SEND support system is becoming fragmented despite reforms, new report warns

Ofsted should have further powers to check on how schools are helping pupils with special educational needs, to ensure the benefits of recent reforms reach all vulnerable children, a new report recommends today.

The Joining the Dots report from LKMco, an education thinktank, warns that provision for young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) is becoming fragmented – despite reforms which aimed to provide a “simpler and more joined up” system.

“The dominant rhetoric behind reform has been that of ‘autonomy’,” says the report, commissioned by the Driver Youth Trust, a literacy charity.

“Autonomy allows new players to work with schools and some provision has improved substantially as a result. Yet an autonomous environment is also a risky one: in relation to SEND we find that while some schools have thrived, others are struggling to provide high-quality teaching and additional support for their learners.”

The Ofsted framework now explicitly states that inspectors will consider the progress of SEND pupils in schools, but the Driver Youth Trust wants inspectors to be able to commission a review of how SEND funding is spent in an individual school if necessary, in the same way that they can commission a review of pupil premium funding in a school to find improved approaches.

“Some headteachers are using their freedom to innovate in ways that have a profound impact on pupils. However, those that lack confidence, experience or understanding of SEND find it harder to respond effectively and not all place an equally high priority on these pupils because they do not see doing so as critical to school improvement,” the report says.

There are 1.3 million young people with some form of SEND in schools in England, including dyslexia, autism and physical disabilities, according to Department for Education statistics.

Reforms to the SEND system, which came into force in September 2014, have meant that SEN statements are in the process of being replaced with education, health and care plans which bring together health and care needs alongside educational requirements.

But today’s report points out that changes to the school system, including the changing role of local authorities and the rapid spread of academies, have had a greater impact on young people with SEND than the reform of the SEND system itself.

Announcing the changes in September 2013, Edward Timpson, children and families minister, said: “For too long families have found themselves battling against a complex and fragmented system. These reforms ensure support fits in with their needs and not the other way round – they will result in a simpler and more joined up system that focuses on children achieving their best.”

But today’s report finds four key causes of fragmentation:

  • Changes to the role of local authorities have been poorly communicated
  • An emerging but disorganised middle tier
  • A disparate school funding system
  • Isolated schools

The report makes 22 recommendations, which also include: initial teacher training to ensure newly qualified teachers can support SEND pupils, Regional School Commissioners monitoring SEND information reports and identifying schools that need support, and the DfE introducing an annual SEND award with a prize to celebrate schools that make effective use of SEND funding.

A survey from the National Autistic Society last month found that only 23 per cent of pupils who had been through the new SEND system were satisfied with it, while almost half were dissatisfied.

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