The much-delayed special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) review, first launched in 2019, has been published this morning, marking the opening of a 13-week consultation.
The green paper, titled “Right support, right place, right time”, commits to identifying children’s needs more quickly.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it would also restore families’ trust in an “inclusive education system with excellent mainstream provision that puts children and young people first”.
The proposed policies look to establish a “single national SEND and alternative provision system that sets clear standards for the provision that children and young people should expect to receive”.
The reforms are backed by £70 million of new money to implement the changes, spread over three years, the Department for Education said.
While the review has been welcomed, unions said there was “frustration” it has taken this long, with actual implementation “some way off”. A consultation will now run until July, with most of the new policies without fixed dates for implementation.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. New national SEND standards
The DfE is proposing legislation to create new national SEND standards, as there has been “too much local discretion”.
The statutory standards would act as a “common point of reference” for education, health and care systems, detailing what support should be made available in mainstream settings and when an education health and care plan (EHCP) is needed.
New local SEND partnerships, made up of staff from education, health and care sectors, would then work with parents to assess needs and provision in an area, creating a “local inclusion plan”.
2. Digital, standardised EHCPs
The government wants to introduce new standardised, digital EHCP templates to reduce variations between councils and bureaucracy.
They may include photos or videos to give a “holistic picture” of the child. The plans will also help children who move school during the academic year, the review says.
This would allow for “better data collection” – including “anonymous tracking of progress towards outcomes” and prevalence of need. This would be used to “review and update the national standards”.
These standardised reports would create a requirement to “discuss and record whether a step down to targeted support, and cessation of an EHCP” is more appropriate.
The department will also consult on changing the timescale for the issuing of draft plans following annual reviews. It follows a High Court judgement which ruled local authorities have four weeks to issue proposed amendments.
3. ‘Tailored list’ of schools based on ‘local inclusion plans’
Where a child is identified as needing a specialist placement, parents will be provided with a “tailored” list of settings based on newly-created local inclusion plans.
These settings, which include mainstream, AP and special schools, could be in a different council area, “where appropriate”.
The council will then allocate the first available place in order of the parent’s preference.
As a “safety net”, local authorities would be given new “backstop powers” to direct academy trusts to admit children, with a right for the trust to appeal to the Office of the School Adjudicator.
Councils already have powers to direct admissions in maintained schools.
4. Mandatory mediation on EHCP disputes
Under the plans, families and councils will have to engage in mediation on disputes over EHCPs before registering an appeal to the sometimes costly first-tier tribunal.
Currently, families only need a mediation certificate to register, but do not have to go through the mediation itself.
The DfE said it will keep this under review and, if needed, consider creating an “independent review mechanism” as an extra redress measure.
This could be a multi-agency panel, which some councils do already have. DfE proposes to make these panels statutory, but so far only at the earlier needs assessment stage, rather than dispute stage.
5. Tighter rules on SENCo qualifications
DfE wants to bring in a new leadership SENco national professional qualification to replace the current NASENCo.
The review also says the three-year window to qualify as a SENCo creates an “inherent risk of variation” of when people complete the course.
To address this, they propose to strengthen the statutory timeframe so that headteachers must also be “satisfied” that a SENCo is in the process of obtaining the qualification when taking on the role.
6. National funding bands and tariffs
There will be a new national system of banding and price tariffs for funding, matched to levels of need and types of education provision set out in new national standards.
Bandings would cluster specific types of provision together, while tariffs would set the rules and prices paid for specific elements of provision, such as staffing.
The DfE said most councils already used their own banded funding arrangements. A national framework would provide more consistency, it said.
Guidelines for who pays for support and how councils set funding levels would be set out by the government, but it plans to consult on whether some “local flexibility” is required.
7. National SEND funding formula, £6k threshold review
At the moment, councils set “notional” special educational needs budgets for their mainstream schools. The DfE said it would move to standardise these, with central government setting budget allocations for mainstream schools “though a single, national formula”.
The DfE said mainstream schools should continue to be expected to meet some of the additional costs of supporting pupils with SEND. But the green paper pledged to consider whether the current amount of £6,000 remains the “right threshold”.
The appropriate threshold “will be considered in context of the responsibilities that sit with mainstream schools under the new national standards, and we will consult before taking decisions on any changes to the level of the threshold”.
8. Regions group take charge – and can parachute in new leaders
The DfE’s new “regions group” will hold councils and multi-academy trusts to account for delivery through new funding agreements between local government and the DfE.
The group will act as a “single risk-based regulator” for MATs and provide oversight of local authorities.
The agreements will provide clarity on spending in line with new national SEND standards, and will set out the circumstances where the DfE “take action”.
In “extenuating circumstances”, the DfE may impose a “change in leadership to control high needs budgets and manage local delivery”.
9. New ‘inclusion dashboards’…
New “inclusion dashboards” for 0 to 25 provision will offer a “timely, transparent picture” of how the system is performing at local and national level for “strengthened accountability and transparency to parents”.
The new dashboards will also help the DfE capture data on outcomes and experiences, identification of need and value for money.
The DfE is also working with NHS England on the potential for a new “family-held digital record for children and young people with SEND”.
10. …and ‘contextual’ league tables
Performance measures will also be updated to allow for “contextual information” about a school alongside its results data.
This will “make it easier to recognise schools and colleges that are doing well for children with SEND”.