GK associate, Monica Thompson, provides an insightful analysis of the UK government’s recently published SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan for the future of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in England. The plan proposes a range of policies aimed at fixing a broken system, including several key policies that promise to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools and introduce digital solutions for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). Despite criticism from experts and campaigners over delays and setbacks in the government’s review, Monica discusses how the proposed policies are a step in the right direction to address the urgent need for reform.
On March 2, 2023, the UK government finally published its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan, aimed at fixing the SEND system in England. However, the UK government’s review of the SEND system has been beset by delays and setbacks, prompting criticism from experts and campaigners. This plan proposes a range of policies, including the creation of new national SEND standards and the introduction of digital EHCPs. However, the government’s timeline for rolling out these policies is expected to take several years.
The government will be piloting the new national SEND standards and funding tariffs, along with digital EHCPs and tailored school lists for parents, for two to three years under a £70 million “change programme,” with nine regional expert partnerships taking part in the trial. By the end of 2025, the Department for Education will decide whether to go ahead with the changes nationally, which means that a national rollout might not happen until 2026.
The government’s plan includes a range of proposals to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools, but concerns have been raised over the timeline of the changes. Last year’s SEND Green Paper plans to consult on giving councils powers to direct academy trusts to admit pupils as part of a drive toward a more inclusive system, does not appear in the government’s plan. Instead, the plan focuses on making the process of applying to the secretary of state for a direction to admit a pupil “as effective as possible”.
The upcoming Academies Regulation and Commissioning Review will set out plans to incentivise improvement for all children in all parts of the country, including support for children and young people with SEND who attend mainstream settings.
It is widely acknowledged that the SEND system in England is in need of reform, and while the government’s new national standards promise to improve inclusivity among mainstream schools, many believe that the proposed changes are not happening soon enough.
The following key policies are highlighted in the review:
- National Standards: The government will pilot new SEND standards before legislating for them. The standards will be tested in 2022 and will focus on the most deliverable elements of the current system. Legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity to facilitate intervention in education settings if standards are not met.
- Accountability: Ministers will design accountability mechanisms to ensure government expectations are met. The standards could set out how schools must adapt physical and sensory environments to enable pupils with SEND to learn alongside their peers.
- Digital EHCPs: The government plans to standardize Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) templates and introduce digital solutions to improve experiences for councils, suppliers, and families. The digital EHCPs will be piloted in 2023 before being rolled out in 2025.
- Local Inclusion Plans: Local inclusion plans created by local SEND and AP partnerships will be introduced. Tailored lists of settings for children will be tested before legislation is introduced at the next available opportunity to make partnerships statutory.
- Mandatory Mediation: Mediation between councils and families will be reviewed. Professional standards for mediators and advice will be reviewed in 2022.
- New SENCO National Professional Qualification: The government will procure providers for a new leadership level SENCO National Professional Qualification.
- New Special Schools: The government has promised 33 new free schools and is currently assessing applications for new AP schools.
- National SEND Tariffs: The government will introduce a national system of funding bands and tariffs to ensure consistent funding.
- Alternative Provision Funding: The government will introduce a new funding approach for alternative provision aligned to its focus on preventive work with, and reintegration of pupils into, mainstream schools.
- Inclusion Dashboard: The government plans to introduce new inclusion dashboards for 0-25 provision to offer a timely, transparent picture of how the system is performing at local and national levels.
- Ladder of Intervention: The government will introduce a new ladder of intervention this year to strengthen accountabilities across all parts of the system.
- Alternative Provision Performance Framework: An expert group will support the development of a bespoke national alternative provision performance framework.
- Fair Access Panels Review: The government will review processes and develop options for ensuring transparent and effective movement of pupils without EHCPs.
- Independent Schools: The government will re-examine the state’s relationship with independent special schools to ensure comparable expectations for all state-funded specialist providers.
- Joined-Up Work with NHS England: Integrated care boards will be required to have a named executive board member lead accountable for SEND.
- National SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board: The government will introduce a new implementation board to hold partners accountable for the timely development and improvement of the system.
In conclusion, the UK government’s new SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan proposes several policies that aim to reform a challenged system. While the timeline for rolling out these policies may be slow, it is hoped that the trialling of the changes will avoid repeating mistakes made in the past. The upcoming Academies Regulation and Commissioning Review also provides an opportunity to improve support for children and young people with SEND across the country.