Forward to Inclusion or ‘Back’ to Segregation: UK Government SEND Review for England
“A whole generation is being let down as there is not sufficient support, or sufficient emphasis on enabling them to achieve their hopes and dreams”
By Richard Rieser, World of Inclusion
In 2019/2020 a number of highly critical reports were published on the UK Government’s approach to education for Disabled children and Young people, and those with Special Educational Needs (SEN). These highlight the extent to which things have got worse under the Conservative government, as well as due to COVID-19. They include:
- The Audit Commission report, ‘Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England’, published September 2019, stated:
“Some pupils with SEND are receiving high quality support that meets their needs, whether they attend mainstream schools or special schools. However, “the significant concerns that we have identified indicate that many other pupils are not being supported effectively, and that pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans are particularly exposed. The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable. Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets and meet the demand for support. Pressures – such as incentives for mainstream schools to be less inclusive, increased demand for special school places, growing use of independent schools and reductions in per-pupil funding – are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable. The Department needs to act urgently to secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed to achieve value for money.
- The Parliamentary Education Select Committee Report on SEND, published in October 2019.
In 2014, Parliament legislated with the intention of transforming the educational experiences of children and Young people with special educational needs and disabilities. The report makes clear this has not happened:
“Let down by failures of implementation, the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many… Implementation has been badly hampered by poor administration and a challenging funding environment in which local authorities and schools have lacked the ability to make transformative change.” (Page 3)
The Select Committee argues for:
– More rigorous inspections and a direct route to enable parents to contact Ministers
– An easing of restrictions on local authorities’ abilities to establish special schools and resource bases
– Much greater opportunity for Young Disabled people, such as supported internships and apprenticeships
- An article in SEN Jungle in September 2019 warned a further SEND Review risked kicking the issue into the long grass:“Ministers know that the reforms haven’t worked as intended in many areas, and that children with all types of needs are losing out on an education, with long-term consequences for their wellbeing and life-chances. They know that families are struggling and having services withdrawn; they know that more than 8,000 children with SEND have no school place; they know that requests for children to have their needs assessed are routinely refused; they know that local authorities find endless inventive and unlawful ways to put up barriers to children receiving support; and they certainly know that education, health and social care services often simply fail to work together in any meaningful way.”
Lack of Action and COVID-19
Since these publications, there has been no review published. The COVID-19 pandemic has massively impacted on all children’s learning, but especially Disabled children and Young people. COVID-19 has led to a worsened mental state for a majority of Disabled children, according to a survey of the Disabled Children’s Partnership in March 2021, which found that 29% of Disabled children were shielding, and 54% of parents (of 507 responders) felt that their Disabled child had lost confidence over the previous 12 months. This included life skills, such as being out and about (53%), communicating with others (49%), interaction with strangers (47%) and familiar people (38%).
The government has talked about ‘catch-up’ but, as we can see from the reports above, the system was not working well for the majority of Disabled children and their parents before lockdown. Now the review, when it comes in late spring, will need to address building back better for the whole SEND system.
The SEND Review appears to be led by the HM Treasury looking for quick wins to claw back money, rather than providing long-term solutions to the chronic under funding of SEND. There are now 390,109 pupils and students with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), (an increase of 10% on 2019 and 62% on 2015), far more than anyone anticipated. Because the system cannot cope with the increased number of pupils with EHCPs, greater numbers are being educated in inappropriate settings.
In the past year there has been a 15% rise in the number of pupils with EHCPs attending independent schools, which are not independent special schools. National Education Union analysis indicates that, in order to address the shortfalls, the ‘High Needs Block’ should be £2.1 billion a year higher (assuming the 2020/21 number of EHCPs were funded at the 2015/16 rate). The government has acknowledged the issue and increased funding, (from £350 million for 2019-20, £780 million for 2020-21, to the announced £730m for 2021-22). But this isn’t enough, given the scale of need. The government needs to increase funding in the planned Comprehensive Spending Review for 2023-24. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the financial situation for many schools, who have incurred additional costs. The failure to keep up in real expenditure terms is putting increasing pressure on school budgets (non-ring-fenced), leading to widespread cuts in vital inclusion support, and subsequently impacting the 1.1 million Disabled students on SEND school support.
The NEU Conference at Easter 2021 voted strongly for policies supporting inclusive education, including restoring funding, and was a great day for the NEU, Disabled people, parents of Disabled students and education in general, to achieve unity on such a wide-ranging motion. It highlighted how a range of government policies on curriculum, assessment, privatisation, real-term funding cuts, disproportionate exclusion rates, and failure to implement disability equality duties under the Equalities Act, has meant Disabled children and Young people have been let down by the mainstream school system. When combined with other intersectional identities, for instance class and gender, these outcomes have led to multiple failures. Meanwhile, the growth in local authorities (LAs) placing Disabled children in expensive independent schools is causing a great financial strain on LA budgets. The Conference agreed to, “build a widespread campaign for better treatment of Disabled staff and students and to achieve a well-resourced mainstream inclusive education system, sufficiently funded with trained staff, where all can thrive.”
Demands for when the SEND Review goes out to consultation
We know the money and solutions exist. This is a political issue and we have set out the following demands for the UK Government to implement in the SEND Review:
- Full government funding: Meet the growth in students with SEND on EHC Plans and school support – ring fenced so these students benefit directly from the current notional £6000.
- Develop government policies in line with Article 24 of UN-CRPD: Explicitly support mainstream schools in developing inclusive education instead of omitting it from policy.
- Stop building free special schools: An injection of resources to develop and increase mainstream provision to halt the large increase in placements in special schools, phasing out the use of expensive independent special schools by LAs.
- Improve training on SEND and inclusion: Initial and continuing professional development with mandatory in-service whole staff training and disability equality and human rights training for all.
- Reform the Curriculum and Assessment system: Build a flexible, child friendly system, including (new) non-exam-based accreditation, including creative, vocational, interpersonal and social skills, and moderated teacher assessments, which have worked during lockdown.
- End exclusions and ban zero tolerance behaviour policies (for instance, Behaviour Hubs): Empower Disabled students, end disablist bullying and introduce/enhance peer support/collaboration and buddy systems.
- Fully implement the School Access Planning Duty within 5 years, by which time all schools must be accessible.
- Empower all Disabled children and parents to know and exercise their rights to fully resourced inclusive education, requiring an inclusive ethos and strong person-centred approach.
- Government policy to create a more relaxed and stress-free environment in schools: Including amental health counsellor in every school and increased funding for CAMHS.
- Reasonable Adjustments: Government to enforce a public duty to Disability Equality and fully implement Reasonable Adjustments throughout the education system.
To achieve the above demands and reorient the English education SEND system toward inclusion, parents, teachers, school students, trade unions and the community need to work in solidarity over the coming months. Please get involved and do all you can to spread these ideas.