The Education Select Committee has published its report into the Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) reforms in England, following an 18-month inquiry.
It finds that while reforms to SEND were the right ones to make, a generation of children with SEN are failing to receive the support they need. The report highlights a number of key concerns, identifying a lack of accountability within the system, a significant funding shortfall and a system weighed down by bureaucracy. Multiple conclusions and recommendations are made, a number of which are outlined below:
Key findings and recommendations:
- The significant shortfall in funding is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of schools and local authorities (LAs) to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. However, unless there is a systemic cultural shift on the part of all parties involved, additional funding will make little difference to the outcomes and experiences of children and young people with SEND.
- The Department for Education (DfE), together with the Department for Health and Social Care, should develop mutually beneficial options for cost- and burden-sharing with the health and social care sector.
- The joint Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted inspections should become part of an annual inspection process to which all LAs and their partners are subject. CQC and Ofsted should be funded to be able to deliver this inspection timetable and should design and implement an inspection regime that improves practice and holds LAs and their partners to account. Ofsted and CQC should also clearly set out the consequences for LAs and health bodies that fail their annual inspection.
- The DfE should, at the earliest opportunity, bring forward legislative proposals to allow the ombudsman to consider what takes place within a school, rather than – in his words – only being able to look at "everything up to the school gate".
- The DfE is not taking enough responsibility for ensuring that its reforms are overseen, that practice in LAs is lawful, that statutory timescales are adhered to, and that children's needs are being met. The DfE has left it to LAs, inspectorates, parents and the courts to operate and police the system. There is a clear need for the DfE to be more proactive in its oversight of the way in which the system is operating.
- The Government should introduce a reporting and accountability mechanism for non-compliance so that parents and schools can report directly to the DfE where LAs appear not to be complying with the law. It should also implement an annual scorecard for LAs and health bodies to measure their success against the SEND reforms.
- Ofsted must deliver a clear judgement that schools are delivering for individual children with SEND. It should either seek to do this through its existing programme of inspections, or develop a separate type of specialised inspection focusing on SEND.
- The DfE should strengthen the guidance in the Code of Practice on SEN Support to provide greater clarity over how children should be supported. The DfE should also amend the guidance on Education Health and Care Needs Assessments and Plans to create a clearer and more standard interpretation of the process that should be followed for Education Health and Care Needs Assessments.
- The DfE should, within six months of the publication of this report, issue updated guidance setting out that all SENCOs should undertake the NASENCO course upon taking on a SENCO role. It should commission an independent reviewer to examine the cost implications of requiring all schools and colleges to have a full-time dedicated SENCO and recommending the size of school which should only be required to employ a part-time dedicated SENCO.
- When developing its new framework for inspections, Ofsted and CQC should ensure it includes a requirement to inspect the availability, take-up, quality and provision of the training and CPD regarding SEND law of all LA professionals who are engaged in Education Health and Care Needs Assessments, plan writing and reviewing and tribunal work.
- As part of the government's SEND review, it should map therapy provision across the country, identify cold spots and set out a clear strategy to address the problem.
- The government must see support for special educational needs and disabilities as a system-wide issue and ensure that all policies are 'SEND-proof'. The government must decide whether it wants LAs to retain the statutory duties it set in place in the 2014 Act. If it does, it must give them the necessary funding and freedom to meet their local population's needs, with the appropriate accountability to ensure that they do so.
- The DfE should enable LAs to create new maintained specialist schools, including specialist post-16 provision outside of the constraints of the free school programme.
- The DfE, the Department for Health and Social Care, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry for Communities, Housing and Local Government should establish a ministerial-led cross-departmental working group, with representatives from the private sector, to develop and oversee a strategy to develop sustainable supported internship, apprenticeship and employment opportunities for young people with SEND.
- The Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England, and the DfE should design an outcomes framework that LAs and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are held jointly responsible for, to measure the health-related delivery of support for children and young people with SEND. Ownership of these outcomes should belong jointly to CCGs and LAs, as well as the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England and the DfE.
- The DfE should ensure that LAs are producing local offers that are in line with the original intention of the local offer. The DfE and the Department for Health and Social Care jointly conduct biennial reviews of each LA's offer to ensure that the Departments take central oversight of both policy intention and delivery.
- The DfE should map provision available through each LA's local offer and set out a plan for ensuring that all LAs, through their local offers provide a minimum level of provision.
The full report and the full list of conclusions and recommendations can be accessed here.
First published 28 October 2019