William Eichler 02 March 2023

New SEND plan fails on ‘fundamental’ issues, council chiefs say

New SEND plan fails on ‘fundamental’ issues, council chiefs say image
Image: LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com.

The Government’s new plan to help support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) fails to address the ‘fundamental cost and demand issues’ faced by local authorities, according to council chiefs.

Published today, the new SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan promises to deliver thousands of additional specialist school places and 33 new special free schools.

The plan also sets out the Government’s intention to invest in training for staff, including 5,000 early years’ special educational needs coordinators and 400 educational psychologists.

There are also new national SEND and AP standards, which aim to clarify what support is available where, £4.8m to extend the AP Specialist Taskforces, which offer intensive support to young people in alternative provision, and £70m to test and refine the improvement plans.

‘Parents know that their children only get one shot at education and this can have an enormous impact on their child’s ability to get on with life. Yet for some parents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, getting their child that superb education that everyone deserves can feel like a full-time job,’ said Claire Coutinho, the minister for children, families and wellbeing.

‘The Improvement Plan that we are publishing today sets out systemic reforms to standards, teacher training and access to specialists as well as thousands of new places at specialist schools so that every child gets the help they need.’

Cllr Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, welcomed the improvement plan but said it did ‘not go far enough’ in addressing the key issues facing councils.

‘While the measures announced will help to fix some of the problems with the current system, they do not go far enough in addressing the fundamental cost and demand issues that result in councils struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND,’ she said.

‘We are also concerned over the lack of any plan to give councils additional powers to lead SEND systems effectively. We do not believe the Government has the capacity to hold councils, schools and other partners to account for their work supporting children with SEND.’

Cllr Gittins added: ‘Improving levels of mainstream inclusion will be crucial to the success of any reforms, reducing the reliance on costly special schools and other settings. Powers to intervene in schools not supporting children with SEND should be brought forward at the earliest opportunity, but should sit with councils, not the DfE.’

Cllr Keith Glazier, Children’s Services spokesperson for the County Councils Network (CCN), commented: ‘Local authorities are already struggling with the deficits built up in the system meeting the statutory demands from the 2015 reforms – CCN warned last year these are set to balloon to £3.6bn by 2025 on current projections.

‘Reform will only be successful if it builds on an existing system that is stable and CCN urges the Government to ensure it expands the safety valve programme to all local authorities to ensure these financial challenges are addressed across the whole country.’

Commenting on the improvement plan, Steve Crocker, president of The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said the plan ‘must go much further and faster in a number of areas’.

‘The additional funding being made available to support the proposals is welcome, but with high needs budget deficits rising there is still not enough money in the system to meet the level of need being seen. The costs associated with the current SEND system are baked in for years to come, this must be addressed.’

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