My concerns about SEND

Personal viewpoint by Angie Rutter

By Angie Rutter, Voice Council Member (personal view)

Are we reaching the tipping point for children and young people with SEND?

On 20 March 2019, Baroness Mary Warnock died, aged 94. She has been described as having an awesome intellect alongside a down-to-earth, practical approach to life. She was the driving force behind what became known as The Warnock Report (1978), officially The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People.  It was compiled over 40 years ago and quickly became the blueprint for the inclusion of pupils / students with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) into mainstream education.

In July last year, Baroness Warnock put forward a pragmatic ‘5 Point plan for SEND’ to the Commons Education Select Committee. Briefly, she recommended:

  1. Smaller secondary schools – to make them more personal.
  2. Local authorities to be more transparent about reasons for refusing Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) to parents and professionals.
  3. More joint working, especially between teachers, social workers and doctors.
  4. Improvements to teacher training, with acceptance of the basic concept that there will be pupils / students with SEND in every class, alongside giving appropriate respect and authority to SEND Co-ordinators.
  5. For Ofsted to ‘take a look at itself’ and become more aware of what it really inspects. It needs to praise schools for being genuinely inclusive and being proud of all students’ achievements, including those with SEND.

Baroness Warnock condemned the way her original report had not been properly implemented. Essential, and appropriately funded, support had not followed the child / young person with SEND, as they became ‘included’ into mainstream educational provision. (TES)

I share Baroness Warnock’s previous concerns about properly funded provision for children / young people with SEND. I have six more additional concerns: 

  1. Unforeseen / unintended consequences of SEND funding being taken from other equally needy areas by both educational establishments and local authorities (Las), thus causing hostile environments around the many complex issues involved.
  2. Educational establishments and LAs not able to be SEND ‘friendly’, and therefore becoming less inclusive, mainly because of fears of having legal responsibilities that they are financially unable to address – making decisions that avoid financial difficulties in the short term, but knowing that effective early interventions can avoid expensive life time consequences.    
  3. Use of lengthy, inappropriate and ineffective internal exclusions for pupils / students with SEND, whose frustrations are probably caused by lack of support that often leads to inappropriate behaviours. Alternative Provisions are also being overused, especially during public exam periods and sometimes pupils / students unfairly being ‘off rolled’ allowing overall exam results, on performance league tables, to look more positive. 
  4. Use of inappropriate, ‘hurtful’ restraint techniques due to inadequate safeguards around the use of restraint. There is an urgent need for a clear legal framework and robust guidance regarding restraint and other restrictive practices, such as seclusion, in schools (conclusions of a recent governmental consultation have not been published at time of writing).
  5. Lack of experienced, appropriately trained and qualified SEND staff caused by extensive educational funding cuts.
  6. Increases in pupils’/students’, educational staff and parents’ mental health difficulties at a time when mental health services are becoming ever more difficult to access. This is substantially exacerbating society’s instability going forward

Changes to the system

In 2014, the Government introduced well-intentioned, wide-ranging changes to the SEND system, hoping to offer simpler, improved and consistent help for children and young people involved. These changes were supposed to give families greater choices in decision making.

Unfortunately, due to extensive funding cuts, the Government’s intentions have been massively diluted. In fact, now it is often failing in its statutory duties to our most vulnerable children / young people.

An example of this was where, earlier this year, a boy from Cornwall with SEND, who had previously been excluded from his primary school because of inappropriate behaviour, missed 12 months of education. This was due to the Council Education Department and SEND teams not communicating effectively with each other.

There were multiple delays following the initial request for an EHCP assessment, which was then rejected, despite being supported by a social worker, an autism specialist and an educational psychologist.  The panel claimed there was not enough evidence. Two more requests followed. When the EHCP was finally issued, it confirmed that a significant amount of help was needed to allow the boy to receive an education and manage his emotions and behaviour. The Council’s threshold for granting EHCPs has now been deemed to be too high and delays; poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence have been exposed.

Last year, ironically 40 years after The Warnock Report was published, a SEND Inquiry was launched by the Commons Education Select Committee (this is ongoing at time of writing). It intends to review:

  • the success of the 2014 reforms;
  • how they have been implemented; and
  • what impact they have had in meeting the challenges faced by children / young people with SEND

A small group of young people gave evidence to the MPs.

Ben explained:

‘We’re not problems, we’re not just disabled, we’re not just SEND – we are human beings, the same as the rest of you.’

He went on to say that EHCPs should not be seen as forms or a process but as ‘a child’s life’. They should be person-focused, not just about education, but enabling young people to develop their life skills, developing independence, having choices, control, achieving aspirations, life goals, friends and enabling access to their community.

Jordan protested:

‘I am here to explain how I, and many other disabled people, feel cheated by the education system and treated poorly by it… it is atrocious that children are not involved in writing their plans.’

Eva felt that EHCP are not being followed. She explained that she did not want to be defined by a label or a problem that needed to be solved. She has dreams, ambitions and life goals – she is not just a medical condition.

Simeon feels that she needs ‘good role models’ by seeing disabled people in various professional roles. She feels that people judge her by what they think she can do rather than what she has achieved and that society does not have high expectations of people with disabilities.

Kashifa does not want to be over protected. He wants to be judged on his capability not on his appearance.

Ella was angry that she struggled to get an EHCP as she had to prove she was deaf enough. Lack of support will prevent her getting the grades she is able to achieve.

These are extraordinary young people who are capable of extraordinary things.

John Harris, whose son has SEND, describes SEND assessment as ‘one of the Cameron era’s most howling disasters’ (The Guardian 05.09 17).  Ministers had promised a ‘stronger and simpler’ system and instead produced the opposite - an absurdly complex regime, full of trap doors.

From the start, changes were plagued by confusion with slipshod administration and the adverse effects of austerity. To try to revolutionize a system in the midst of swingeing cuts is to invite chaos and failure. It has created a system that favours people with money and time to pursue their case and is an impossible maze for most people. It is the case of a failed regime being chaotically replaced by another, all initial hype dwindling into meaninglessness. They have dashed hopes, ruined lives and a great ocean of educational potential has been left ignored.

A recent IPPR report has revealed SEND funding is failing to keep pace with demand. It has nationally reduced by 17% in the last four years. In the north of England, the reduction is 22%.   

The IPPR report stated that support for children / young people with SEND is an investment in collective wellbeing and working towards a just economy. It questioned the moral and economic thinking of failing to recognise the benefit of upfront investment in the futures of young people with SEND. Low employment rates among people with learning disabilities is a sure sign that children with complex needs are not receiving adequate support to prepare them for adulthood.   

Tom Starkey, writing in the TES, notes the transformative nature good provision can have – it allows greater access to the world and helps those with SEND find their place within it, regardless of the tangible economic benefit that investment in the education of children / young people with SEND brings.

The TES has also reported that a population bulge will drive a demand for 9,000 extra special school places by 2027. The additional money needed to fund these places will probably be the tipping point that the Government is desperately trying to avoid.   

I agree with Baroness Warnock, who in 1978 stated that the goals / outcomes of education are the same for all children. They should enter the world, after formal education is over, as an active participant in society and as a responsible contributor to it. Is that too much to expect? 

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