International Day of Persons with Disabilities is marked on 3rd December, in recognition of the vast numbers of people living with conditions, whether visible or invisible, which impact their daily lives.
One out of ten children have a disability, many of whom will require additional support to help manage their condition. As part of their latest research, the national Autistic society found that more than a quarter (26%) of parents waited over three years to receive support for their children. These delays and challenges posed to receiving the right support have only been exacerbated by COVID-19, making these children amongst the groups hardest hit by the pandemic.
The challenges people with disabilities face in modern society are sometimes great, and for children, can very often impact on their learning, development and overall life chances if they aren’t given the necessary support. Without action, children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) will continue to fall behind, with some even being removed from school or forced into home-schooling.
That being said, the Government has an opportunity to address the multitude of challenges children face, through their SEND review. Beleaguered by delays, outcomes from the review have been awaited for over two years by the sector; however, new children and families Minister, Will Quince MP, confirmed the SEND Review is a priority for him in his new brief, and it is now expected to be published early in 2022.
In response to this announcement, many in the sector welcomed the firmer timeline of the review’s publication, but the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have strongly recommended the Government needs to urgently commit essential funding in each sector, and start implementing the changes required to address long-standing systemic shortcomings. They also say SEND support must be pivoted so that it is needs-led and not resource-limited, and the barriers to cross-sector joint working must be removed so that education, health and social care are each able to work together effectively, for the benefit of all children with SEND.
The SEND Review is an opportunity for the Government to show their commitment to investing in the future of the most disadvantaged children and young people. Despite the long wait, details are scarce. At this stage, we can expect the following:
- Most notable, the Minster confirmed that £2.6 billion in capital spending announced for special educational needs provision will keep more pupils in mainstream schools, which he described as the first “piece in the jigsaw” in the SEND review.
When asked by fellow Conservative MP Tom Hunt if the Treasury recognised the importance in supporting Children with SEND, the Minister had positive words. “More than ever, actually, I think the Treasury really do get this and get the importance of it”, said Mr Quince. He highlighted the central role keeping pupils in mainstream education will play, but also committed to part of the £2.6 billion being used for building more special schools.
- Also, in a move that will be welcomed by many, the Department for Education is working with 49 councils to improve their SEND services.
When concerns were raised on the number of local authorities with weaknesses in SEND support, Indra Morris, the DfE director-general for children’s services, communications and strategy, revealed that the DfE was working with around a third of councils in the country to see improvements.
This is seen to be an important step as local services should have a better understanding of the care required for their residents and missing this crucial part can lead to young people falling through the gap.
- We are to expect big change and impressive ideas to come from the SEND Review.
When questioned as to why there had been such a delay on the review, the Minister’s defence was the scale at which the Department is looking to create change. This review is said to impact many different areas, and will offer solutions to the challenges which create so many barriers for young people.
It was also questioned why a green paper (a proposal) rather than a white paper (an instructive policy document), will be published alongside the review in the first quarter of 2022. The Minister explained that the changes the Department plan to put forward will be such vast shifts that they will hold a consultation period for people to feed into the development of the proposals.
This review promises to offer significant changes for some of society’s most vulnerable children, and if the review achieves what Mr Quince is promising, it will mean great things for SEND provision in England.