In their recent report, the National Audit Office estimated that the Department for Education provided £9.4 billion in 2018/19 to support the 1.3 million school children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). That represents nearly one quarter of last year’s Designated School Grant funding. And yet, looking at support and value for children with additional needs, the NAO determined that the DfE “does not know the impact of the support provided for pupils with SEND”.
This is a pretty damning indictment, and questions should be asked about why the value of this huge investment of national resources in some of our most vulnerable children cannot be measured.
There is a clear challenge in properly identifying and measuring the needs of children with SEND. Current approaches to identifying need are often inconsistent, focussing too much on one need in isolation. They are not used to identify the right support and importantly not used to measure progress and achievements for children and young people. They also come too late – prompting parents and others to push for specialist assessment.
This leads to other challenges in the system:
- There is poor alignment of expectations of the needs and abilities of children and young among parents, professionals and settings. This leads to the potential for conflict, which can increase over time;
- The broader needs of children, which may affect a primary need, are not understood or focused on which limits progress;
- Settings are not clear enough on how they will support children with SEND and how they can best use their resources to do so;
- Children’s needs are too often ‘contained’ or managed rather than actively supported and reduced. This limits their future life chances and ultimately their independence in teen-age and adulthood.
A Tri-County Approach
To respond to these issues, we have been working with three innovative councils (Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Oxfordshire) to develop a new way to identify and measure the needs of children who have SEND, at an earlier stage. Our approach is visual, easy to understand, and crucially maps out the abilities and opportunities in education and home settings to meet these needs. It helps align expectations across parents, professionals and settings on the level of identified need, how best this can be supported and how progress can be measured.
DfE officials have been interested in our approach and have attended our design workshops where we developed the tool with colleagues from health, Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Co-ordinators, Early Years and other educational settings. We believe that this has the potential to address the issues raised in the NAO report and importantly demonstrate outcomes for children with SEND over time. Having prototyped the tool across the three authorities, the insights already show the value the approach can bring, and we will be taking the Department through these as we trial the approach further over multiple settings and in different areas of need or emerging need.
Emerging insights include:
- The wide variety of levels and types of of children’s needs in different settings, with some children with lower needs currently educated in special school placements
- Some children with higher and more complex needs are not receiving additional funding, and yet some of the children with the lowest needs ratings have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
The importance of properly understanding needs should not be underestimated and is a key step in rebalancing this complex system, ensuring children’s needs are met at the earliest possible point and enabling parents, settings, local authorities and the DfE to know the impact of the support provided for pupils with SEND.