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Joined up approach desperately needed amid welcome SEND reforms

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Together for Short Lives has welcomed the government’s proposals to improve the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system for children, young people and families in England. However, the charity has called on ministers to set out a clearer vision of joined-up assessments, plans and services for seriously ill children across education, health and care.

The proposals, which the Department for Education (DfE) is consulting the public on until 1 July, are set out in its SEND Review: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time’ green paper. In the paper, the government acknowledges that:

  • too often, children and young people with SEND feel unsupported
  • too many parents are navigating an adversarial system, and face difficulty and delay in accessing support for their child
  • the pandemic has disproportionately impacted children and young people with SEND, exacerbating the challenges that already existed within the system.

Wide-ranging proposals set out across more than 100 pages include plans to:

  • Set new national standards across education, health and care for children and young people with SEND: ministers will legislate and revise the SEND code of practice to put the standards on a statutory footing.
  • Simplified, digitised education, health and care plans (EHCP): the government states that this will make plans more flexible, reducing bureaucracy and supporting parents to make informed choices.
  • A new legal requirement for councils to introduce ‘local inclusion plans’: the government states that new local SEND partnerships will be established to bring together early years, schools and post-16 education with health and care services to develop the plans, and establish who is responsible for meeting national standards within an area.

In the green paper, DfE states that it is working with the Department of Health and Social Care to provide new statutory guidance to new local NHS planning and funding organisations (integrated care boards, or ICBs). This will set out how the statutory responsibilities for SEND should be carried out within ICBs, including by identifying an executive lead for SEND who sits on the board. The way new standards are applied in children’s social care will be informed by the government’s response to the forthcoming Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

Andy Fletcher, Chief Executive of Together for Short Lives, said: “I welcome minsters’ decision to publish this long-overdue review and their ambition for a more clear, consistent and better quality SEND system. They acknowledge the way in which the current SEND system is failing, including for families of children and young people with complex life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. The maze of education, health and care services they need to navigate further reduces the precious, limited time that they have with their children.”

As a steering group member, Together for Short Lives supports the Disabled Children’s Partnership’s (DCP) initial reaction to the SEND green paper. Andy Fletcher said: “I share DCP’s concern that parents only being able to choose a school from a list of appropriate placements could potentially restrict their choice. More clarity is needed to ensure that proposals for banding and price tariffs for high needs funding are flexible enough to meet individual children’s needs. And it is important that the proposal for compulsory mediation does not restrict access to the tribunal and make it harder for parents to get the support they need.”

“The success of these reforms should be judged on whether they lead to a more joined up system of assessments, plans and services for children with the most complex needs and their families across education, health and care. Ministers should set out a vision for what an integrated system is for all disabled children, not just those with a special educational need. As vital as educational attainment and routes to employment are, the ultimate test of the SEND system should be whether it helps disabled children and young people lead as fulfilled lives as possible and achieve the outcomes that are important to them.”

Together for Short Lives will be responding to the SEND green paper, as an organisation and as part of DCP. We are keen to hear from young people and families of children who need palliative care to inform our response.

The ultimate test of the SEND system should be whether it helps disabled children and young people lead as fulfilled lives as possible and achieve the outcomes that are important to them.

Andy Fletcher, Chief Executive, Together for Short Lives

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