This week is a big moment for the new Conservative administration – it will announce its first Budget. With this will come confirmation of what the delayed government settlement means in practice for local authorities. But given the sudden pressures from coronavirus and the financial markets, and the recent announcement of (another) cross party working group on the funding of adult social care, there may not be any real financial respite for local authorities.
One area that continues to dominate the thinking of senior leaders is the continued pressure in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Over the last few weeks, 32 local authorities have seen their deficit recovery plans sent back by the Department for Education, who have also reiterated that there will be a limit on how much funding councils will be able to move out of the dedicated schools grant to plug deficits in High Needs.
This continued crisis in SEND and High Needs demonstrates the complexity of aligning expectations across partners and parents supporting children with additional needs. At IMPOWER we believe that the way forward is to widen the problem space. That means local authority leaders not only taking action in relation to what they have control over, but also seeking to influence parents and partners in order to create an inclusive ambition focused on preventing, delaying and reducing the escalation of need wherever possible. In SEND and High Needs, we have found that in almost 70% of cases, the need for services could have been prevented, reduced or delayed. The potential for reducing pressure caused by the rising number of Education, Health and Care Plans is clearly substantial.
Many local areas currently lack a deep understanding of the opportunities to drive earlier intervention. The creation of this understanding is a core part of our EDGEWORK methodology; we use it to help system leaders reframe the ambition of their teams and local partnerships, and importantly, to develop the trajectories that will evidence the impact of change over time.
However, it is the delivery of these opportunities that lies at the heart of what we do; delivery makes up 80% of our work. Crucial aspects of delivery include working with frontline teams to change behaviours, examining the messages given to other council teams, partners and parents (and the behaviours these drive) and helping to develop new tools to respond to the opportunities we have identified together with local areas.
Our work in delivering change across SEND is having a significant positive impact. For example, it is enabling local authorities to reframe local decision-making, supporting reductions in both the level of support required and the number of Education, Health and Care Plans (with estimated savings of £500,000 a year in one local area alone through this intervention). We have also developed a ‘Valuing SEND’ tool which provides a new way of interpreting the needs of children with SEND and also demonstrates the ability of local settings and parents to meet needs. The implementation of this tool is:
- Shifting the focus of conversations from provision to needs, and is increasing the confidence of practitioners in talking through appropriate provision
- Increasing parental confidence in the ability of mainstream settings to meet the needs of their children. This is leading to requests for special school placements being withdrawn where it is evident that a child’s needs and long-term ambitions can best be achieved in existing provision
We are now exploring with a number of councils how we can scale up these approaches across the whole system to drive better outcomes at lower cost, and develop a sustainable High Needs system that works for all.