Jill Hardman, our helpline manager, gives her view on how the SEND system is faring

The new special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) framework has been rolled out over the last four years and we are now coming to the end of the transition phrase.

We supported the new legislation as it has many positives and covers gaps in the previous system. The principles of family involvement, inclusion of health and social care, extending the system to 0 to 25years, and allowing families to express a preference for a wider range of education settings are widely welcomed.

However, the ambitious changes have been implemented at a time when local authorities are facing a really challenging financial environment. SEN support has historically been underfunded.

So whilst some additional funding was provided to help local authorities implement the reforms, there are significant wider financial pressures on local government, which means the system continues to be under-resourced and not working as well as it should be.

One of the key changes of the new system was the replacement of statements with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans. Headline figures for on-time transfers may be at 94 per cent, but we are sceptical about the procedures followed and the quality of the plans in many cases.

We had an increase in calls to our helpline just before the 31 March deadline - EHC plans rushed through with parents not being given time to put forward their views or meet with the local authority. We also have significant concerns about the quality of many EHC plans as we are aware that in some cases the statutory transfer process has not been followed. We have seen a sharp increase in the number of calls about tribunal appeals.

Better joint working across education, health and social care is an important ambition of the reforms. In practice, this is still patchy and we have heard from parents whose children have significant health and social care needs but this support is not included in their EHC plan. Many EHC plans for young people lack the necessary focus on preparing for adulthood.

Of course EHC plans only cover 2 - 3 per cent of children and young people with SEND. The majority are reliant on non-statutory SEN support from their education setting. We know that there are many schools and colleges who support and include children and young people with SEND very well.

But we hear of examples of poor and unlawful practice, where pupils with learning, behaviour and medical needs are not receiving the support they need. Many such pupils end up being excluded, or develop emotional and mental health difficulties which affect their attendance.

Many parents have invested a great deal of hope and hard work into trying to get these reforms to deliver - from parent carer forums across the country, to individual parents trying to get a better education for their child. Looking forward, what matters is that schools, local authorities and CCGs work to put the child and their parents at the centre of the reforms.

These reforms were about more than a transfer of statements to EHC plans, they were intended to bring about cultural change in the best interests of children with SEND - and we should hold them to that.  

Contact's helpline helps families understand their rights in relation to the SEND reforms and we have a wide range of education factsheets and online information available

Written by Contact at 11:47