This blog explores the Government’s proposed changes to the SEND and alternative provision system and Mime’s response.
On the 29th March 2022, the Government released its SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, setting out proposals to level up opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The review is currently open for consultation, closing on 22nd July 2022. Here at Mime, we’ve been discussing the proposals and whether they are likely to meet the Government’s ambition to ensure all children and young people have access to the right support, in the right place, and at the right time. Given our specialism, we’ve particularly considered the implications for data and technology. As with many aspects of Children’s Services, the smart use of data and technology can support the transition to the new ways of working the government envisage.
1. Standardising performance measures
Key elements of the government proposals include improving consistency across the country and standardising how performance of SEND provision is measured. The Government’s SEND review and countless other pieces of research have found access to SEND provision is patchy across the country and whether a child is identified with SEND depends more on where a child attends school, as opposed to their needs.
Nationally consistent standards
The Government proposes to establish nationally consistent standards across the SEND and alternative provision systems, evaluating how needs are identified and met as a child or young person moves through education, health and care.
We have long maintained that independent specialist providers and those offering alternative provision have largely avoided accountability. Standardising performance measures across all types of setting supporting children with SEND would go some way to ensuring quality provision across the board. We have supported some local authorities to implement locally-designed evaluation frameworks for this unregulated provision, monitoring such things as pupil attendance, behaviour, outcomes and destinations. However, the use of such approaches is patchy and intelligence is often not shared between local authorities working with the same providers. We therefore hope to see this type of monitoring included in any national standards. Ultimately, local authority commissioners want to ensure that, wherever a child is placed, the likelihood of the child achieving positive long term outcomes is as high as possible.
The government proposal to create local SEND partnerships should bring about a range of benefits. For example, our work with West Midlands Children’s Services involved comparing SEND performance and processes across the region’s fourteen local authorities. This work revealed how practices and outcomes varied considerably across the region and therefore allowed local authorities to identify areas for improvement and share best practice.
Contextual performance tables
The Government proposes to update Compare School and College Performance to provide contextual information alongside results data. This proposal aims to “make it easier to recognise schools and colleges that are doing well for children with SEND”.
It is well established that performance tables can provide a disincentive to schools taking on pupils with an EHCP that they know will likely have a negative impact on their progress scores – an issue our director Steve touched on in this Schools Week article. In theory, contextual performance tables may help reduce this disincentive, for example by separating out attainment scores for SEND pupils from those without SEND. Schools with SEND resource bases and units, in particular, would benefit from this and their data in performance tables may tell a more complete story.
However, we have concerns about how this will work in practice, given the Government’s other priorities. The Schools White Paper sets a target of 90 per cent of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard and an average grade of 5 in GCSE English language and maths. These new targets may discourage schools from accepting pupils who are unlikely to reach these standards and exacerbate problems such as off-rolling.
We have started to tackle these concerns in our work with local authorities, where we explore off-rolling rates to look at a school’s level of SEND inclusion and put their attainment data into a wider context.
2. Benefitting from digital solutions
The Government relies heavily on digital technology in its proposals. This has the potential to facilitate dramatic improvements in the SEND system, improving both consistency and efficiency, and ultimately improving outcomes for children.
The proposal to “introduce a standardised and digitised EHCP process and template” forms a key part of the plan to create a single national SEND system.
We have long promoted the value of digital EHCPs. Our review of EHCPs for five local authorities for the Mayor of London’s Post-16 SEND Review revealed the wide variety of approaches both between and within local authorities. This was backed up by an analysis of EHCPs by the Children’s Commissioner which found considerable variability in 650 EHCPs across just two local authorities.
Well-designed online tools can aid in the collaborative process and ensure consistency across the system. Data from these digital EHCPs can also be aggregated for effective planning and monitoring of providers, for example by allowing the analysis of the achievement of EHCP targets recorded in annual reviews.
It’s important that the Government maintains a national standard data structure for EHCPs, similar to the way that Common Transfer Files (CTFs) work in schools. This means that, regardless of what digital system is used, data from EHCPs can be passed seamlessly between local authorities when a child moves. Key fields to include on digital EHCPs are primary need and secondary need, using the standard DfE codes. Amongst other things, this will allow for comparability of achievement of outcomes for pupils with different types of need. Due to the diversity of pupils and targets set, there is a challenge for standardisation, but digital EHCPs would help to simplify this process and track targets across a young person’s journey.
0-25 inclusion dashboard
The Government proposes to introduce a new inclusion dashboard, providing a timely and transparent picture of how the system is performing at both a local and national level. Currently, there is limited detail on exactly what this dashboard would contain beyond “performance data and metrics across education, health and care”. While this does form part of the consultation, more detail is needed to see if this dashboard will truly deliver the complete picture that is needed.
It’s important that the dashboard provides a clearer picture of the longer term outcomes for children with SEND. At present, only destinations data for 16 and 17 year olds is reported by the DfE, even though there is a duty on local authorities to support young people with EHCPs until they are 25. Ensuring the dashboard includes information on outcomes up to 25 will go some way towards filling this gap.
There are a range of ways to measure inclusion – some easier to capture than others. As a starting point, in order to raise the importance of inclusive behaviours in schools, in 2019 we developed our popular local authority inclusion index using DfE published data. You can see how your local authority measures up here.
3. Working towards more inclusive provision
The Government has acknowledged that a more inclusive education system is required to ensure that all children and young people with SEND have the opportunity to thrive.
Improving mainstream support for pupils with SEND
There are a raft of proposals in the Green Paper to improve provision, including increasing investment, developing teacher training and sharing evidence-based practice.
We have a history of supporting local authorities to improve inclusion, and endorse the idea of more inclusion in mainstream settings, if appropriate training is provided, or staff resources from specialist settings are shared (see the recommendations on page 52 of our report for the Mayor of London for more detail). However, the Government also proposes to invest £2.6 billion and deliver more new special and alternative provision free schools, an initiative which, arguably, is at odds with the drive for more inclusion in mainstream settings. As a local authority colleague said to us recently, “if you build more special schools, you increase demand for special school places”. While there are many children and young people for whom special education represents the best setting, we are concerned that such high investment may tip the balance in favour of placing children and young people into specialist placements, at the cost of improving mainstream settings.
Nonetheless, there is a currently a huge deficit in state-funded places for pupils with an EHCP, which drives demand for expensive independent placements. Inevitably therefore there will be a need for more capacity to be created.
The Association of Colleges highlighted how the Green Paper has little emphasis on colleges, despite claiming to provide for young people all the way into adulthood, up to age 25.
We have similar concerns. Our post-16 review found significant supply gaps in 19 to 25 provision, in particular, and the lack of emphasis on provision for adults is troubling.
The one area of post-16 provision that does receive some focus in the Green Paper is the Supported Internship Scheme. However, this has seen consistently low take-up, with just 1.9% of 16 to 25 year olds with an EHCP in England undertaking a supported internship in 2022.
There should be more investment in a wider range of post-16 options, empowering young people with SEND to choose the pathway that works for them and make a successful transition into adulthood and employment.
Overall, there are reasons for optimism in the Government’s proposals. The Green Paper acknowledges how the current system falls short and aims to improve the experience by increasing consistency and monitoring standards across the country. Digital solutions also present an opportunity to both improve the EHCP journey for children and their families and to monitor progress over time.
However, there are currently gaps on how these solutions will work in practice and there is limited content on young people aged over 18. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the consultation and hope these challenges are addressed in the resulting White Paper.
If you’d like to discuss changes to the SEND system or want to understand your local SEND picture, please get in touch.