How can political parties fix the broken SEND system?

MSI teacher Laura signing with a small child.

Every child has the right to an education. But for children with complex disabilities, it can be more difficult to find the right fit.

The special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system is set against them, with significant under-funding of mainstream and early years schools, and lengthy waiting times for education health care (EHC) plans, which are key to disabled children accessing the support they need. There is a lack of clarity around who is responsible for SEND provision, and little accountability for schools and local authorities that are not meeting requirements.

Yet education is of the utmost importance for a child’s learning and development. It allows children to develop life skills and gives them the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Disabled children deserve to have access to education that allows them to do this too.

Sense’s plan for change

As a charity, Sense doesn’t support any political party. Our priority this election is to make sure that disabled people, including the 1.6 million people with complex disabilities, are at the heart of what the next Government does.

Our manifesto sets out the seven key changes Sense wants to see every political party adopt.

So what does it say about SEND?

Invest in MSI teachers

Children with complex disabilities deserve to have the same access to education as other children.

Deafblind children are often described as having multi-sensory impairment (MSI). These children need specially trained teachers to help them thrive in education and development.

There are almost 4000 children in the UK who are deafblind, yet over half of local authorities do not employ any MSI teachers. Without the essential support these teachers provide, many deafblind children are unable to engage in the education they are entitled to.

Sense research has outlined potential costs of delivering the number of MSI teachers needed, including £4.8 million for MSI teachers in areas with urgent need, £13.3 million where there is less urgent need, and £16.2 million to support MSI teachers already in post.

The next government must urgently invest in MSI teacher recruitment, and commit to the £34 million needed for an MSI teacher fund[TM1] [AC2] .

Sense is calling on the next Government to ensure all children with MSI have access to an MSI teacher and don’t face barriers to education because of where they live.  

Address long waiting times for EHC Plans

EHC plans make sure disabled children and young people get the support they need in school, college, and nursery. Local Authorities can carry out an assessment to establish whether they think a child or young person needs an EHC plan.

Many children and young people that Sense supports have an EHC plan, helping them access vital educational support.

However, new data released in June 2024 revealed that nearly half of families are waiting longer than the statutory requirement of 20 weeks to receive their EHC plan. This means many children are not receiving the urgent support they need, and local authorities are not being held accountable for these delays.

On top of this, often even when a plan is in place, the support needed is not available to children with complex disabilities.

Sense is calling on the next government to hold Local Authorities, who assess for EHC plans, accountable for the extensive delays these children and families face.

Embed sustainable funding for SEND

Mainstream and early years schools are underfunded and ill-equipped to identify and meet the needs of children with SEND.

There is a lack of clarity around who is responsible for SEND provision, and little accountability for schools and local authorities that are not meeting requirements.

The situation is particularly urgent for deafblind children, who need support from MSI teachers.

Sense is calling on all services to effectively plan for upcoming need and provide a consistent support network to children and young people with SEND.

Simplify access to SEND support for families

Children with complex disabilities often need help from different professionals as well as support such as equipment, therapies, and aids to be able to learn and develop skills like their non-disabled peers.

For families, it can be confusing to make sense of all the options available to their child. Parents know their child best and should always be involved in any decisions made surrounding their child’s care.

However, research by the Disabled Children’s Partnership found that 90% of parents have to fight to get the services their disabled child needs. A lack of funding and extensive bureaucracy means many families are unable to access the right support.

Sense is calling for the new government to simply access to this support, and make it mandatory for local authorities to have a single point of contact for parents of children with complex disabilities.

What next?

We want every political party to commit to Sense’s proposals for fixing the broken SEND system.

But, whatever happens, whoever is elected, Sense will be ready to work with the Government to put people with complex disabilities at the heart of the SEND system.