Skip to navigation Skip to main content

Supporting High Needs: High Hopes for High Needs

At IMPOWER, we support local High Needs systems to shift further towards earlier intervention, helping to ensure that children’s needs are met earlier, with the right support and at the right time, and that, where possible, needs are prevented from escalating.

Our research in over 20 local areas has shown that as many as 50% of children could have had their needs prevented from escalating with the right support. By rebalancing local systems and ensuring that children with High Needs can be supported inclusively in their communities, over time, we can help to prevent the need for specialist intervention, ultimately improving outcomes and experience.

The challenge

Parents or carers of a child with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) are no different from any other parent: they want the very best for their child, including in education. But a combination of factors has resulted in a system that is just not working well enough. This includes:

  • Inadequate funding over a number of years
  • Educational performance measures that incentivise schools to deprioritise those children with High Needs
  • A shift towards academisation that has made it harder to deliver cultural change within local areas
  • A reduction in funding for early intervention, causing more people to have to rely on the EHCP process
  • A deficit-based approach that sees children with High Needs as a ‘challenge’ and does not recognise their strengths or aspirations

But it is also clear that more money is not the only answer. Our work has shown 3 key challenges which we have been addressing with over 20 local areas:

  • Behaviour and cultural challenges in a fragmented system: The support put in place for children with High Needs is often fragmented and opportunities to join up are missed, resulting in a lack of trust and confidence in the system and the support it can provide.
  • Gap in early intervention: The focus on early intervention is not strong enough BUT where earlier support is available, it is not understood or used, leading to the situation in which over 50% of children could have had their needs prevented from escalating.
  • Needs and outcomes are not clear: Support for children is often lacking in clarity on what they need or how it will help to achieve their outcomes. This makes planning services at a locality level difficult and tracking progress and the impact on an individual child’s needs impossible.

Our solution

At IMPOWER, our focus is on helping deliver sustainable High Needs systems by developing a clear understanding of what works in SEND with a focus on outcomes along the child’s journey. Our goal is to refocus local SEND systems towards early intervention. By seeing and meeting children’s needs earlier, we can prevent them from escalating. And by working together more collaboratively, we can ensure their whole needs are seen and understood, and that their support can help to prepare them for their future lives.  By working alongside local areas, we have been able to show that delivering change in SEND can mean both improved outcomes for children & young people and a more effective and sustainable budget.

Our work in High Needs provides:

  • A deeper understanding of what is happening in the high needs system including opportunities to intervene earlier and meet children’s needs in the right way and at the right time.
  • Evidenced through our unique system ‘discovery’ methodology which draws on the expertise of staff, schools and families, and pinpoints where children’s needs could have been prevented from escalating – and how.
  • An inclusive ambition, developed with partners across the system, for what good should look like in their local SEND system, and a clear plan for achieving this, drawing on our EDGEWORK change methodology.
  • Evidence that this can work, by testing interventions on a small scale, seeking feedback from schools and families, and building on these successes to deliver and embed change sustainably.


What does this look like in practice?

In recent years, we have worked with over 20 local areas to:

  • Help partners to embed strengths-based practice, improving how professionals work together with the child at the centre and ensuring that the child’s needs, strengths and aspirations are at the heart of their support
  • Increasing access to early advice for schools to help them meet the needs of children at SEN Support level by establishing SEND Advice Hubs or Helplines, preventing avoidable escalation of needs.
  • Testing a new way for schools and families to explore a child’s needs holistically, using the Valuing SEND tool and approach which was co-designed by three innovative local authorities with IMPOWER’s support
  • Helping local systems to set an inclusive ambition for SEND, develop a clear and deliverable transformation plan and monitor the impact of these changes over time
  • At IMPOWER, our colleagues are skilled in the delivery of change and local public services. On all our projects, we aim to make local systems more sustainable and offer skills transfer and change methodology support to our client’s staff.

In 2022-23 alone, we:

  • Supported the establishment of four SEND Advice Hubs / Helplines
  • Trained 800 new schools in Valuing SEND (meaning that 2,000 schools nationally are now using the approach)
  • Supported 80,000 children & young people with High Needs through partnership working with our clients

What impact has this had?

  • 91% of callers to one SEND Advice Line said it had helped to meet children’s needs earlier.
  • 100% of SEND Team staff in one local area said the training in strengths-based and relational practice would help improve communication with families and outcomes for children.
  • In one area, 233 fewer EHCPs have been needed because children’s needs were identified and met earlier, shifting the focus towards the early intervention parents and carers want to see prioritised.
  • In one area, £1m in costs were avoided through meeting need earlier and preventing unavoidable escalation. This means more money to invest in early support.

Please see our High Hopes for High Needs Programme Impact Report 2023 for more information.

High Needs Impact Report

High Hopes for High Needs Programme


Further reading


MJ article: Unravelling the knot of education, health and care plans

MJ article: Unravelling the knot of education, health and…

The crisis in SEND - 8 challenges that need to be addressed


High Needs roundtable: our guest blogpost in CYP Now

High Needs roundtable: our guest blogpost in CYP Now

Co-authored by Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children at the National Children’s Bureau)


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

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…


Local High Needs systems should set a shared ambition

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


High Needs 2020: which councils are best?

High Needs 2020: which councils are best?

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


Guest blogpost: Heather Sandy, Lincolnshire CC

Guest blogpost: Heather Sandy, Lincolnshire CC

Heather Sandy is the Director of Children’s Services for Lincolnshire County Council. IMPOWER have been supporting the council in relation…

Value Proposition

High Needs and SEND


Work with us

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss the challenges your organisation is facing.