SEND is a system of support designed by the UK government to provide disabled children special educational environments, equipment, programs, and healthcare suited to their specific needs, while simultaneously lessening the burden on the parents of disabled children who, without support to special education for their disabled children, would be left with a massive and unjustified financial burden.

Since the scheme’s introduction in 2014, countless complaints, reports, and expensive tribunals against local councils have illuminated sheer dissatisfaction among parents when it comes to their children’s needs being met. These tribunals have increased dramatically in the past few years, and the pressures are expensive, tiresome, and completely unfair for parents, councils, and crucially, disabled children across the UK. The proportion of decisions being appealed rose by 111% and the number of children on EHC plans rose by 82% over the next seven years, research commissioned by the Local Government Association has found. Before the reforms, just a fifth of appeals went to a tribunal, compared to nearly two-thirds now.

Three years on from the government’s announcement to review the SEND scheme, the report is finally expected to be published this month. Moreover, levels of support for children with special needs are set to be put on a statuary footing, and government advisors will be appointed to monitor over 55 councils’ financial performance on this issue, identifying where the fault lies in the high spend, low outcome results. This is also expected to create clarity around fair support levels, while the government’s ‘Delivering Better Value’ program will ensure that councils can financially cope with the increase of parents whose children require SEND support. The Department for Education has said they will invest 1.5m into this scheme.

This comes after the Department for Education introduced a ‘Safety Valve’ intervention programme last year, initially preserving £97m for the five councils with the highest dedicated schools grant (DSG) deficits. The spending review secured £150m to expand the programme.

As tribunals have had no means of judging the sufficiency of SEND support in court previously, Children and Families minister Will Quince has said that the “Green Paper” is expected to lay out, “far greater clarity on how Send funding should be used by local authorities”, as well as clear examples of what schools should be able to provide in terms of SEND support.

It goes without saying that Direct Access supports these reforms if they are implemented sufficiently and timely, as we have supported the implementation of accessible equipment and accessible environments within countless schools over our nearly two-decade existence. 

However, this writer would like to add on a personal note, that as an autistic person with a mother who was forced into an active confrontation with the very same support system that is insufficiently stacked against the parents of today’s disabled children, I am astounded by how it collectively took a pandemic, hundreds of court cases, and countless children reportedly suffering from anxiety, depression, and suicide to coerce the government into appreciating the gravity of these families situations and their utter disappointment in their local councils.

As it is expected that these changes will take at least 3-5 years to implement, I can only hope that this interrogation on local government spending will manifest in actual change and that the mob of angry and upset parents, much like my own when I was growing up, will finally be relieved of the stress caused by battling an unstable system and a hopeless, detached bureaucracy that seems to offer help like it was a postcode lottery.

Written by Michael Miller

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