A new system for special educational needs: Six months on

It has been six months since the start of the new system of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England.  Since September 2014, local authorities have been working to put new systems and processes in place after the Children and Families Act 2014 became law last year.  Sense worked hard when the new system was being designed to make sure it could bring positive benefits for deafblind children, young people and their families.  But what have we heard so far about the impact the new legislation is having on the people we support?

The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced the biggest changes in a generation to the system of SEND.  The new legislation was brought forward in recognition of that fact that many children with SEN often have a range of other health and social care needs that can impact on their ability to learn and develop.  Key changes to the system included:

  • Replacing Statements of SEN with new Education, Health and Care plans;
  • Encouraging professionals from education, health and social care services to work together to assess the needs of children and young people with SEND;
  • Providing support from the ages of 0-25, rather than 0-19;
  • A new emphasis on listening to the voices of children, young people and their families when decisions are being made;
  • The requirement for all local authorities to publish a ‘Local Offer’ to describe all the provision it expects to be available locally for children and young people with SEND.  This should be produced in partnership with children, young people and families.

Over the last six months, the Public Policy team has been monitoring the implementation of the new legislation.  We’ve done this through talking to families and the professionals who support them, and by monitoring calls to our Information and Advice and Legal teams. Although we are still in the very early days of the new system, some interesting themes have emerged so far.

We’ve heard that there is the potential for the new system to bring positive change:

  • The emphasis on getting all the professionals working with the child around the table at the same time has led to a more co-ordinated approach, and in some cases this has reduced the amount of time being taken to make decisions.
  • Many local authorities are working hard to listen to the voices of children and young people much more, with some creative approaches being used where the child does not use formal language to communicate.

But we’ve also heard about a few areas where improvements are needed:

  • When deafblind children and young people are receiving support through the SEND system but are also ‘looked after’ (in the care system), there can be confusion about which systems and processes should be followed.  This can be a particular problem when planning for young people to make the transition into adulthood is taking place.  It is clear that more needs to be done to think about how the SEND and care systems should connect and how professionals from both sides can work together in more complementary ways.
  • We’ve heard about several cases where young deafblind people are struggling to secure support through an Education, Health and Care plan after the age of 18.  This can happen if there are disputes about whether the young person’s needs are mainly educational (meaning that they can continue to receive support through an Education, Health and Care plan up to age of 25) or if they are health or social care-related.  Clarity is urgently needed to define the nature of an ‘educational need’ to make sure young people don’t miss out on the support they are entitled to.
  • There seems to be a very low level of awareness and understanding of the Local Offer.  We recently surveyed 70 parents who are in regular contact with Sense, and found that none were aware of the Local Offer, including their rights to have a say about what services should be provided locally.  Much more will need to be done over the coming months to raise awareness if this key part of the reforms is to be a success.

Have your say

We’re really keen to hear from you if you have direct experience of how the new system is working.  Feel free to drop us a line at: campaigns.info@sense.org.uk

We will continue to monitor the new SEND system in local areas and will be feeding back what we find to officials at the Department of Education.

If you need more information about the new SEND system and what it means for you, Sense has produced a set of guides for families and professionals that can be downloaded free of charge from our website: https://www.sense.org.uk/content/sense-resources-send-reforms

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Kate Fitch

Author: Kate Fitch

Head of Public Policy at Sense

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