Today, MPs will be considering whether to approve new guidance (known as the SEND Code of Practice) on how children with special educational needs and disabilities are supported. NDCS is taking the difficult decision to recommend that the Code be withdrawn and redrafted.
This isn’t because we don’t share the Government’s objectives or that we hugely disagree with what the new Code contains. Our big concern is what is absent.
The Code fails to set out robust quality assurance arrangements that are necessary to promote service improvements and give parents and other members of the public the information that will enable them to hold their Council to account for the quality of support provided for children. Because of this critical omission we’re not convinced there will be any change for the better.
Parents of deaf children regularly bring to us problems about getting the support their children need to make educational progress. When we look into the problem we find that the main cause is a failing by education services to implement existing laws and guidance
We believe that this is due to the lack of accountability and quality assurance arrangements. In other words, it is possible for local authorities to get away with poor provision without proper checks or anyone calling them to account.
Unless this deficiency is rectified, any potential benefit from the recent legislation on special educational needs will not be realised. England will simply be following in the footsteps of Scotland where significant and similar changes were introduced 10 years ago. Despite these changes, research commissioned by NDCS revealed that parents and professionals don’t think there has been a significant change in the quality of service. This was also confirmed by the Scottish Government’s Doran Review.
We have therefore asked the government to make two important additions to help ensure the reforms have a chance of success:
1) The Government needs to set out measures of success and ensure data on provision and outcomes for children with special educational needs or disability is published by local authority area. This will help parents know whether their local authority is doing a good or bad job.
2) Ofsted should inspect quality of local authority services and their performance, helping children and young people with SEND achieve good outcomes. Parents rely on Ofsted inspections to know how well their local school is performing. It is equally important for parents of children with SEND to have an independent assessment of how well local authorities and health services are meeting their children’s needs.
Each year the Government allocates over £5 billion to meet the needs of children and young people with high levels of SEND and we know that even with this, local authorities are struggling to meet needs. Some have to raid other pots of money to make ends meet. This combined with significant changes and raised expectations, means that there must be far greater emphasis on quality assurance and accountability.
It would be a shame to see all of these changes being made at a lot of expense but with little prospect of any real improvement. It’s not too late for the Government to take heed and put in place accountability and quality assurance arrangements that promote the improvement of services and outcomes for every pound that is spent.