We should be wary of Government SEND initiatives, but Is the SEND Change Programme an opportunity to develop Inclusive Practice?
By Richard Rieser World of Inclusion
The crisis in Schools Grant Higher Needs Funding: How statutory EHC Plans are paid for [£2.3billion deficit in 2023/24 in England]. This has been ringing alarm bells in the Treasury and many Local Authorities for the last 4 years. The crisis has been caused by Government policy toward mainstream schools making inclusive education of Disabled children much more difficult. This includes narrowing the curriculum, increasing assessment, getting rid of continuous assessment, cutting the value of SEND budgets, increasing workload on staff, setting up academies (many with rigid behaviour policies), failure to deal with bullying, non-compliance with the Disability Equality duties and destruction of Local Authority support for SEND schools. As a result, parents increasingly sought refuge in an EHC Plan, special schools and independent numbers of cases at First Tier Tribunal have risen from 3,000 to 13,000. Numbers of EHCPs have risen to 390,000, now 4% of the school population. Both numbers and percentage of Disabled children in special schools are at an all-time high. (1.94% of all 5–16-year-olds: 172,772 in 2021)
Rather than deal with the policy difficulties leading to the failure of inclusive education, managerial solutions are being sort over the last three years with the Safety Valve and Better Value programme.
The government Safety Valve has given additional money to Local Authorities (LAs) with the highest deficits, for 5 year period to help them reduce deficits in exchange for more cost effective delivery. In 2021, 5 LAs had £100million. In 2022, 9 additional LAs had £300million and in 2023, 20 additional LAs had £586million. This has caused much concern that the legal rights to EHCPs are being undermined in practice, without changes in law. Some 55 councils with less severe deficits are being supported through a separate scheme called Delivering Better Value:
- Appropriately managing demand for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), including assessment processes that are fit for purpose
- Use of appropriate and cost-effective provision – this includes ensuring mainstream schools are equipped and encouraged to meet needs where possible, whilst maintaining high standards for all pupils. This is a £19.5million consultancy with Newton Europe and CIPFA working mainly through case review.
Recently, Delivering Better Value programme was heavily criticised and Government Minister had to issue grovelling statements when it emerged that Newton Europe, the consultants were contracted to reduce reliance on EHCPs by 20% for new EHCPs. Matt Kerr, a parent who discovered this is not convinced by the replies. All these measures will continue with the High Needs Budget at £10billion and rising.
Those who support Inclusion and look in dread at these manipulative programmes may at least want to examine one new element of Government SEND policy that seems less punitive and mechanistic. The £70million SEND Change programme just being set up, is focussing on a whole system approach, with a clear focus on early identification, quality first teaching, intervention and pivoting improved support in and around schools. This is focusing on the 85% of children with SEND in mainstream schools and examining ways to change and improve inclusive practice and looks like an opportunity we should engage with. The Change Programme Delivery Partners are 9 consortiums of Local Authorities and other relevant partners (early years, schools, Post 16, health, families and community) who are being given 6.3million each to spend over 2 years. The objective is to pilot ways to enhance mainstream settings and come up with suggestions for reforming the EHC Plan Process (Information from presentation to Special Education Consortium on 19th October 2023). It is envisaged that the Local Area Inclusion Plan and Data Dashboard will demonstrate the changes to enhance inclusion that will be taking place in the 31 Local Authorities. These will lead through to enhanced standards and guidance.
In the Inclusion Movement we should be engaging locally and emphasising:
- Local groups of teachers, parents, Disabled people and Young Disabled people should engage with these processes and argue for what we know works to enhance good inclusive practice.
- We need to keep pressing that all partners are much more aware of the Equality Act and its implications for Disability Equality and intersectionality. This includes insisting the Access Planning Duty is fully implemented
- Create much more awareness of good inclusive mainstream practice developing around thew world and the link to Article 24 of the UNCRPD
- Not re-invent the wheel but learn from the many studies and recording of good inclusive practice in English schools over the last 30 years e.g. the 2006 Reasonable Adjustment Project
It is ironic that a Conservative Government that came to power with David Cameron committed to rid the education system of the ‘bias to inclusion’ has been so successful, that it now has to come up with a whole range of measures to reduce reliance on expensive independent schools, reduce numbers in special schools and work on ways of improving inclusive practice in mainstream schools for budgetary reasons! What they and potential Governments need to realise is that inclusive values and equality have to be at the heart of the state education system and many of their policy folies that hinder this must be got rid of.
 North East CPP Hartlepool,, Durham, Gateshead, Stockton on Tees; North West CPP Manchester, Rochdale, Oldham, Trafford; Yorkshire & Humber CPP Wakefield, Bradford, Calderdale, Leeds; East Midlands CPP Rutland, Leicester, Leicestershire; West Midlands CPP Telford & Wrekin, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire East of England CPP Bedford Central, Bedfordshire, Luton; South West CPP Swindon, Gloucestershire; London CPP Barnet, Enfield, Islington, Camden; South East CPP Portsmouth, Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, West Sussex.