Education committee slams support for children with SEND

Families left facing bureaucracy, buck passing and confusion

Published on 30th October 2019

The Education Committee has slammed poorly implemented legislation around SEND reforms saying families are left facing a nightmare of "bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion".

A generation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is failing to receive the support it deserves, the committee of MPS warns following an 18-month inquiry into government reforms aimed at placing children and young people at the heart of the SEND system.

"In 2014, Parliament legislated with the intention of transforming the educational experiences of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The reforms were ambitious: the Children and Families Bill sought to place young people at the heart of the system. However, as we set out in this report, that ambition remains to be realised. Let down by failures of implementation, the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many," said the report.

While the reforms were the right ones, their implementation has been badly hampered by poor administration and a challenging funding environment in which local authorities and schools have lacked the ability to make transformative change. While the government has recently taken initial steps to rectify the latter of these two challenges, there is much left to be done, the report warns.

The report finds:

- There is too much of a tension between the child’s needs and the provision available.

- The significant funding shortfall is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of all involved to deliver on the SEND reforms and meet children’s needs.

- A culture change is desperately needed within schools and local authorities.

- There is a general lack of accountability within the system and the absence of a rigorous inspection regime at the beginning set the tone of a hands-off approach.

"There must be greater oversight—we want to see a more rigorous inspection framework with clear consequences for failure. There should also be a greater focus on SEND in school inspections: at present, children who receive SEN Support are being let down by schools failing to meet their needs at this level," said the report.

"The Department did not need to preside serenely over chaos for five years to see that things were not quite going as planned. We recommend that parents should be able to report directly to central government when local authorities fail to follow processes set out in statute and guidance. The Department should create a mechanism specifically for parents and carers of children with SEND, beyond what currently exists. The distance between young people’s lived experience, their families’ struggles and Ministers’ desks is just too far," it adds.

MPs warn that parents and carers have to wade through a "treacle of bureaucracy," full of conflict, missed appointments and despair. The report urges a neutral role introduced to arrange meetings, co-ordinate paperwork and be a source of impartial advice to parents to help reduce conflict in the system and remove much of the responsibility that seems to fall on parents’ shoulders.

MPs heard from young people during the inquiry who told about their experiences as young people with special educational needs and disabilities and were ultimately saddened by their experiences, saying the generation is being let down as the reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood.

The inquiry also found gaps in therapy provision and calls for professionals trained and supported so that they are able to support all pupils as the gaps in therapy provision across the country are letting down all pupils, but particularly those on SEN Support.
While there are opportunities, such as supported internships and apprenticeships, out there,these opportunities are limited, and there is not sufficient support, or sufficient emphasis on enabling them to achieve their hopes and dreams.

The report urges the government to establish a ministerial-led cross-departmental working group to develop more employment and training opportunities for post-16 young people.

It also calls for:

- A more rigorous inspection framework for local authorities, with clear consequences for failure.

- A direct line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.

- Powers for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate complaints about schools.

The report concludes that special educational needs and disabilities should be seen as part of the whole approach of the Department’s remit, not just an add-on and the 2014 Act should work properly for children with special educational needs and disabilities, as was intended.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "Despite the good intentions of the reforms, many children with special educational needs and disabilities are being let down day after day. Many parents face a titanic struggle just to try and ensure their child gets access to the right support.

"Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision. A lack of accountability plagues the system as local authorities, social care and health providers too frequently seek to pass the buck rather than take responsibility for providing support.

"Children and parents should not have to struggle in this way – they should be supported. There needs to be a radical change to inspection, support for parents, and clear consequences for failure to ensure the 2014 Act delivers as the government intended.

"We need to end this major social injustice, one which affects children and their families, particularly those who are not as well equipped to navigate this bureaucratic maze.

"Of course, extra funding for SEND announced in the spending round is welcome but the truth is that more cash will fail to make a difference to children with special education needs unless there is a radical change of approach throughout the system.

"The DfE cannot continue with a piecemeal and reactive approach to supporting children with SEND. Rather than making do with sticking plasters, what is needed is a transformation, a more strategic oversight and fundamental change to ensure a generation of children is no longer let down," he concluded.

Dr Sally Payne, Professional Adviser for Children and Young People at The Royal College of Occupational Therapists, said: “We welcome the Committee’s findings. The Royal College provided written and oral evidence and we are mentioned several times in the report. We are pleased that the Committee are calling for greater access to therapy for all pupils and support proposals to map therapy provision across the country. Our report Occupational Therapy: Unlocking the potential of children and young people outlines how occupational therapists already work in partnership with schools and other agencies to benefit more children.

“We also welcome the call for clarity regarding financial provision to meet the needs of children who do and do not meet criteria for an Education, Health and Care plan and hope that this will address current confusion regarding funding of specialist equipment in schools. Occupational therapists are key to preparing young people for adulthood and independent living and helping them to access meaningful employment. This will require a shift in resources from adult to children’s occupational therapy services," she added.

Special educational needs and disabilities

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