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Reflections on the new government and the broken SEND system

Kids Chief Executive Katie Ghose’s thoughts on the opportunities for immediate fixes and long-term reform presented by the election result

This week marks a fresh, catalytic opportunity to create an inclusive society where every child matters and every disabled child and their family gets the support they need to thrive. Chief Executive Katie Ghose outlines how Kids hopes that the new government can provide a much needed reset of the SEND system, founded on respect for the resourcefulness and resilience of families with disabled children 

Every child matters

Every child is brilliantly unique, and at Kids we celebrate increased awareness of individuals’ difference and understanding of their needs, along with medical advances meaning many more children with significant conditions or disabilities are living for longer.

Demand for SEND support is growing – not just for the 2 million children in England who are known to have disabilities, but for a larger population including those without a formal diagnosis or who do not identify as disabled but require additional support to thrive. Unfortunately, failures in the system means basic rights and entitlements are not being met, and right now many families of children and young people with SEND are desperate.

Just last week, in the new Prime Minister’s constituency, a single mother of a five-year-old autistic child told me about her struggles to combine her job in the NHS with caring for her daughter. School timetables are incompatible with work hours. Friendship and fun are her top priority for her daughter, yet truly inclusive after-school and holiday provision is almost impossible to find. As her daughter’s need are not complex enough for a special school, the mother is left struggling to feel heard – or understood – in a mainstream environment.

Parents like her will be looking to the new government for evidence that their child matters as much as the next, that they have an equal right to play, learn, grow and thrive.  

 

Every child has the right to an education and the number of disabled children excluded from school is a national scandal – however, SEND support is not delivered just through the educational setting. It must be looked at in its entirety through the age-ranges and through all touch-points, and community provision is essential to this.

 

The opportunities

There are some green shoots. Labour’s manifesto promises a ‘community-wide approach on SEND, improving inclusivity and expertise in mainstream schools, as well as ensuring special schools cater to those with the most complex needs’. It also promises to invest in mental health, providing access to specialist mental health professionals in every school, so every young person has access to early support to address problems before they escalate. Long waiting lists for assessment, diagnosis or treatment for mental health issues are disastrous for disabled children who often experience worse mental health because their disability-related support needs have not been met earlier in their childhood.

A pledge to open an additional 3,000 nurseries through upgrading space in primary schools, to deliver the extension of government funded hours families are entitled to is a start – but the government must recognise and resource the needs of babies and toddlers with SEND, given that shockingly 94% of local authorities in England currently do not have sufficient childcare places for children with disabilities.

Successive governments have treated SEND as an education issue and placed responsibility within the Department for Education. Every child has the right to an education and the number of disabled children excluded from school is a national scandal – however, SEND support is not delivered just through the educational setting. It must be looked at in its entirety through the age-ranges and through all touch-points, and community provision is essential to this. Services in local communities is where the on-the-ground support makes all the difference, but they are chronically under-funded.

We see strong potential for Keir Starmer’s mission-led government to break down the silos that get in the way of supporting disabled children who rely on health, care, education, leisure and housing services and should be enabled to live well in their local communities. Labour’s mission to break down barriers to opportunity by reforming childcare and education systems and to build an NHS fit for the future ‘where everyone lives well for longer’ does offer hope for improving the lives of disabled children and young people. So too does the mission to kickstart economic growth with good jobs and productivity available to all, given the high number of disabled young adults denied access to the workplace and parents of disabled children who give up work because of a lack of support.

New MPs will quickly find they need to be confident in understanding and responding to SEND issues as many constituents will come to them looking for help, for guidance and for change. This brings fantastic opportunities for parliamentarians to understand both the local and national picture and to join forces with children, young people and their families to press for change.

From immediate fixes to long-term reform

A 10-year programme of transformation is essential to fix a broken system and build a sustainable model of support for disabled children to thrive. As the fundamental work of reform starts to take shape, immediate fixes are needed to prevent more families with disabled children from falling into crisis because of chronic waiting lists and system failures.

Kids and other SEND community providers are on the ground delivering practical and emotional support. We are ready to roll out more services like our holistic crisis intervention and our Community SEND Navigator. The government must prioritise the national leadership, guidance and resourcing that enable local authorities and NHS bodies to quickly and creatively commission proven and effective models of support.

Our Manifesto for Change shows the five clear areas where government action is needed in order to transform the lives of disabled children and young people. We will be forging ahead to drive for systemic change, so that childhood can be joyful, and not defined by what children and young people with disabilities cannot do. That is wrong. And we will continue to amplify their voices and views to make change happen.

Across our public services, the government will be under pressure to spend more money – or to reallocate existing resources – to balance short-term delivery with profound long term issues such as support for an ageing population. SEND is no exception; local councils already attribute their budget deficits to increased spend on SEND support.

If every child matters, then money must be found to make the rights of disabled children to play, learn, grow and thrive a reality. But attitudes matter too. We say listen to children. Listen to young people. And listen to the parents, carers and siblings who have been living with the impact of a broken SEND support system for too long.

SEND in Labour’s manifesto

Labour’s manifesto made the following promises:

  • To take a community-wide approach on SEND, improving inclusivity and expertise in mainstream schools, as well as ensuring special schools cater to those with the most complex needs. Admission decisions account for the needs of communities and all schools will be required to co-operate with their local authority on school admissions, SEND inclusion, and place planning.
  • To invest into mental health, providing access to specialist mental health professionals in every school, so every young person has access to early support to address problems before they escalate.
  • To open an additional 3,000 nurseries through upgrading space in primary schools, to deliver the extension of government funded hours families are entitled to. Labour will also review the parental leave system, so it best supports working families, within the first year in government.

Read our Manifesto for Change

Our ambition is for every disabled child or young person to meet their own potential. We believe that the right support and a range of opportunities need to be in place to ensure that every individual can thrive.

We have identified five clear areas where Government action is needed in order to transform the lives of disabled children and young people.

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