We need to stem the crisis in SEND

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01 March 2018 by Graham Easterlow
If you work with children you may be familiar with a 'what if?' conversation. These conversations can often assist professionals to establish if a child or children are at risk of harm, and if they need to raise a safeguarding 'cause for concern'.

Let’s say the following points are made during a 'what if?' conversation - would you think there is cause for concern?

What if 22,000 pupils with high needs who currently have Statements of SEN do not get Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC plan) by the end of March this year? What if, due to a devastating loop hole in legislation, many of these pupils will lose their right to the support, services and funding they desperately need?

What if some local authorities are failing to deliver adequate SEND provision? What if Local Authorities are top slicing 1% from already inadequate schools budgets to fund their under resourced High Needs placements? What if Local Authorities were severely rationing access to assessment of needs? What if these were desperate measures that were possibly illegal and had the sole aim of reducing numbers of children accessing the high needs budget?

Over 2,000 SEND pupils do not have a place at any school.


What if these problems are well documented? Take Lancashire County Council whose damning Ofsted/CQC SEND inspection report states in its long list of recommendations ‘poor planning and weak recording systems mean that children’s and young people’s needs are not being adequately met’. This report goes on to say that exclusion rates for those pupils who have an EHC plan or statement of SEN are more than four times the national average. ‘The impact and pressure of this are felt particularly by special schools and pupil referral units, which are beyond capacity. Consequently, pupils are being inappropriately placed in schools and their experience of education worsens.’

What if we have thousands of children with SEND “awaiting provision” at home, at higher risk of exclusion, on part time school attendance, or receiving a narrow curriculum diet of just English and Maths? Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for almost half of all permanent exclusions and fixed period exclusions last academic year. Pupils with SEN support had the highest permanent exclusion rate and were almost 7 times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than pupils with no SEN. Over 2,000 pupils do not have a place at any school they are “awaiting provision” - indicative of a system that can’t create places where they are needed. Some parents are choosing to ‘home school’ SEND children as they do not believe there are schools available or suitable to best support their children’s needs.

We have been left in a state where thousands of vulnerable children are being cast out, left behind and harmed by our failure to recognise and meet their needs.


What if the only way many families can secure the support and resource needed for their child is through tribunals in the courts? Parents and families raising SEND tribunals has increased 300% in the last decade. These are challenging processes that are costly and time consuming both for LAs and for parents. Almost 90% of tribunals rule in favour of the parent or carer. What if the money spent fighting these cases was placed back into the system rather than used to seek future reduction of high needs budgets?

What if this wasn’t hypothetical? What if this truly is the reality?

Sadly this is the truth and these are the facts. Ever increasingly over the past few years it has become clear that we are failing our SEND learners at the most basic levels. We are a thousand miles away from the high ambitions and aspirations laid out in the 2015 SEND code of practice. We have been left in a state where thousands of vulnerable children are being cast out, left behind and harmed by our failure to recognise and meet their needs. Children, families and schools are fighting for the very basics - a school place, an appropriate teacher, reasonable adjustments, a simple recognition of needs.

The crisis engulfing SEND is now a national safeguarding issue.


As educators, teachers and support staff, safeguarding is and always should be one of our primary concerns. Without safety and security our children and young people cannot learn. They cannot grow. They cannot prosper. Each of us has a duty of care to keep every one of our pupils and students as safe and secure as possible. Free from physical, mental and emotional harm. What is written here today and the facts placed in front of you and is a ‘cause for concern’. It is being raised because just like in our nurseries, schools and colleges we each individually have a duty of care to protect those at risk. The crisis engulfing SEND is now a national safeguarding issue. The time has come where we cannot deny what is happening within SEND education and we must now step up to protect the most vulnerable learners in our society. We need to be a voice for those that have no voice. We must not be afraid to shine a light on the shadowy corners and we must be decisive and act because if we do not take action then who will?

Each of us has a duty of care to keep every one of our pupils and students as safe and secure as possible.


We are in the eye of a perfect storm. A storm born on the malevolent winds of destructive ideology. I do not envy the Local Authorities position caught between a rock and a hard place of ever-increasing demands with ever decreasing budgets. I do not envy the heads of schools who are left scrabbling about in crumbling and eroding budgets as they try to meet the in-class needs of SEND learners while at the same time facing the necessity for compulsory redundancies of support and teaching staff. This is a storm that is directly linked to both workload and funding and is locked into a devastating negative spiral. Lack of funding for Local Authorities, nurseries, schools and colleges, leading to loss of capacity, leading to unmanageable workload and crumbling services with the results that our most vulnerable learners are being irreversibly damaged. This is not a crisis taking place in the backwaters of Education - it is in every nursery, school and college. It is in every classroom. It is affecting staff students and pupils in all sectors and in at all stages of our education service.

It is vital that we raise SEND up the education agenda. We need to rally together and intervene decisively to stem this crisis and more crucially we have a duty of care to stand up for the rights and safety of the vulnerable children and young people who are currently at risk in a system so desperately close to breaking point.

The D in SEND does not and should never stand for ‘Disadvantaged’ – though right now for far too many children it does.

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