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Not Too Late for Early Years – Transformational Reform to Support Children with SEND

RAAC concrete school closures

With new measures that acknowledge a much overdue system change, the Department for Education has announced its plans to reform SEND support for children in England. The new SEND and AP improvement plan has put in place earlier diagnosis as part of the system change along with a commitment to building 33 more special free schools. Parents, schools and teachers have awaited the reforms for over ten months following a consultation in 2022 that discussed the implementation plan in great detail. 

The current state of affairs

The current system of SEND provision has received much criticism over the years due to disproportionate assistance received by certain students, owing to the salient wealth and class division in the economy. Children with SEND in affluent families who can access support provision via private care, and those who have the ability to go through the lengthy process of tribunal, find it easier to access early years support. The benefits of which echo in later stages of education all the way into adulthood. At the same time, children without financial means to avail this care have been left behind by the discriminatory system, leading to a widening gap in their performance indicators over their learning years.

Adversity and frustration has been experienced by parents in the absence of a well-functioning system that directs timely care and support irrespective of financial standing. These adversities have been compounded by a ‘postcode lottery’ system, where the Government’s allocation of funding to local authorities (LAs) has been highly skewed, leading to unequal outcome indicators in schools based on their geographical location. While frustrations are often targeted at school, the fault lines in the process become visible at earlier stage –  initially addressed by the Green Paper – where complexities and tedious paper work make it difficult for local schools to apply for funding. An absence of funding, then, has multifaceted drawbacks such as poor training of special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCos), lack of targeting learning support in classrooms, low investment in assistive technology etc.

Such concerns surrounding inadequate funding, resources and time significantly shift the focus away from addressing the needs of students with disabilities.

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Aims of new the reform

The new improvement plan seeks to address many of these long-standing concerns by investing in the training of 5000 early years SENCos and 400 educational psychologists to improve early diagnosis. Additionally, the Government will also invest to expand ‘specialist taskforces’ in alternative provision (AP), ranging from mental health professionals to speech and language therapists. The prioritisation on mental health within these measures are sure to be appreciated in a system that currently lacks them. During COVID-19, standardised testing by educational psychologists in LAs had significantly diminished with practices of diagnosis involving phone calls rather than face-to-face assessments. Additionally, the tedious process involved in receiving (EHCP) to receive any kind of

support for neurodiverse conditions took a significant toll on families and their children who needed to procure funding in a timely and efficient manner. The inefficiency of the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) appointments have also sidelined dyslexic children with co-occurring needs. In this scenario, the Government’s efforts as investments in testing and refining improvement plans, digitising the EHC process for quicker support and intensive support from mental health professions and as speech and language therapists are the need of the hour.

The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan has acknowledged the shortfalls of the previous system and stated that the current system will seek to remedy previous errors.

“If your child needs extra support at school, you shouldn’t need to get an EHCP to make sure that support is available”, she said.

Addressing that families were ‘battling the system’ for support, she expressed her solidarity with their struggles saying:

“I want to say to them, ‘we’re here… to make sure that you get more support and you know what support you should expect”

Final thought

Shivani Sen, Policy and Research Analyst, Curia

In a system that has, so far, unfavourably prioritised the mainstream, the reforms outlined by the Secretary of State seem to promise new hope for supporting pupils with special educational needs., However, much work still needs to be done. This should be seen as a more collaborative approach than previously seen across government, schools and families to ensure that children, who are at the centre of these efforts do not get sidelined in arguments that are extensively focused on allocating blame instead of accepting responsibility

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission Report

Curia’s Dyslexia Commission will be launching its Annual Report in the weeks to come. Entailing insights from experts ranging from The Department of Education, The British Dyslexia Association, Members of Parliament, and independent headteachers and SENCo practitioners, the report disucsses the following 4 areas.

  1. Reducing Inequalities
  2. Coordination of Care
  3. SEND Review and Schools Bill
  4. Working Age Adults

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