Two years and still waiting: SEND Review anger

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

There are renewed calls this week for the government to publish its promised and long-awaited review of SEND, which has been beset by long delays.

It has been two years since the review began its root and branch look at how to improve SEND provision across the system, but publication has been delayed three times.

The Department for Education (DfE) has blamed the pandemic in part for the delay, stating that it has “materially altered the context for reform” (APPG, 2021), but experts have also told Headteacher Update that the DfE has struggled to bring together “all the moving parts of siloed provision and the organisations involved” (see Headteacher Update, 2021).

The review came after the Education Select Committee in 2019 reported on an SEND system that was dysfunctional and adversarial. The MPs’ now infamous report said that poor implementation of the government’s 2014 SEND reforms has resulted in “confusion, at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing, no accountability, strained resources, and adversarial experiences”.

It added that poor administration and a “challenging funding environment” means that schools are struggling to cope, and local authorities are under pressure (for more, see Headteacher Update, 2019).

Writing in SecEd in September, Margaret Mulholland, SEND and inclusion policy specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the review was critical, especially in light of the “harmful” adversarial system (Headteacher Update, 2021).

She wrote: “Ask any parent waiting today for assessments for an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) and they will tell you, from the heart, how difficult the process can be. My own conversations with headteachers reveal familiar challenges.

“Parents and local authorities have to engage in an often-expensive legal tussle, focusing on the worst possible views of their children instead of their strengths and potential. Systemic change to structures, processes and mindset is needed, fast.”

A key goal for the review is to ensure that money is being spent “fairly, efficiently and effectively” and that support plans are sustainable. It is expected to focus on key areas including integrated planning across education, health, and care; how to better support the numbers of children with SEND in mainstream; and how to make the process of EHCPs consistent.

This week’s renewed call for publication has come from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) as it hosted its virtual SEND Conference on Wednesday, October 20. It wants to see publication so that the “crisis in SEND funding can be properly addressed”.

Marijke Miles, chair of NAHT’s SEND Council, explained: “It is hugely frustrating that two years on from starting the review, the government seems no nearer to publishing its findings. Government needs to urgently progress the SEND Review and start implementing the changes required to address long-standing systemic shortcomings.

“We need to flip the system, to make SEND support needs-led and not resource-limited, and lift the barriers to cross-sector joint working, so that education, health and social care are each able to work together effectively, for the benefit of all pupils with SEND.

“There is an opportunity in the imminent spending review for government to clearly signal the value they place on investing in the future of every child and young person.”

  • APPG on SEND: Cross party group of MPs criticise “inexcusable delay” – as ministers push back special educational needs review, July 2021:
  • Headteacher Update: SEND Review: What are we waiting for? September 2021:
  • Headteacher Update: Families seeking SEND support left exhausted by 'adversarial and bureaucratic' system, October 2019:

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