Today, the Government’s eagerly awaited follow up to the SEND review: right support, right place, right time and the subsequent consultation has been published.
It comes in the form of an ‘Improvement Plan’ which focuses on better enabling mainstream educational settings to see and meet the different needs of more children, as well as expanding the breadth and depth of special school places for children who need them.
Backed by £70m of new money for implementation, the big elements are: national standards and guidance, greater clarity on what support children and families can expect and choose from given their needs and how local areas will deliver that support, a more proactive model of alternative provision which reaches out into mainstream schools, a range of actions to skill up the education workforce, digital and standardised education, health and care plans (EHCPs), and more special free schools.
These changes will first be tested in practice in some areas, with the policy and delivery approach then being developed based on the learning before a full rollout across all areas in England.
First, the sceptical view. For those who have lost patience or faith over the last few years there will be many questions:
The ambition and purpose – is it clear and bold enough in the definition of what a system which provides good life chances for all children looks like, and how will we know when it does?
The pace – the Improvement Plan has been three years in the making. Won’t it take years yet to test, let alone fully implement, these ideas, when children are waiting for support to meet their needs now?
The commitment – with no Parliamentary road left to legislate this term, is this just tinkering around the edges, ducking the big decisions, and picking off the ‘easy bits’ such as local inclusion plans and dashboards?
The leadership – without a fundamental overhaul of the incentives, duties, accountabilities and funding, won’t it simply make for a slightly more efficient version of a broken and adversarial system? Doesn’t the ‘test and learn’ approach really mean passing the buck to local areas – giving them more to do, less freedom in how they work, and no additional funding?
The premise – is ‘national consistency’ political code for limiting parental choice?
The truth is that the problem the Green Paper aims to address, and therefore the solution, is complex.
In our submissions to the SEND Review, our key messages have been to respect this complexity by putting at least as much effort and investment into the implementation as the policy formulation.
This is the key positive here. The approach heeds this advice and the lessons of the 2014 reforms – which some described as ‘hit and run’ policy with more unintended than intended consequences – and puts the Government ‘on the pitch’ with families and providers.
Overall it is an acceptance, or perhaps realisation, that top-down policy edicts won’t work and success is as much about ‘how’ as ‘what’. Improvement for families will require different providers, with different duties and funding incentives, working together with them in different ways. Anything other than a ‘test and learn’ journey is actually therefore irresponsible.
The focus must now turn to delivery – to co-designing and trying these new ways of working in a way which allows children, parents and carers to both actively participate and judge the benefits. This approach makes space for iteration as we go, based on evidence of what is working and what isn’t.
As IMPOWER’s High Needs Delivery Advisory Board which steers our frontline change work would undoubtedly say, “now let’s deliver”.