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Alastair Thompson

SEND: ‘Let’s strive for progress, not perfection’

We recently hosted a virtual shared learning event for 10 Directors of Children’s Services and Education, to take stock of the challenges and opportunities in the SEND system, reflect on policy direction and, most importantly, share what is working on the ground.

We were joined by Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children who spoke about the national context of High Needs and the SEND and Care Reviews. And by Directors of Children’s Services from Lincolnshire, Stockton and Norfolk who shared their strategic perspectives and plans, which was followed by roundtable discussion.

Heather Sandy described how Lincolnshire County Council are responding to need differently at each stage of the continuum, starting with the SEND Advice Line for Lincolnshire, Ask SALL. Martin Gray (Stockton Borough Council) highlighted the importance of setting the right outcomes framework, and Sara Tough shared Norfolk County Council’s early intervention approaches.

Though there are differences in local contexts and nuances, we all agreed that Heather summed up the shared strategic attitude: progress not perfection.

Undoubtedly the High Needs and SEND system is complex. There are numerous agencies and people involved, and outcomes (and spend) are ultimately determined by the thousands of conversations that take place daily. The key – the group agreed – is not becoming paralysed by this or striving for perfection but rather getting on with it, trying new approaches and learning as we go.

In practice, this means putting in hard miles to influence the system and understand what is working. The group agreed on three key themes:

  1. Creating an inclusive ambition – working with partners and stakeholders to:
    • Understand current outcomes, demand, spend and the forward trajectories – engendering shared ownership of how money is spent and to what end.
    • Build the evidence on what more can be done and set a shared ambition and expectation for the system as a whole, including with parents. We recently worked with sector leaders to set 10 system ambitions.
    • Co-create a focused and deliverable plan directly linked to the ambitions and trajectories – for example, ‘10 things we will change and how’
  2. Working at the frontline and across interfaces to influence behaviour and practice:
    • Prioritising ways to promote inclusion and independence as early as possible by influencing practice, starting with a model of practice
    • Use behavioural science methods to target this work to specific points in the system, to encourage and celebrate earlier needs identification and a more inclusive response.
    • Examples include: new advice lines for professionals and families, new models of integrated early help and of driving prevention in education, new ways of codifying need and matching provision, and establishing well supported moves from specialist to mainstream education.
  3. Continuously measuring and learning:
    • Agreeing how the system will measure progress towards the big ambitions, for example whether the level of SEND need is reducing, or the capability of mainstream settings to meet SEND needs is increasing.
    • Pinpointing how the contribution and impact of key changes will be understood and using this intelligence to learn and adapt as a whole system through consistent governance arrangements and behaviours.

Whatever the thrust of the SEND Review, the onus will always be on local systems to improve outcomes for children and young people. The funding challenge will not go away any time soon but, with the right approach and techniques, we absolutely can make a difference and work towards a fairer system. So, let’s not wait for the review or get lost in the complexity – instead, let’s strive for progress.

Other relevant insight

High Needs 2020: which councils are best?

Our list of the best performing councils for High Needs, as published by The MJ

September 3, 2020

Local High Needs systems should set a shared ambition

Working with people across the High Needs system, we have set 10 system ambitions to drive effective support in High Needs

July 23, 2020

High Needs Roundtable 2: setting out system ambitions

As uncertainty continues over when and how children will fully return to the classroom, system ambitions must be set to support children with SEND.

June 16, 2020

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