By Ali Durban, Co-Founder Gesher School.

The system is failing on every measure. We desperately need an education reset now more than ever.

These were the findings of the Times Education Commission from 15 June, which brought together business leaders and educators to discuss the reforms needed to create a system fit for the 21st century. The report’s conclusions reached across the education sector and, for me, resonated with my experience of the current SEND system.

One of my children is differently-able and as a family, me, my husband and all my children have experienced huge amounts of pain navigating the SEND system, which isn’t designed to support you, even though it pretends it is. It was a very difficult and all-consuming time. You are constantly fighting, and the emotion of navigating the education system is horrific. I call them my dark years.

Our journey is multiplied across thousands of schools and families.

Poorly resourced and inefficient there is a huge scarcity of high-quality provision in the UK. This means that children with SEND typically exist in – and fall through – the cracks of an education system which should be nurturing, fostering and developing them. Instead it is doing deep and sometimes irreparable damage to them.

These experiences were the catalyst for the creation of Gesher – my contribution to fixing a system which is complicated and complex and, simply put, is in crisis.

Over the last couple of years I have received countless calls from desperate parents of children with SEND, who have somehow managed to get my phone number. Each call is a different story full of immense pain. A child aged six on antidepressants and self-harming, a mother counting the days since the last day her child tried to take their life – 111 days today. A child who can’t leave their bedroom because of crippling anxiety and OCD. Another child being home-schooled because of a deep rooted school trauma. The calls never stop coming.

‘Deeply concerning’ proposals

When the Government finally released a long-awaited Green Paper on SEND with the promise of ‘access to an equal and excellent education, for each and every child and young person with SEND’, there was a sense of hope for system transformation and the possibility of something better for thousands of invisible children and young people.
However the wording in the Green Paper is ambiguous and highly misleading. Language such as national standards, mediation and accountability conjure up images of a robust system with a framework designed to place the child and their needs at the centre of the system.

There are a number of deeply concerning proposals in the paper which, if legislated, would overhaul the 2014 Children and Families Act. It will affect the rights and entitlements of children and young people to access special educational provision and make it even more difficult for parents and carers to have their children’s needs identified and access to specialist provision being specified and quantified. This is to reduce cost and spend rather than meeting the needs and removing barriers to learning for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. The outcomes in life of children with SEND are significantly poorer than those of their peers. And when picked up later in life the loss of earnings and cost of care to the system is £32billion annually. More than cancer, strokes and heart disease combined. And this is just for Autism alone.

The SEND system needs urgent investment now more than ever.

The £70million promise from the government that sits alongside the green paper is highly misleading. It is to implement the proposed system changes and not for frontline services. To put it into perspective it is one-eighth of the funding provided to implement the 2014 SEND reforms. Enquiry after enquiry has found that these reforms failed because they were poorly implemented due to a lack of funding.

Shaping the SEND provision we want and need

We have long-awaited the chance to shape the SEND provision we want and need, and rather than rewriting legislation, we need to focus on the unmet needs of thousands of children and young people:

Some of my key recommendations would be:

  • No additional mediation process as part of the EHCP process.
  • An independent panel that holds Local Authorities to account.
  • A formal review of EHCP time-scales.
  • No national list of schools, but instead a continued and expanded local offer that is not based on cost or an agreement to Section 41. But quality and successful outcomes for Children and Young People.
  • An amendment of legislation to the Children and Families Act so that SEND support is mandatory.
  • An accountability framework that sits alongside, and supports, the 2014 Children and Families Act.
  • A national standard for statutory assessments.
  • Greater allocation of funding for frontline services.

We should not be mediating on the rights of children and young people.

According to Children and Families Minister MP Will Quince there have only been several hundred responses to the Green Paper to date.

The consultation is open until 22 July.

If you need to check your thinking to respond Special Needs Jungle have prepared some resources and answers.

Please be bold and amplify your voice on behalf of the unmet needs of those who often remain invisible and marginalised by the system.