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Government publishes green paper in bid to end SEND support "postcode lottery"

The Government has launched a consultation on a single national system for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) for them including new obligations on local authorities.

It said this would introduce new standards in the quality of support given and improve a system that had become “inconsistent, process-heavy and increasingly adversarial system that too often leaves parents facing difficulties and delays accessing the right support for their child”.

The Government said the proposals were backed by £70m of new funding. There is a 13-week public consultation in progress.

A Green Paper on the proposals included new national standards across education, health and care and simplified Education, Health and Care plans, which would be digitised to make them more flexible, reduce bureaucracy and support parents to make informed choices, the department for education and for health and social care said.

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There would also be a new legal requirement for councils to introduce local inclusion plans that bring together early years, schools and post-16 education with health and care services, “giving system partners more certainty on who is responsible and when”.

Alongside these would be new ‘local inclusion dashboards’ to make roles and responsibilities of clearer for parents and young people.

Councils would be ‘banded’ to better match support to those deemed to have high levels of need.

A reformed and integrated role for AP is planned, with a new delivery model in every local area focused on early intervention and as an integral part of local SEND systems.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Every child has the right to excellent education - particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, who often need the most support.

“We are launching this consultation because too often this isn’t the case. We want to end the postcode lottery of uncertainty and poor accountability that exists for too many families, boost confidence in the system across the board and increase local mainstream and specialist education to give parents better choice.”

The Government said it will also look to approve up to 40 new special and AP free schools in regions where they are most needed in addition to more than 60 in the pipeline.

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The Green Paper proposals will help to improve these children’s lives, and alongside a system that dovetails with children’s social care and the Schools White Paper we will have all the pieces of the jigsaw to making the system better for them.

“It is on all of us working with and for children to help create a system that facilitates this, and we must now listen to as many children and families as possible to make sure that these proposals work for them.”

Lucy Nethsingha, deputy chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Despite the best of intentions, the current system is not working, and we are pleased government has set out reforms to address this. They will only succeed if parents and carers have confidence in the system.

“It is good to see measures to increase mainstream inclusion and ensure financial sustainability for councils.

“It is also positive that councils, as convenors of local SEND systems, will be able to bring education and health partners to the table where everyone is accountable for SEND provision. Having a collective responsibility will be crucial in delivering a system that works for children and their families.”

Local Government Lawyer reported earlier this month on Local Government Association research showing that the number of appeals to tribunals over SEND disagreements has more than doubled since reforms were introduced under the Children and Families Act 2014, rising by 111% between 2013/14 and 2020/21.

Mark Smulian

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