Following the release of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) green paper last spring, the Department for Education (DfE) commenced a consultation requesting feedback on the recommendations and proposals made in the green paper.
The consultation received almost 6,000 responses, over half of which were from parents, which were taken into account in producing the SEND and AP improvement plan published by the DfE on 2 March 2023.
The results of the consultation can be found here.
What is being proposed?
The improvement plan sets out the government’s proposals to:
- improve outcomes for children and young people;
- improve experiences for families, by seeking to reduce the current adversity and frustration in the system; and to
- deliver financial sustainability.
It also considered the specific issues facing the AP sector. All of these were factors that were highlighted in the green paper as needing to be addressed.
The improvement plan confirms that the DfE intends to deliver a “single national system that delivers consistently” for children with SEND, or that are in AP.
The DfE will be investing in training for thousands of workers so children can get the help they need earlier, alongside providing thousands of additional specialist school places for those with the greatest needs – as 33 new areas are approved for special free schools to be built as of today to add to the 49 already in the pipeline.
The department has said these new places come as part of the government’s £2.6 billion investment between 2022 and 2025 to increase special school and AP capacity (as announced in the autumn budget).
The government also announced that it will be investing over £10billion to fund the planned reforms of SEND and AP, which include:
- Introducing standardised guides for all local authorities to follow, and national standards for “what good looks like”, as well as the introduction of accountability mechanisms in hope of ending the so-called postcode lottery around SEND provision and support. The national standards are to be piloted through a change programme first before legislation is introduced, hopefully by the end of 2025.
- The government will re-examine its relationship with independent special schools to ensure that there are comparable expectations for all state funded specialist providers to ensure the expectations align with the new national standards.
- Streamlining and standardising the education, health and care plan (EHCP) system, including digitising the application process for all local authorities from 2025. If the trial is successful it is hoped that this will improve service for families as well as enable the DfE to more easily monitor the SEND system.
- New SEND and AP practice guides to enable teaching assistants and learning support assistants to more easily utilise the available provision from the national standards and to support schools by providing guidance on effective utilisation and deployment of assistants to support children with SEND.
- Addressing the lack of suitably skilled workers by improving special needs training for teaching staff and investing in more early years SENCos and educational psychologists. A new leadership level Senco National Professional Qualification for schools will be introduced and the government will fund up to 5,000 early years staff to gain an accredited Level 3 early years Senco qualification to support the early years sector, with training running until August 2024.
- The requirement for mandatory mediation before families can appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (SENDIST). This will be tested through the change programme first to ensure there are no unintended detriments to families.
- Introducing a new approach to AP which would see children supported in a more inclusive way and AP leading to reintegration into mainstream education or helping children ‘prepare for adulthood’
- Doubling supported internship places by 2025, increasing from ‘around 2,500 to around 5,000’ backed with £18m of funding to help young people make the transition into adulthood.
- More support for families, including £30m to develop ‘short breaks for children, young people and their families’
- A revised and structured AP system which provides targeted support within mainstream schools; time limited placements in an AP setting or longer-term placements always with the intention of a return to mainstream.
What do schools need to do to prepare?
At present, the improvement plan is just that – a plan. Whilst the government has set out timelines for the proposed changes, there will need to be further consultation, testing and development before these reforms come into effect, not least of which, regarding the introduction of mandatory mediation before families can bring SENDIST claims, which will require a change in law.
As the improvement plan does not propose any specific legislative changes, the current SEND framework set out within the Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND regulations will still continue to apply for now. We will of course keep you updated as and when developments are forthcoming.
If anything is unclear, or if you have any queries about the impact of the proposed reforms, please do get in touch – our team of specialist education lawyers are here to help.
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