What’s on the horizon for SEND education?

With challenges so great, the upcoming SEND review will not be able to present a quick fix to the difficulties SEND families face. It is vital therefore that educators and SEND families understand what support networks are out there in the meantime

Written by By Janvi Patel, co-founder, Support SEND Kids

Whilst plagued with a myriad of delays – having been initially promised in September 2019 – the Government’s upcoming SEND review promises to deliver a complete overhaul of the Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system. With the review expected to be published this quarter, are SEND families actually going to see measures put in place to equip staff in schools and colleges to respond effectively to SEND needs, and end the postcode lottery that so many families face?
It is not clear, but it is important to note that since the announcement of the review, circumstances for many SEND families have deteriorated considerably, with school closures and working from home guidance significantly increasing the strain on SEND parents and their ability to support the needs of their children. What’s more, the past two years have reminded families of the harsh reality that all too often SEND children are overlooked and forgotten in a crisis.
Whatever measures are put into place, realistically the SEND review will not be able to present a quick fix to this situation, so it is vital for educators and SEND families to understand what support networks are out there in the meantime.

The vital role of schools

In the UK, of the 8.9 million pupils enrolled at the start of 2021, more than 1 million children qualified for SEN support. However, in reality, only one in five have access to this support in a formal and legally binding manner. Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) are the legally binding document issued from a child’s Local Authority (LA) to make provisions for a SEN child’s support needs in school. Yet, in the system’s current state, securing an EHCP is a complex process, which often requires parents to resort to gruelling and expensive tribunals all in order to access their child’s right to education.
It is an access to justice issue – children are being limited from the support they need to access their education, and schools in turn are feeling the pressure on their limited resources. Parents are expected to apply to their LA for an EHCP through their child’s school, and yet in reality, schools often lack the capacity to take on this process. A recent survey from Let Us Learn Too found that three quarters of SEND families in turn found that their child’s school was not properly equipped to uphold the legal rights of their child.
Despite this unfortunate reality of their capacity, schools are essential to the EHCP process. It is far more effective to apply to an EHCP through a school, as they will be delivering the contract and implementing any care and support plans. However, the bottom line of the issue comes down to the funding that a school receives. An offshoot of the catchment area postcode lottery, SEND education is all too often an issue of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

The costs of legal action

The number of SEND families being pushed to take legal action, just to ensure their child is properly assessed, is provided an EHCP and/or obtains the provisions required within the EHCP, is growing. But unusually, in the case of EHCP applications that end up in the SEND Tribunal, this legal cost is one parents must fund themselves, with many parents even representing themselves due to the high price.
And just because a SEND parent is successful once does not mean they are done with the process. Parents must re-enter the process time and time again, such as when a SEN child changes institutions, if the families move across local authorities or as the educational needs to the child changes. The latter can throw up a particularly treacherous hurdle as the EHCP process runs across over 400 different LAs, and each with different workflows and using unstandardised forms. Parents cannot simply translate their learning, and this fragmentation increases the complexity of accessing advice, as differences across authorities can make it appear inconsistent or conflicting. And that of course means more rounds of legal costs.
Staggering new figures, from Let Us Learn Too together with the Disabled Children’s Partnership, show families in the UK have spent a combined £14.6 billion replacing missing disability support caused by the flaws in the system. In addition, the same report showed that 36 per cent of parents have borrowed money to fight for their child’s legal rights, with spend figures reaching more than £100,000 for some families. Given 95 per cent of tribunals find in favour of the families, the legal costs incurred as well as the £14.6 billion are a tragedy.

The support available

Clearly the system is flawed, leaving much for the upcoming SEND review to address.  However, it would be naïve to hope for this solution to be either immediate or perfect, which is why free to access grassroots and charitable organisations are vital to fill the resources gap in the meantime.
Charities like IPSEA, Contact and Let Us Learn Too and forums such as Special Needs Jungle offer guidance and data on EHCPs and campaign for the systematic change SEND families deserve to see. At Support SEND Kids, we have collated legal advice and specialist guidance that helps families cuts through the many complexities of the EHCP system. Using an easily digestible Q&A format, our platform brings together parents, guardians and professionals to answer questions, provide advice and share experiences.
In particular, the Support SEND Kids hub hosts the first digitised version of the definitive guide to SEND law and SEND tribunals, known to specialists as the ‘Noddy Guide’. To help families identify the sections most useful to their circumstances, the authors of the guide have worked it into the hub’s bite-sized Q&A format hoping to empower parents to know what their entitlements are.
Our hope is to make this obfuscated system into something truly self-serve. Ironically, the current state of the SEND system is billed as self-serve, when in reality it is a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ (as the House of Commons committee have put it) that hinders parents and guardians going through it from fulfilling their coterminous journeys, such as a career.

Closing thoughts

We need to stop the unnecessary waste – the waste of children’s time and the waste of families’ money to give them what they need now. The pandemic has shed some much-needed light on the difficulties facing SEND families and the inequalities of the current system, and we cannot continue to ignore either the process challenges or that children are missing out on education in crucial development years.
Educators and parents have the same goal, and by making legal insight around every stage of the ECHP application process freely available, Support SEND Kids hopes to help both parties work together to deliver on our central vision that every SEND child has the right to learn, develop and fulfil their potential.

Further Information: