Part One: Why is there a SEND and AP Improvement Plan?

What happens next for families seeking SEND provision for their child in mainstream or special schools?

The Department for Education has published its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan. This is the outcome of a long process where parents and carers were consulted about changing the SEND and AP system. Parentkind responded to government citing evidence from 276 parents of children with SEND who completed our online poll about the proposed changes.

Why is there a SEND and AP Improvement Plan?

Significant concerns were raised by parents and educators that SEND and AP provision was inconsistent across the country and often caused problems for families. Many parents fought for years to receive the provision their child is entitled to, and as a consequence, the government announced a review of the system. It published its plans in 2022 and consulted on its proposals for improvements. Around 6,000 responses were submitted, demonstrating huge interest in these crucial topics. Now, the government’s SEND and AP Improvement Plan has been published. It outlines how, in light of its consultation, it proposes to improve the system and better the educational experience of every child with SEND and their families.

What parents of children with SEND told Parentkind

Parentkind provided a short and accessible poll for parents of children with SEND, asking key questions about the government’s main proposals. In total, 276 parents in England responded. This is what they told us:

  • 84% are supportive of the creation of new national SEND standards (6% are unsupportive).
  • 82% support introducing standardised EHCP templates and processes, whereas 9% are opposed.
  • 74% support digitising the EHCP process, whereas 12% were unsupportive.
  • 73% support the proposal that they will be able to choose from a tailored list of settings that meet their child’s needs with the local authority allocating the first available place in order of the parent’s or carer’s preference, whereas 19% oppose it. However, 77% of parents are not confident this proposal is achievable, with only 20% saying they are confident.
  • 32% agree that mediation should be compulsory for parents and their child before making an appeal to the SEND Tribunal, but over half (53%) disagree.
  • 43% agree that the DfE’s new vision for alternative provision will result in improved outcomes for children and young people, but a third (33%) disagree.

The most popular suggestions for changes to the current SEND provision that would make the biggest difference to families are:

  • schools/​local authorities being accountable for meeting their statutory obligations (50 mentions)
  • quicker assessments and access to support (41 mentions)
  • improved relations between parents and schools/​local authorities (40 mentions)
  • more funding for SEND (35 mentions).

Parentkind presented the results of the parent poll to MPs and peers in Westminster during a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Parental Participation in Education in summer 2022. The session also heard from expert speakers who were academics or representatives of charities and organisations who specialise in SEND educational provision, including Professor Brian Lamb, The National Children’s Bureau and Special Needs Jungle. The meeting was a chance for participants to assess the Green Paper proposals and air any concerns that they had. A summary of the points raised was presented to then-Children’s Minister Will Quince, who said that he would meet the group to discuss what would become the Improvement Plan. Parentkind also responded to the government’s consultation to ensure that all of the parents who responded to our poll were heard by policymakers.

Will the Improvement Plan strengthen parental confidence in the system?

The plan recognises the problem. It says that Parents’ confidence in the system is in decline. Too many parents have lost faith in a system that is not sufficiently responsive to them, which is increasingly adversarial, and in which they face long waiting times to access information and support for their children.” In our poll of parents, that diagnosis was backed up very clearly.

In its Implementation Plan, the government says that it agrees that more can be done to make sure statutory duties are delivered. Parents should have confidence that their children’s needs will be met and that local systems are delivering… with proportionate and effective action taken, where required, so that children and young people can achieve the best outcomes. Parents should also know that if they have a concern, it will be listened to and resolved in a transparent and efficient way. Our proposals are intended to work together to drive improvements across the 0–25 system. They are underpinned by strong local leadership and supported by a culture of effective relationships, mutual trust and accountability to enable children and young people to get the right support, in the right place, at the right time.”

In our next article, we’ll look at what steps the government says it will introduce to achieve the changes outlined above. These are changes that would at the same time improve parents’ confidence and ensure better outcomes for children with SEND, ending the current adversarial system and postcode lottery of provision.