerges. This is followed by a list of some of the abbreviations used in connection with the improvement plan.



DfE Implementation Unit
Working in partnership with the Regions Group, which is made up of former regional schools commissioners.

National SEND and AP Implementation Board (21 members)
Will work with the DfE and the DHSC on the actions in the SEND and AP improvement plan.
First meeting held on 6 June 2023, subsequent meetings every three months.

Regional Expert Partnerships (REPs)
Nine REPs to start work from autumn 2023, testing and refining the reforms.
Each REP will consist of one high-performing lead LA, two to three supporting LAs & an ICB.
They will test elements of the National Standards and have one ELSEC pathfinder.

Regional Taskforces
A team of experts will work with targeted LAs to improve SEND & AP services.
AP Specialist Taskforces (APSTs) already established and will continue until 2025.

Local SEND & AP Partnerships
Will create local inclusion plans (LIPs) which will plan and commission support, as well as informing the local offer.




APST      Alternative Provision Specialist Taskforce project
CCG     Clinical Commissioning Group (now replaced by ICBs)
CoP        Code of Practice
DCMS      Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
DfE       Department for Education
DHSC     Department for Health and Social Care
DWP Department for Work and Pensions
ELSEC       Early Language and Support for Every Child
ICB     Integrated Care Board
IP     Improvement Plan
LIP     Local inclusion plan
MOJ    Ministry of Justice
NAHE    National Association for Hospital Education
NHSE      NHS England
NSENDF  National SEND Forum
OAP        Ordinarily Available Provision
REP Regional Expert Partnership
RSC Regional Schools Commissioner
SEC  Special Educational Consortium
SEMH    Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs
SENCo NPQ  SENCo National Professional Qualification (replacing NASENCO award)
SLCN   Speech, Language & Communication Needs
YJB Youth Justice Board






First published 14 August 2023

NAHT Life logo

NAHT Life gives you the opportunity to continue your membership of the biggest union for school leaders both in post and in retirement.


NAHT Life focuses on helping retired members receive excellent trade union services and allows you to continue to play an active volunteer role within NAHT regions and branches, if that’s what you choose to do!

Please note to qualify for the benefits of NAHT Life membership you must join NAHT life within six months of retiring. 

Please ensure NAHT has your correct post-retirement contact details.

NAHT is currently reviewing, renewing and refreshing its services to support NAHT life member.

The Life Members' Sector Council (LMSC)

Whether leaving a labour of love or embracing a life of leisure, there can be no doubt that retirement from school leadership marks a huge change in lifestyle. There will be adjustments to make, new challenges to take and a range of new opportunities. At a time like this, it is important that our experienced members do not lose all the support they received in their working life. Our life members’ committee is here to ensure members are supported in retirement.

This committee feeds its extensive wealth of experience and know-how to support the work of NAHT. It also gives our life members the chance to make important contributions to our campaigns for working members.  

The committee, which meets four times a year, is made up of one elected representative from each of our regions, with the addition of one place each for Northern Ireland and Wales. And these elected committee members, normally, serve a three-year term.

Areas of focus for the committee include the following: 

  • Current legislation issues eg pension provision
  • Action against discrimination, including age discrimination.
LMSC chair

John Killeen (National Executive member): john.killeen@nahtofficials.org.uk

LMSC vice-chair

Nigel Patton: nigel.patton@nahtofficials.org.uk

LMSC communications officer

Michael Wilson: Michael.wilson@nahtofficials.org.uk

LMSC deputy communications officer

Eugene Symonds: eugene.symonds@nahtofficials.org.uk

Committee servicing officer

Frances Geddes has the responsibility for working closely with the LMSC as servicing officer. She can be contacted via email frances.geddes@naht.org.uk.

For further details and contact information about all current LMSC members please check out ‘Who’s who’ and the ‘List of LMSC members'.

See also

Join now - Life Membership 
Life membership FAQs
Life members' sector council
Update Your Details
Tax relief
Pensions advice
Who's who