Great Scott! Another SEND review report...

Lee Scott was asked in March 2016 by the previous Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to look into the special educational needs and disability (SEND) changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014. Mr Scott was the former Prime Minister’s SEN Tsar and patron of the UK Autism Foundation. His report was published on 1 November 2016.

As part of his mission he had open discussions with parents, young people, schools and colleges, local authority staff, voluntary organisations and other individuals providing support to families and covered most areas in England.

‘It’s clear that some families are having positive experiences, but it’s equally clear that others remain frustrated or disappointed for a variety of reasons.’

There were some recurring themes that can be summarised as follows. Most of these are typical of the sorts of cases that we come across.

Findings

  • Communication – where parents are properly engaged, there is a greater level of trust and parental satisfaction. But all too often, communication is poor, particularly where there is no Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), where the child is on additional SEN support. Lee Scott gives an example of the lack of trust where a child who is calm and passive at school but ‘letting it all out’ at home and where the teachers do not believe there is a problem. In the example, parents share a video of the child’s behaviour with the school, resulting in SEN support and greater consistency between management at home and school, leading to an improvement in behaviour.

There are also findings of local authorities not talking to each other, parents caught in disputes between schools and local authorities, local authorities and health services. There are examples of children and young people without a placement at the start of term. Again, typical of the enquiries that we get.

  • The Local Offer – it seems that, despite the Local Offer listing all available support, many parents are still unaware of what they can access. Also, examples of parents having to teach the school about their child’s particular conditions. We know of parents who train school staff and even run inset days.
  • Funding – aside from the obvious issue, that of a lack of funding, there were other problems with a lack of transparency, accountability and consistent approach. There were also instances of confusion around funding for SEND support with local authorities giving conflicting advice. We are very aware of the confusion and have tried to clarify the use of notional SEN budgets here.
  • Law – often misinterpreted and applied inconsistently and local authorities not being held to account.
  • Voluntary services being relied upon too heavily to provide advice where local authorities are failing.

Recommendations

  • The government needs to send strong messages about the importance of good communication with families.
  • More training for all professionals.
  • Greater transparency and accountability of funding. Question the justification of local authorities holding large reserves when making cuts to SEND services.
  • Central government to ensure the law is correctly interpreted and applied consistently. The Quality Commission area inspections should help to improve consistency over time. The following have been published and can be found here:
    • Bolton – published 14 July 2016
    • Brighton and Hove – published 14 July 2016
    • Enfield – published 24 August 2016
    • Gloucestershire – published 3 August 2016
    • Hertfordshire – published 7 September 2016
    • Nottinghamshire – published 10 August 2016
    • Stoke – published 8 September 2016
  • Greater support for children and young people with medical needs.
  • Greater, realistic options for young people leaving school

Lee Scott says that the issues are not really about funding. I would agree. A change in culture and practices takes time but even with the best will in the world, sometimes a change in culture is just not going to be enough. Sometimes, there needs to be funding for that extra member of staff or specialist input and that is often where the problems begin. With cash-strapped local authorities, where is that funding going to come from?

You can read the entire report here – SEND: The schools and colleges experience.

What do you think? What are your experiences?

I am so happy at the outcome, I don't think we would have had such a comprehensive service from any other law firm, and you took the worry away...I do not regret a single second of the whole process, apart from the bit before you got involved. 

James' mother, Boyes Turner client

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