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Given the enormous challenges disabled children and their families face every day, it is unclear how the Government’s SEND improvement plan will change their lives for the better. Inadequate support for disabled children in mainstream schools, wrap-around services falling by the wayside and local authorities lacking the funds to meet children’s basic entitlements are causing misery and frustration for thousands of people. The Government’s response today doesn’t begin to match up to the scale of the challenges. National standards are a good idea, but without enough cash, accountability or a sense of urgency, we fear they won’t see the light of day.
Life has changed out of all recognition since the Government announced its intention to reform the SEND system in 2019. Covid saw disabled children unable to access vital support, hampering their development and learning and a cost-of-living crisis has left some families choosing between eating, heating or keeping their disabled child’s life-saving equipment switched on. The Government is right to pledge ‘high quality early support’ but it will have to dramatically adapt and accelerate its plans to make this happen.
We welcome the Government’s decision to drop proposals for compulsory mediation, which would have the defeated the voluntary spirit that brings families and local councils together to reach agreement on next steps in education for their child. Instead the plans talk of local tests for how to strengthen mediation. The obvious route to ensuring mediation is appropriately used is to ensure local authorities are equipped to provide the right support first time round, avoiding need for costly conflicts. Talk of ending a postcode lottery is also welcome, but must be matched by evidence of how every family will have access to timely information and advice tailored to the needs of their child.
We agree with the plan’s emphasis on early support. Families who have been waiting years for change, will now be asking how this will be put into practice in their area, especially for the early years where provision for the youngest children with SEND is often an afterthought. The Government must urgently improve data collection to identify need, enabling local authorities and providers to work together and ensure a quality childcare place is available for every child with SEND.