SEND review: Children to receive earlier support in new government planson March 28, 2022 at 11:12 pm

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Critics say more urgency is needed to fix a “broken system”, as a long-awaited review is published.

Natasha Balashova and her son, Boris

Image source, Natasha Balashova

Children with special educational needs will receive better help at school from an earlier stage under a new national system, the government says.

The Department for Education plans for England include digitising paperwork to help parents receive extra support for their children more quickly.

It is the result of a delayed review into support for children with special education needs or disabilities (SEND).

Critics say too little urgency has been shown to address the “broken system”.

Last year, 1.4 million pupils in England were identified as having special educational needs – the proportion has been growing since 2017.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told BBC News early intervention was a “focus” of the plans – and would be achieved partly by training 5,000 more early-years teachers to be SEN co-ordinators (Sencos), who monitor and assess SEN children’s progress.

The plans “will give confidence to families across the country that from very early on in their child’s journey through education, whatever their level of need, their local school will be equipped to offer a tailored and high-quality level of support”, he said.

New funding of £70m would be used to back the proposals, the Department for Education said.

But for some families, the review – announced in 2019 – comes too late.

‘It crushes your soul’

Natasha Balashova, from Norwich, says securing extra support for her son has been “an impossible battle that crushes your soul and takes all of your energy”.

Boris, seven, is autistic and has not been to his mainstream school for a year because he had too little support, she says.

Children who need more help than is available through SEN support – such as one-to-one teaching or a place in a specialist school – must have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in place.

“Because the system is broken, there are delays at every step of the process,” Ms Balashova told BBC News.

While his EHCP was being processed, Boris did not receive the support he needed.

And by the time it was ready to be implemented, he had become too anxious to go to school.

Ms Balashova is “sceptical” the government’s proposals will improve the EHCP process because “there is no quick fix of this state of shambles – it has to be reorganised from the top to the bottom”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders trade union, welcomed the government’s focus on early intervention but said it was frustrating the review had been delayed “and full implementation of the Green Paper is some way off”.

“In the meantime, many thousands of children and young people will continue to pass through a broken system, with schools left to pick up the pieces without sufficient resources,” he added.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the Green Paper had some “sensible” ideas but he was “not convinced” the plans were ambitious enough to tackle waiting lists for specialist services such as speech therapy.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said the plans were “incredibly disappointing” and fell short of the “transformation” needed to improve SEND support.

“Warm words on early intervention are not good enough when affordable early childcare is unavailable to most parents,” she added.

But some children are already benefiting from early-intervention projects.

Lilycroft Primary School, in Bradford, has been part of a trial where experts use data to identify children who might need more support, at a much earlier stage than usual.

Head teacher Nicola Roth told BBC News it could take six years for a child in Bradford to be diagnosed as autistic – which can delay the support for which they are eligible.

“We can just get on with treating the child and getting the best education for the child as soon as possible,” she said, adding she hoped every school could benefit from the same model.

Nicola Roth

Prof Mark Mon-Williams, a director at the Centre of Applied Education Research, based at Bradford Royal Infirmary, who ran the trial, said: “All the evidence is that acting early is good across the board.

“That child can then thrive in the educational setting, which means that we then have less issues to deal with in terms of that child’s long-term physical and mental health.”

Other proposals in the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper include:

  • publishing local dashboards to make it clearer to parents who is responsible for what part of the system
  • launching a national framework for councils to make it clear what level of support is expected for children with the greatest additional needs
  • spending £10m to train more than 200 more educational psychologists, who will graduate in 2026 and can give advice and input into EHCP assessments and offer wider support.
  • approving up to 40 new special and alternative provision free schools

Families are being invited to share their views on how to shape the new system, in a 13-week public consultation.

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