The Education Committee’s report on its review of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision does not pull its punches:

Let down by failures of implementation, the 2014 reforms have resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many.”

Released on October 23rd, the report blames two over-arching factors: a funding shortfall, and poor administration of the 2014 reforms across schools, local authorities and Government, which will need a “culture change” to rectify.

Other problems highlighted include a lack of accountability and too little willingness to challenge unlawful practice, resulting in children being let down. Current accountability systems mean that the “distance between young people’s lived experience, their families’ struggles and the Ministers’ desks is just too far.”

In many ways, this report tells us little that families grappling with the SEND system did not know already. The role of health and social care providers in Education Health and Care Plans has been minimal in too many cases, there are gaps in therapy provision, a “treacle of bureaucracy” to navigate, too many delays and missed appointments, and shortfalls in local offers.

The overall message of the report is that the 2014 reforms were the right ones, but in funding and implementation, they are falling far short. The 38 conclusions and recommendations include:

  • The introduction of a new mechanism through which parents and schools can report directly to the Department for Education if local authorities are in apparent breach of the law
  • Either a strengthening of Ofsted’s existing inspection programme, or the creation of a new specialised SEND inspection for schools that will enable them to deliver a clear judgement on SEND provision, so that inclusive schools are recognised for their efforts
  • Improved guidance on EHC assessments in order to create a clearer, simple process and reduce paperwork
  • Commissioning an independent reviewer to explore the cost implications of having a full-time SENCO in all schools and colleges, depending on their size
  • The creation of a new role for a neutral officer, allocated to every parent or carer once a request is made for a needs assessment, to co-ordinate the statutory processes
  • Creation of multi-disciplinary Government task forces to develop strategies around internship, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities, and for young people with SEND, and to explore how best to support young people into independent living
  • Regular reviews of each local authority’s ‘local offer’, done in collaboration with children and young people and their parents and carers

Many adoptive families will recognise the bleak picture outlined in this report. Adopted children are more likely to have SEND than their peers, and adoptive families often have the additional challenge of finding education professionals who can understand and support children living with a legacy of trauma and neglect.

However, while this report contains much that seems positive, it remains to be seen what the outcomes will be, and how long it will take to effect real change. It is five years since the SEND reforms. We must not let down another generation of children while we debate the next steps.

Download the full report