It has been a challenging few weeks at school, as the days get dark, cold and wet in the lead up to Christmas. For many of our children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), Christmas is not something to look forward to. Extended social gatherings, heightened expectations and additional family pressures mount up to rising anxieties. This is also a feeling mirrored by parent groups as their journey into parenthood has often not been straightforward.
To help, the government introduced new (SEND) reforms in 2014, under the Children and Families Act. They were designed to offer simpler, improved and consistent help for these children and young people, enabling families to support and advocate. Additionally, it was also implemented to protect school budgets, extend provision from birth to 25 years of age, give families greater choice in decisions and ensure needs were properly met.
The aim of the system was to extend the rights and protection to young people by introducing an education, health and care plan (EHCP), with an intention that professionals would provide tailored support to families, giving them the help and assistance they need. Nearly 6 years on, and SEND is in crisis, spilling out into the wider educational landscape, as this growing cohort struggle to get the support they need. Sparking a government led SEND inquiry, the UK Parliament Education Select Committee released a comprehensive report (2019) identifying and raising some key points, including:
‘…these adversarial experiences are the products of poor implementation, the inability to access the right support at the right time, and services struggling with limited resources.’
‘There is a clear need for the Department to be more proactive in its oversight of the way in which the system is operating.’
‘The Department for Education set local authorities up to fail by making serious errors both in how it administered money intended for change, and also, until recently, failing to provide extra money when it was needed.’
‘Ultimately, the Government must decide whether it wants local authorities to retain the statutory duties it set in place in the 2014 Act.’
The report is damming, but brings a bitter/sweet sigh of relief to many school leaders and parent/carers as it finally feels like ‘someone is listening’. Both groups share the response, as both groups see first-hand, the struggles of those with SEND, at the hands of a system that doesn’t work. This observation made me wonder; ‘what are the pros and cons of keeping EHCPs as they are?’… I made a list:
|EHCP pros:||EHCP cons:|
|1. Children/ young people with SEND have clear rights to have their needs met
2. The system has raised the profile for pupils with SEND
3. It has raised awareness of inclusion within the school system
4. Core principles are aspirational and focus on partnerships
5. Parents with children with SEND have a mechanism to be heard
6. Provides security for parents
|1. Lack of positive outcomes despite EHCPs being in place.
2. EHCPs do not protect the most vulnerable as more pupils with SEND are pushed out of schools.
3. There has never been more children with an EHCP than now. The system is over-stretched.
4. Not value for money – EHCP processes are bureaucratic, costly and time inefficient
5. There is insufficient funding and provision in schools, health and social care services to make EHCPs work
6. Professionals in health and social care are unable to attend meetings due to lack of capacity
7. There is not enough specialist provision, resource, or expertise (in all services)
8. The EHCP system is incompatible with NHS model
9. Works under the premise that there are unlimited resources/ funds
10. Perpetuates a deficit model – Cost of resource to meet need is more than then the value of funding allocated
11. Postcode lottery – Inequality of funding/ resource allocation
12. Lack of transparency and consistency
13. Encourages perverse behaviours in schools and parent groups.
14. Encourages separation rather than inclusion of those with SEND.
15. The DfE have no direct responsibility for pupils with SEND as all activities are delegated to LAs.
16. LAs have limited powers, capacity, capability in relation to delegated duties
17. Lack of DfE accountability of High Needs funds
18. National gaps or shortfalls in provision are not easily identifiable
19. Supports an adversarial climate where the focus is on achieving the best deal for individuals, rather than for everyone.
20. All children, regardless of SEND, loose out. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Although my list may contribute to the wider question of whether we should keep EHCPs, I’m curious to know if these factors were previously considered in the design of the EHCP process in the first place, and if they were simply ignored, misunderstood, or thrown onto the ‘too difficult’ pile. If so, the implications of a re-think might generate similar thoughts, however there is a chance that we have already reached the tipping point without realising. Can we continue with the current EHCP system knowing what we know now?
By Sabrina Hobbs, Principal, Severndale Academy