An integral part of the Education Strategy is the topic of SEND and inclusive provision, which has been under discussion and consideration by the board and strategy group this week. As we, in Camden, reflect on the findings from the Peter Grey report, outlining the challenges in managing the future of the high needs block and in agreeing what constitutes the strong foundations of a SEND strategy; to be understood and agreed by all, and to focus on provision, allocations and quality. Mapping out the elements of a SEND strategy will need to align with the emerging Education Strategy, but it also needs to think ahead to what provision should look like ten years from now, it needs to be bold and meet the needs of our young people, families and providers. The world of SEND is universally complex; our considerations and thinking must be far reaching; begging the question as to where there might need to be a renewed relationship with local authorities and the judiciary. To reflect on where decision making lies, considering the value for money question around tariffs and top ups, all without losing the ambition, including quality post 16 pathways and opportunities. Fundamentally, piecing this picture together needs vision, clarity and purpose and to quote Dame Sue John, ‘To plot a course to better, you have to know where you are starting from’.

On Friday, a landmark study from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), found that that there are “deeply concerning” inconsistencies in how children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England are identified and supported. The research, which is the first ever study to fully quantify how SEND support varies nationally, shows that access to support is decided by a “postcode lottery” – with the chances of receiving SEND support from the school or from the local authority largely dictated by the school that a child attends, rather than their individual circumstances. Over a million children are currently registered as having special educational needs in England – with as many 4 in 10 of all pupils recorded as having SEND at some point during their time at school. Parents of children with more complex needs have long claimed that the support offered by authorities is insufficient and differs markedly from place to place. Now, for the first time, data analysis from EPI provides evidence at a national level to support claims of disjointed and unequal support for SEND.

Key findings

  1. There is a postcode lottery for accessing SEND support, with access to specialised provision for children heavily determined by the school they attend, rather than their individual needs
  2. Pupils attending academy schools are less likely to be identified as having SEND
  3. The area that a child lives in can also influence the level of SEND support they receive
  4. Many of the most vulnerable children in society are less likely to access support for SEND

The system for identifying and supporting pupils with SEND requires a number of careful reforms to improve consistency, accessibility, accountability and resource allocation and the EPI report recommends:

  • Improvements in assessing SEND within schools
  • Increased specialist training and support for teachers and school leaders
  • A national framework setting out minimum standards of support for children with SEND in mainstream schools
  • A greater focus in primary schools on the role of children’s personal, social and emotional development
  • Concerted efforts from authorities to reaching highly vulnerable children who require specialised learning support, who may be less visible in the system
  • A SEND funding system that is far more responsive to pupils’ needs.

The EPI report and way forward is helpful, as we in Camden need to seize the opportunity that an exciting Education Strategy and a local SEND approach provides; we cannot afford to tinker with the system, putting a sticky plaster over some provision and close other routes without understanding where our starting point is. In my opinion, we need to be clear of the demand on the Camden system, the presenting and complexity of need, clearly mapping out demand, volumes and cost; whilst also identifying the pinch points and opportunities to divert funding where it is required, based on the evidence and data. Finally, the importance of equity in the system, where we understand exactly where our young people are being placed in Camden, recognising the importance of collective responsibility, including the division of resource across education, health and social care. There is lots to do, but to ensure that Camden’s Special educational needs system is not a “roll of the dice” for young people and their families seeking support, we must act now to bring clarity and sustainable ways of working to our own system. You can read the full report here.

Jon Abbey

Managing Director of Camden Learning


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