The Government’s highly anticipated SEND Review, published today, sets out proposals for a large scale reform of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) system – the first in eight years. 

The plans highlight just how broken and burdensome the current system is, and the scale of the challenge ahead if government is to deliver on its promise to level up opportunities for all children and young people.

Alison Woodhead, Adoption UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications said: “Adoption UK welcomes the government’s commitment to improve a heavily bureaucratic system that puts enormous pressure on parents to battle for access to proper support for their child. We will work with our community to feed into the consultation over the coming weeks, to urge government to consider the specific needs of adopted and previously looked after children and the barriers their families face in securing timely, expert SEND support.”

Proposals include plans to establish a single national SEND and alternative provision system, with a clear set of standards which seeks to end the current postcode lottery, and better joined up working between education, health and care systems that is so far lacking.

The reforms will have a far-reaching impact on many adoptive families - Adoption UK research highlights as many as 80% of adopted children have SEND compared to 12.2% of all pupils identified as requiring SEN Support. The SEND Review cuts across an adopted child’s needs both as a care experienced person, as well as their needs as a child with SEND. 

Particularly welcome is the recognition that early help is crucial - with or without a SEND diagnosis. The Review acknowledges that for many, needs are identified late, which can then escalate and become entrenched. Most care experienced children and young people have complex and overlapping needs and the identification and diagnosis of these are often negatively impacted by multiple moves within the education and the care systems in early childhood.

Also important for adoptive families is the promise of greater transparency and accountability through ‘local inclusion dashboards’ which will set out clear performance data and metrics across education, health, and care; and the recognised need to improve transitions to adulthood as part of a set of new national SEND standards.

Plans to amend the process for naming a school place within an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) by providing parents with a tailored list of settings appropriate to meet their child’s needs, raises questions as to who within the local authority will have the expertise to identify those, particularly within a trauma and attachment-informed setting. 

Another of the proposals aims to reduce the number of tribunals – in 2020/21 96% of tribunals upheld were at least partly in favour of the parent or carer. However, plans to introduce compulsory mediation could place extra pressure on parents already facing significant power imbalances when disagreements arise.