This House of Commons Library briefing sets out the system of support for children and young people in England aged 0-25 with special educational needs (SEN). The briefing provides an overview of the new system introduced in 2014, the transitional arrangements, and how the new system differs from that which preceded it. It also includes a brief history of the movement towards reform that preceded the 2014 changes, and information on the impact of the new system available to date.Jump to full report >>
The Children and Families Act 2014 provided for an overhaul of the system for identifying children and young people in England aged 0-25 with special educational needs (SEN), assessing their needs and making provision for them.
Some key points in the introduction of the reformed system are:
The reformed system was introduced in September 2014, with transitional arrangements for those who already have support in place. Transition to the reformed system is intended to be complete by April 2018.
The SEND Code of Practice states that because the legal test of when a child required an EHC plan is the same as for a statement under the Education Act 1996, nobody should lose support previously received as a result of these changes.
The type of support that children and young people with SEN receive may vary widely, as the types of SEN that they may have are very different. However, two broad levels of support are in place: SEN support, and Education, Health and Care Plans.
Parents can ask their local authority to carry out an assessment if they think their child needs an EHC Plan. A request can also be made by anyone at the child’s school, a doctor, a health visitor, or a nursery worker.
During the transition period for the implementation of the reformed system, previous arrangements remain in place for many pupils already receiving support. Support is provided at three levels:
Provisions were in place for children younger than school age, but most statements were made for school-aged children.
Under the previous system, if a young person with SEN left school for further education, his/her SEN was assessed under a different process, the Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA).
The existing LDA system will be abolished before the system of statements for children in school. The LDA system was less comprehensive, and to remove this disparity young people with an LDA must be moved over to the new system by 1 September 2016.
A consultation on the inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission of local arrangements to support children and young people with SEND, due to begin in May 2016, was carried out from October 2015 to January 2016. A response was published in March 2016.
Inspectors from these two bodies are inspecting the provision of support for children and young people with SEND across the responsible local bodies in health, social services and education, over a five year period beginning in May 2016.
A report summarising the findings from the first year of inspections was published in October 2017.
Some initial research has begun to appear on the operation of the reformed system.
DfE figures state that there were 175,233 children and young people with statutory Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and 112,057 children and young people with statements of special educational needs (SEN) maintained by local authorities as at January 2017.
The Ofsted and CQC report into its first year of inspections found that children and young people with SEND have a "much poorer" experience of the education system than their peers, and idenitified issues surrounding exclusions and poor co-ordination between education, health, and care services, among others.
In March 2017, the Department for Education published the results of a survey of parents and young people on their experiences of EHC plans. The following issues were listed among the report's key findings:
Also in March 2017, the Department published review of the arrangements for SEND disagreement resolution, and a Government response to that review. The response set out steps that the Government intended to take as a result of the review:
Previously, in November 2016, the Department for Education published a report by Lee Scott, a former Conservative MP, on the experiences of children, young people and parents of the SEND system, based on interviews and evidence from across the country. The report contained mixed experiences of the system and raised a number of areas (rather than formal recommendations) to improve the operation system as it stands, including:
In September 2016, the National Autistic Society (NAS) published its annual report on the operation of the SEND system. The report cited significant concerns:
In October 2015, the Driver Youth Trust published a report, Joining the Dots, which analysed the impact of the reforms in the year since their introduction.
The report stated that:
Many examples of high-quality provision have emerged in response [to the reforms]. These are often driven by strong partnerships, well-managed change and skilled, impassioned leadership. However, at present provision is ‘fragmented’ leading to difficulties in sharing information and knowledge. As a result, many children and young people do not receive the support they deserve and gaps in the system lead to wasted resources as well as disconnected or duplicated services. Ultimately students, parents, schools and sector organisations are finding it difficult to navigate the new system and this is standing in the way of the reforms’ success.
Articles published in September 2015 cited research from a survey carried out by Helen Curran, a lecturer at Bath Spa University, which stated that 63 per cent of special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) surveyed had said that the number of children on their school’s SEN and disabilities register had fallen as a result of the government’s SEN reforms, raising the question of whether the relevant children had previously been misidentified as having SEN, or whether other pressures were reducing their numbers.
Commons Briefing papers SN07020
Author: Robert Long