Last reviewed 8 April 2022

The Government has published a Green Paper, setting out proposals for changes to the education provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Jean Alder examines the Green Paper’s provisions.

The last government review of SEND provision led to the reforms that came into force in 2014.

Though widely welcomed, the reforms have still too often led to poor experiences and outcomes for children and young people. Parents and carers have been frustrated at having to navigate an increasingly complex and adversarial system. Growing tension across the system causes delays in accessing support and increasing financial challenges for local government.

The Government has concluded that there is widespread recognition that the system is failing to deliver for children, young people and their families.

In reviewing the current SEND arrangements, the Government has listened to a wide range of people, most importantly children, young people and their families. As the review progressed, it became clear that alternative provision is increasingly being used to supplement the SEND system. Therefore, the specific challenges facing the alternative provision sector have been included in the review and the Green Paper sets out specific potential solutions.

SEND challenges

The review has identified three key challenges facing the SEND and alternative provision system.

  1. Navigating the SEND system and alternative provision is not a positive experience for too many children, young people and their families.

  2. Outcomes for children and young people with SEND or in alternative provision are consistently worse than their peers across every measure.

  3. Despite the continuing and unprecedented investment, the system is not financially sustainable.

The review focuses on a vicious cycle of late intervention, low confidence and inefficient resource allocation. To address this challenge, the Green Paper proposes a single national SEND and alternative provision system.

The Government proposes to:

  • establish a new national SEND and alternative provision system, setting nationally consistent standards for how needs are identified and met at every stage of a child’s journey across education, health and care — parents and carers will be confident that their child’s needs will be met effectively in the most appropriate local setting. They will be clear about what support their child is receiving and will be engaged in decision-making at every stage

  • create new local SEND partnerships bringing together education, health and care partners with local government to produce a local inclusion plan setting out how each area will meet the national standards — when specialist support is needed, the local inclusion plan will set out the provision that is available within the local area, including units within mainstream, alternative and specialist provision

  • support parents and carers to express an informed preference for a suitable placement by providing a tailored list of settings, including mainstream, specialist and independent — they will continue to have the right to request a mainstream setting for their child

  • introduce a standardised and digitised EHCP process and template to minimise bureaucracy and deliver consistency

  • streamline the redress process to make it easier to resolve disputes earlier, including through mandatory mediation, whilst retaining the tribunal for the most challenging cases.

Excellence in provision

The Green Paper expresses ambitions to make excellent provision from infancy to adulthood by:

  • increasing the total investment in the education budget, with an additional £1 billion in 2022–2023 to support children and young people with the most complex needs

  • improving mainstream provision, building on the ambitious schools White Paper reforms, through excellent teacher training and development and a “what works” evidence programme to identify and share best practice, including in early intervention

  • building expertise and leadership by consulting on a new SENCo national professional qualification (NPQ) for school SENCos, alongside increasing the number of staff with an accredited SENCo qualification in early years settings

  • investing £2.6 billion over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for children and young people with SEND or who require alternative provision

  • delivering newer special and alternative provision free schools in addition to the 60 already in the pipeline

  • setting out a clear timeline that by 2030, all children and young people will benefit from being taught in a family of schools, with their school, including special and alternative provision, in a strong trust or with plans to join or form one, sharing expertise and resource to improve outcomes

  • commissioning analysis to better understand the support that children and young people with SEND need from the health workforce so that there is a clear focus on SEND in health workforce planning

  • funding more than 10,000 additional respite placements and investing £82 million in a network of family-hubs so more children, young people and their families can access wraparound support

  • investing £18 million over the next three years to build capacity in the supported internships programme

  • improving transition to further education by introducing common transfer files alongside piloting the roll-out of adjustment passports to ensure young people with SEND are prepared for employment and higher education.

The Government plans to reform and integrate alternative provision with SEND provision, recognising that too often the role of alternative provision is unclear and it is used too late or in a way that is not best focused on children’s needs.

To address these barriers, the Green Paper proposes to:

  • make alternative provision an integral part of local SEND systems by requiring the new SEND partnerships to plan and deliver an alternative provision service focused on early intervention

  • give alternative provision schools the funding stability to deliver a service focused on early intervention by requiring local authorities to create and distribute a specific budget for alternative provision

  • develop a bespoke performance framework for alternative provision which sets robust standards focused on progress, re-integration into mainstream education or sustainable post-16 destinations

  • deliver greater oversight and transparency on children and young people’s movements into and out of alternative provision

  • launch a call for evidence, before the summer, on the use of unregistered provision to investigate existing practice.

Systemic challenges

The Government has also noted the need to align system incentives and accountabilities to reduce the perverse behaviours that drive poor outcomes and high costs in the current system.

To address these systemic challenges, the Green Paper proposes to:

  • deliver clarity on roles and responsibilities for all partners across education, health, care and local government, through the new national standards — this includes aligned accountabilities, so everyone has the right incentives and levers to carry out their role and be held to account

  • equip the Department for Education’s new regions group to take responsibility for holding local authorities and trusts to account for delivering for children and young people with SEND locally through new funding agreements between local government and the Department for Education

  • introduce a new inclusion dashboard for 0–25 provision, giving a timely, transparent picture of how the system is performing at a local and national level across education, health and care

  • work with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to deliver an updated local area SEND inspection framework with a focus on arrangements and experiences of children and young people with SEND and in alternative provision

  • deliver funding reform through the introduction of a new national framework of banding and price tariffs for funding, matched to levels of need and types of education provision set out in the new national standards – providers will have clarity on how much funding they should expect to receive for delivering support or a service, whilst ensuring the right pricing structures are in place, helping to control high costs attributed to expensive provision.

Responding to the consultation

The consultation is open until July 2022 and is completed online. It has been translated into a number of languages and is available as a signed video.

To be successful, the consultation needs to be completed by as many people with a real-life interest in special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision as possible.

Schools are encouraged to support families and young people in responding to the consultation. Meetings that summarise the proposals and then encourage discussion will be useful for all those affected by the proposals.

The Green Paper includes comments by the Local Government Association which will help respondents find a perspective beyond their own experiences. However, it is important that respondents consider the proposals and ask themselves if they sound practical and if their own experiences and outcomes might have been improved had they been in place earlier.