How we can improve the SEND system for children with complex disabilities

Last week we submitted our response to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) green paper. This was a long-awaited opportunity for us to share the experiences of the children we support and their families.

The green paper set out proposals for the future of the SEND system. We wanted to make sure that it accurately reflected the needs of children with complex disabilities. 

How we developed our response

We were able to draw on the depth of experience and knowledge from across Sense to inform our response to the green paper. 

Firstly, we spoke to many families and parents of children with complex disabilities that use our services. We ran a number of sessions where parents could join us and share with us their opinions of the proposals in the green paper, and feedback on the SEND system generally.

These stories are a crucial part of our response. The real experiences of families give so much insight into what is working and what needs to change.

As a provider of services, we were also able to draw on the expertise of professionals in the sector.  We met with some of our colleagues from across Sense, who deliver services in the SEND system but also support families to navigate it.

Alongside our work developing the response from Sense, we worked closely with sector colleagues.  We fed into and supported a number of coalition responses to the green paper, and also engaged with civil servants working on the green paper and wider aspects of SEND.

The key themes of our response

The SEND system is wide-ranging and complex, and the green paper reflected this. It made many proposals for change, alongside identifying challenges that children and families are facing. 

Our response covered a range of these topics. But there were three key themes that recurred when we consulted with families and professionals and that formed the basis of our response:

  • We need a system that works for all children: All children deserve a good education, and for that we need a system that meets their needs.  For this to happen, there needs to be recognition that no two children are the same and the support they need will be different.  This is particularly the case for children with complex disabilities, who often need a very unique and specialist combination of support.  In our response we highlighted the need for all the proposals to take this into account, including new approaches to completing education health and care plans (EHCPs).  The individual needs of children also need to be reflected in some of the new structures proposed, such as the local inclusion plans and the local SEND partnerships.
  • It’s not just about education: While the SEND system is often about supporting children in education it’s also about meeting their health and social care needs too.  Many families told us that the focus is often on education, with the other parts of the system not being as engaged or involved.  We also raised points around outcomes for children with complex disabilities, and how it might not always be appropriate or meaningful to base them solely on educational attainment. 
  • Do we need a new system at all?:  As we consulted families, professionals and sector colleagues to shape our response, we soon found ourselves wondering whether we need to see wholescale reform at all? The Children and Families Act (2014) and other legislation is remarkably robust and provides many of the protections and systems that should meet needs – the problem is that it doesn’t happen.  Rather than creating new structures and systems, our response became much more focused on accountability and making sure that the system meets its statutory duties.

Underpinning all of these key themes is, of course, the issue of resourcing and implementation.  You can have the best legislation in place, but without the resources to put it into practice (and the mechanisms to hold people to account) it just isn’t going to happen. 

This follows through into workforce discussions as well.  Many children need specialist support, but it just isn’t available – our own research last year highlighted the shocking lack of specialist multi-sensory impairment teachers across the country.  Without a robust resource and workforce plan alongside them, any reforms will struggle to bring the impact that’s much needed.

What happens next? 

As the Department for Education reviews all the responses to the green paper it has received, the work doesn’t stop for Sense.  We will be continuing to work alongside our sector partners to ensure that children with complex disabilities remain at the heart of any changes moving forwards.

Find out more about SEND

If you’re a parent looking for more information about the SEND system, we have lots of information and advice.