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LGA warns on funding of SEND reforms, backs mandatory mediation of disputes

Attempts in the Children and Families Act 2014 to improve provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) failed through lack of sufficient powers and funds for councils, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said in its response to the latest round of proposed changes to the system.

Its response to the Government’s consultation Green Paper SEND Review: Right support Right place Right time, said any revised system would succeed only if these defects were put right.

The response said: “The previous reforms to the SEND system set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 have failed to achieve the goal of improving provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Placing children and young people at the centre of the SEND system was right, but the reforms set out in the Act were not supported by sufficient powers or funding to allow councils to meet the needs of children with SEND or hold health and education partners to account for their contributions to local SEND systems.”

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The LGA welcomed the Green Paper’s recognition that councils were ideally placed to convene local SEND systems, bring together health and education partners to develop local inclusion plans.

It said improving mainstream provision and inclusion levels would be central to success, and councils “would like to explore the development of a more contractual relationship between councils and schools in the provision of high needs funding, focused on outcomes and holding all schools to account for the successful delivery of those outcomes”.

Access to health services, included therapeutic and preventative mental health services “remains a huge challenge for children and young people with SEND”, the LGA said and it warned this could affect implementation of the Green Paper’s ambitions.

“Long term sustainable funding is needed for councils to meet current and unmet demand for children’s mental health support that has built up during the pandemic,” it said.

“Supporting young people’s mental health should not be seen as a solely NHS issue.”

Services provided by councils were essential to supporting children and young people and so local authorities should be treated as equal partners and adequately resourced to provide timely support.

The LGA also said in its response that it supported the proposal to introduce mandatory mediation with the aim of resolving disputes earlier.

“This supports findings of LGA-commissioned research, which found that the increased proportion of mediation cases going to Tribunal appeal reflected the trend of increasing proportions of appeals relating to the contents of EHCPs, specifically Section I and that it was more difficult to resolve such disputes through mediation,” it suggested.

The LGA said however that it was "concerned that there is insufficient capacity in the mediation system to meet an increase in demand across all areas if this proposal is implemented. The Department must work with mediation providers to develop proposals, accompanied by sufficient funding, to increase capacity where it is needed.”

Mark Smulian

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