Gareth Copeland: 6.5 minute read

How is SEND fairing in a pre-Brexit, post-New Year world?

2020, the year of Brexit, additional funding for the NHS, the continuation of the reign of Boris Johnson and the chance to make a change. How far you cast the net of change will depend on the political goals of the Conservative party. Whilst we hope that the needs of those who need care will be prioritised, we wonder how far this will be extended. With delays leading into the years for those seeking assistance for their children, we look into the government published report on the state of SEND.

Published at the end of 2019, the report looks into the state of play that surrounds SEND. With the introduction covering the desire of the government back in 2014 to place children at the heart of the system. This aim has, as the report states largely missed the target of transforming the educational experiences. The ambitions are required and reforms are needed but dedicated time and resources need to be allocated to ensure that the system can operate effectively.   

As quoted from the report, the plans were 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’.

What did the reforms propose?

At the heart of the reforms was the desire to place the child at the heart of the system. This is something that everyone can endorse and get behind. We all want to ensure that every child is entitled to the best possible start in life. The Children and Young Families Bill promised all of this. It proposed;

  • Joint commissioning between local authorities and health bodies to work in partnership when arranging provision for children and young people with SEN
  • That local authorities publish a ‘local offer’ of services that are available to children with SEN in their area
  • To set out the requirements relating to the provision and implementation of Education Health and Care Plans
  • That local authorities should prepare a personal budget for children or young people with an EHC Plan if asked to do so by the child’s parent or the young person.

Joint working is nothing new. It is a proposal that seems too simple to not be regularly practiced. However, as we know from experience, this is easier said than done and considerations such as the security behind sharing data can get in the way. With resources being stretched to the limit, the sharing of information and resources is essential in order to stay true to the promises made. We know now that promises only get you so far and holes in the system still remain today.

Where are the shortfalls emerging from?

It would be unfair to blame one department or area as with such a complex system there are many elements at play but we can see the trends. A lack of accountability across the board combined with shortfalls in funding and the need for more comprehensive oversight emerged as top considerations.

Funding is key for all public sector departments, seeing their budgets being continually slashed to the point where year delays can be commonplace. We reported last year on the near four-year delays that some families had endured when it came to EHC Plans. By the time they arrived and the funding cleared, further remedial action is required.

Delays occur and people are accepting of this. However when delays turn into investigative nightmares that can last for years, patience begins to wear thin and as the stress takes its toll, tempers begin to flare. This is exacerbated by the fact that there are multiple people involved in the process, which in turn can lead to a frustrating lack of accountability.

Lack of accountability

Knowing who to blame and who will take responsibility for a situation can be something that is easier to consider than action. The parliamentary report states, ‘We do not think that the current approach to accountability is sufficient’. The absence of a rigorous inspection regime at the start of the process set the tone for the last five years.

Starting on the back foot has led to less than desirable experiences amongst those within the system. As the report indicates, ‘Parents and carers have been required to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy’. This sticky situation has led to conflicts, missed appointments and despair. All of which adds up to re-arranged meetings and a burden of responsibility for parents within a system that was created to support those with SEND.

By not ensuring a rigorous and robust process from the start, the system has created a ‘hands-off approach’. This has, as the report states, ‘…been perpetrated by the fact that those required to police the system have been limited in part by an unwillingness to grapple with unlawful practice, while others have been limited by the narrowness of their remit’.

The underlying principles that cover lack of accountability here being that people do not feel empowered within the system. This lack of empowerment has led to, as the report states a lack of accountability that has been passed on to those it is meant to protect. Combining this with reduced funding has created pressures in the system and the need for greater oversight.

The need for greater oversight

Having clear consequences for failure is the simplest means in which to instil discipline. Without this, the system breeds a lack of understanding on both sides. Parents are informed by government legislation what their son or daughter is entitled to and then when they approach the local authority for an EHC plan they are met with delay and frustration.

The parliamentary report discusses this and refers to the need for 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 the schools failing to meet their needs at this level.’

By instilling a level of oversight and agreed plan of consequence you will create a self-policing system, one that needs to be prioritised. In an era of budgetary restraints and funding issues, it is easy to listen to the loudest noise in the room. The parliamentary report adds that there should be a mechanism for parents to report local authorities when failure has occurred. This failsafe in the system will ensure that focus is placed on the system of support and those in need are prioritised.

The need for a collaborative approach

Accountable oversight can help to prop up and enhance the existing system but before anyone can do anything, we need to work together. This sounds like the simplest consideration but as we all know, it can harder than it should instil across organisations. This is due to different processes and procedures for each business that can sometimes conflict. In addition to this, the security behind information sharing and ensuring effective communications can also inhibit.

All of these considerations can get in the way but through working together and sharing information in a secure online format you can create a lasting, sustainable system, just ask The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council. Together they created the country’s first Bi-Borough SEND partnership.

Built on top of OLM’s award-winning ECLIPSE platform, the project was completed one month ahead of schedule. It will save an estimated 10,000 hours across the year and most importantly since the implementation 100% of EHC plans have been completed on time. Imagine what could be achieved if approaches such as this were rolled out across the country?

Will things change in 2020?

The New Year. A time for resolutions and belief in change. A most wonderful time of the year and one in which the Conservative government have a large majority in parliament. A majority that has been earned from the triumphing of Brexit. By spearheading the let’s get it done campaign they have achieved a large enough majority to achieve whatever they set their minds to.

From this, they can look at the recommendations laid down in the parliamentary report into the state of SEND and action change. They can look at them in addition to looking at the oversight of the system, adding the proviso that failure to bring services to acceptable levels will lead to disciplinary action. Parents can then be empowered to hold their local authority to account.

We can then tie all of the new oversight and funding into a shared desire to work together. The successes seen at the Bi-borough partnership can be replicated across the country and all it needs is focus and direction. The failures of the past need not define the future. Brexit is here and has been decided but with this change comes opportunity.

The mark of any society is how they treat the most vulnerable and the government has the unique opportunity to enable change. Their commanding majority can enable them to change many frontline services for the better. We simply hope that services such as SEND are not overlooked in favour of the vote-winning goliath that is the NHS.

To conclude

2020 will be a year of change. Brexit is here, the Olympics are around the corner and the European football championships will be shooting their way onto our screens soon enough. Whilst all of these events are occurring we have a ruling party who have a large majority in parliament in order to enable change. For the next five years, they have a majority strong enough to get all laws in which they wish to enshrine through parliament.

SEND much like all other public sector bodies has created a rod for its own back. It was amended in 2014 with the introduction of the Children and Young Families Bill. This sought to give more assistance to families and promised the world but as we have seen, they fell slightly short in this goal. What it did was promise the world and deliver the country. The desires laid out within the Bill are to be applauded but it was let down in its implementation.

With no clear oversight or consequence behind the system, delays have occurred with families being left waiting for years for assistance on occasion. The promises need to be followed through but need to be provided with adequate funding to launch to an effective level. Then once the foundations have been installed, the system needs clear processes and consequences for failure to be agreed upon.

By re-laying the foundations you can wipe the slate clean and create a self-sustaining system that helps those with SEND. Then by working together as the Bi-Borough London partnership has done, you can create a system in which all EHC plans are completed on time. This is the dream and it can be a reality.