‘Poor administration’ and ‘challenging funding’ severely undermined SEND reforms, say MPs

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The SEND reforms of 2014 were right: they put children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) at the heart of the system in England, said the Education Select Committee.   But this laudable aim has been severely undermined by structural l failures, MPs concluded.    

MP’s were scathing.  They described ‘confusion’, ‘bureaucratic nightmares’, ‘buck passing’, ‘lack of accountability’, strained resources’ and ‘at times unlawful practice’.

Transformative change, MPs said, ‘has been badly hampered by poor administration and a challenging funding environment’:

The significant funding shortfall is a serious contributory factor to the failure on the part of all involved to deliver on the SEND reforms and meet children’s needs.

Additional money is unlikely to make a difference unless there is a ‘culture change’ in schools, local authorities and the Government, MPs wrote.

Ofsted is criticised for signalling ‘a hands-off approach’ from the start.  MPs wanted ‘to see a more rigorous inspection framework with clear consequences for failure.’

The Department for Education do not avoid censure.  In an elegantly worded but damning criticism, MPs wrote:

The Department did not need to preside serenely over chaos for five years to see that things were not quite going as planned.

MPs passed ‘no judgement on the merits of the Department’s free school policy’ but said ‘current restrictions’ were hampering LA’s ability to set up specialist SEND schools.  This led LAs to use the independent sector for SEND pupils ‘at significant cost to the taxpayer’.

This generation ‘is being let down—the reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood.’

MPs ended with this:

Special educational needs and disabilities must be seen as part of the whole approach of the Department’s remit, not just an add-on. The Department for Education has an approach which is piecemeal, creating reactive, sticking-plaster policies, when what is needed is serious effort to ensure that issues are fully grappled with, and the 2014 Act works properly, as was intended.’

The scathing indictment of SEND provision in England follows other equally-critical reports published recently (see here and here).  The RNIB issued another report yesterday.  Its research found pockets of good practice’ but ‘overall, the findings show a system of specialist provision under significant pressure.’

The DfE media department has commented on the RNIB report.  The recent increase of £780m to LAs for high needs funding brings the total spending on those ‘with the most complex needs to over £7bn’, a spokesperson said.  But the extra funding is for one year only, the EPI found, and will do nothing to address the systemic failures identified by MPs.

The DfE is yet to respond to MPs criticism.  It may take some time.  The DfE’s media department hasn’t commented on the scathing National Auditors Office report.  Perhaps it will ignore this one.

UPDATE 24 October 2019 09.10:  The DfE public relations department has responded.  Its latest blog seizes on the MPs' conclusion that the 2014 reforms were the right ones.  It addresses some of the MPs' concerns: the DfE's allocated an extra £780m for high needs funding; new Ofsted requirements increase the focus on SEND and the department's 'review' of the reforms will focus on ensuring 'they work for every child, in every part of the country'.  But, as MPs pointed out, it shouldn't have taken half a decade to notice that the system wasn't working.

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