As of January 2016, there were 236,805 pupils in Englandwith a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. This is an increase of 640 from 2015 – and equates to 2.8% of the total pupil population.
Schools are still coming to terms with huge policy changes in this area. Following on from the Equalities Act in 2010, the Children and Families Act 2014 overhauled the entire system for identifying and supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
This wasn't simply an administrative task of transferring young people from SEN statements to EHC plans, there was also a fundamental shift in principles. The act promoted a clearer focus on young people and parents participating in organising care, and more joint planning from educational, social and healthcare agencies.
Here, we break down the changes and what they mean for schools and teachers.
What is SEN?
The Children and Families Act used the same definition of SEN that was used previously. This says that a child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability that means they need special educational provision. Special educational provision is any service or support that is extra or slightly different to what their classmates of the same age in mainstream education would receive.
Levels of support
There are now two broad levels of support in place:
• SEN support is for children and young people with mild needs and is usually given in schools, for example speech therapy.
• EHC plans give more substantial help for children and young people with more complex needs. They provide a unified, comprehensive support plan that reaches across education, health care, and social care.
This replaces the previous School Action and School Action Plus systems.
Support is given to children in school, for example, extra help from a teacher, help communicating with other children, or support with physical or personal care difficulties.
Here are the types of support that should be provided:
SEN support for children under 5 includes:
- A written progress check when the child is 2 years old
- If the child is aged between 2 and 3, a child health visitor will carry out a health check
- A written assessment in the summer term of the child's first year of primary school
- Reasonable adjustments for disabled children, including providing aids such tactile signs in school and nurseries.
SEN support for children aged 5-15 includes:
- A special learning programme
- Extra help from a teacher or assistant
- Smaller group work
- Observations in class or at break times
- Support taking part in class activities
- Support communicating with other children
- Physical and personal care help – such as eating, getting around school and using the toilet.
These replaced the dual system of SEN statements for children and Learning Difficulty Assessments for 16- to 25-year-olds.
Instead, EHC plans provide a single plan to support children from birth to the age of 25. The aim is to support children and young people through one, unified scheme that encompasses the complexities of their needs by accounting for education, health care and social care all in one place. These are subject to review and improvement as the young people grow up and their needs develop.
Parents can ask their local authorities to carry out an assessment if they think their child needs an EHC Plan. A request can also be made by anyone at the child's school, a doctor, a health visitor, nursery worker or a young person can request an assessment themselves if they're aged between 16 and 25.
Local authorities had until September 2014 to publish their "local offer", which sets out what SEND services will be available.
The timeline to have all children and young people transferred from a statement to an EHC plan is a little longer, with the deadline currently set at April 2018.The SEND Code of Practice states that because the legal test of when a child required an EHC plan is the same as for a statement under the Education Act 1996, nobody should lose support previously received as a result of these changes.
Young people with an EHC plan and their parents now have much more say in how funding is spent. When a local authority is establishing or reviewing the EHC plan, the family can request a personal budget and decide how they want to manage it. The idea is that there will be one budget that focuses on the needs of the child and can be used flexibly, to suit them.
Joint inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission began in May 2016. These look at the local area arrangements in place to support children and young people with SEND to see how well they are fulfilling their duties.
The inspections review how local areas support these children and young people to achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes, such as being able to live independently, secure meaningful employment and be well prepared for their adult lives.
Impact of reforms
It is still early days. A report by the former Conservative MP Lee Scott, published in November 2016, looked at the experiences of children, young people and parents of the SEND system, based on interviews and evidence from across the country.
He raised some interesting areas for development, including:
- The need to improve communication between all the agencies
- More training for staff to identify and support SEND students
- More transparency about funding so families can see how money is being spent
- A postcode lottery still exists around the level and quality of care families receive
- The need to support medical needs more readily in schools and colleges
- Work on bringing together schools and local authorities to support the post-education aspirations and opportunities for young people with SEND.
- The Equality Act 2010 sets out the legal obligations that schools, early years providers, post-16 providers and local authorities must provide for young people and children with SEND.
- The Children and Families Act 2014 overhauled the system for identifying children and young people in England aged 0-25 with SEND, and how their needs were assessed and met.
- SEND code of practice: 0-25 years replaces the previous 2001 code. It contains details of schools' and health and social services' legal requirements and statutory guidance around children and young people with SEND.
- SEND: experiences with schools and colleges, published in November 2016, looks at how the changes are progressing.
- Local area SEND inspection: guidance for inspectors