Yes, the SEND system needs a transformation, but this isn’t going to do it.

man using a laptop

Today the Government published its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) improvement plan.

Hailed by the Government as a transformational document, it includes a wave of measures, including:

  • 33 new special schools.
  • New National Standards to set benchmarks for families to help them understand what support they should receive.
  • Digitised Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) to improve experiences for parents, carers and professionals, and reduce bureaucracy.
  • Joint work between the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care to deliver a SEND workforce plan.
  • New guidance to support transitions to adulthood.

These policies are designed to tackle the huge challenges families of disabled children face when getting support.

Whilst we welcome the Government’s focus on improving the SEND system, Sense doubts what is announced today will have significant change for families and children with complex disabilities. It is a long way off the positive transformation that disabled children need.

It’s been a long journey to get here

Let’s go back in time to 2014, we all waited in excitement as the ‘reinvention’ of the SEND system began!  The Children’s Act 2014 was published, SEN statements changed to Education Health Care Plans and children with behaviour needs were to be recognised as having social, emotional, and mental health needs. A great step forward but…

It didn’t work.

Fast forward to 2022 and there is widespread recognition that the system is still failing to deliver for disabled children. We had the release of yet more reforms, packaged in a consultation called “the SEND review: right support, right place, right time”. We responded to the consultation last summer and shared the views of the families who we support and our experiences of delivering services . This new SEND Improvement Plan is the Government’s response to that consultation.

A lot is proposed, but it can’t fix everything

The proposals announced today look impressive on paper. We’re pleased to see a focus on improving the SEND workforce, standardisation and digitisation of EHCPs and new national standards. All of these will help improve the system in the long term.

Unsurprisingly, the plan falls short of the urgent change needed to address the broken SEND system. It is disappointing that a majority of the measures announced today won’t even be implemented before 2025/2026.  This isn’t good enough for the families and disabled children who are already missing out.

They need support now.

2026 will be too late for many.

What do we want to see?

Immediate action, not further delay

Since the start of the consultation, we have been calling for a sense of urgency when it comes to fixing the broken SEND system. The Government is putting itself at risk of focusing too much on long-term reform through national standards.

They are failing to deal with the problems families are facing now.

We aren’t opposed to new national standards, but we know that on their own without significant funding and evidence gathering now, they won’t have the impact that is needed.

Sense wants the Government to act faster when it comes to supporting families with disabled children. Implementing and funding the current 2014 Act more effectively will already provide much greater support than what is currently happening.

Local authorities need further funding to ensure they can provide the services disabled children need today, and they need to be held to account now, not in 2026.  

Specialist support for deafblind children

All children have a right to education. Many children need specialist support to access their education, and this isn’t happening. We know that this is particularly the case for deafblind children across the country, many of whom rely on Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI) teachers.

Families tell us that they are struggling to get support from MSI teachers. This is backed up by our research that found only 52% of local authorities employ MSI teachers for the children in their area. We did the sums and it would only cost the government £34.3 million to fix this for every deafblind child across the country.

Change cannot come soon enough

What does this all mean for deafblind children, children with complex disabilities and their families? Sadly, nothing in the short term. The struggles they face now, they will still face tomorrow and potentially for the next 5 years and beyond.

This doesn’t have to be the way it is. Each day families with disabled children continue to suffer within this broken system is another day wasted. All children deserve the best start in life and with urgent targeted interventions, better support could be delivered.

We will continue to campaign for children with complex disabilities to get the support they need now whilst working to help influence the longer term proposals as they are developed.