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Solutions: Filling the evidence gap on SEND best practice

Speak to most parents, teachers and school leaders and they’ll agree the current SEND system is broken. Budgets are spiralling out of control, outcomes for young people are poor, and interactions between parent carers, schools and local authorities are antagonistic.

The issues with the system are plainly evident to frontline practitioners and parents, well documented in existing research and openly admitted in the government’s SEND and AP Improvement Plan.

In short, we know a lot about what doesn’t work in the current SEND system. However, there’s a gap when it comes to what does. The What Works in SEND (WWiS) programme is aiming to fill that gap.

What works?

WWiS is building an evidence base of what works in improving practice, support and outcomes for children and young people with SEND in England. The programme is being led by the Council for Disabled Children, Isos Partnership, the National Development Team for Inclusion, and the University of Warwick.

As part of WWiS we’re capturing case studies of practice in local SEND systems. Each case study has been independently reviewed by our pool of reviewers (including parent carers) with experience of leadership and strategic co-production within the system.

Current case studies include partnership working in Islington, inclusion support in the early years in Herefordshire, co-production with parents and young people in Lincolnshire and Wiltshire, and strengthening ordinarily available provision in Portsmouth.

Taken individually, the case studies highlight concrete practices that are improving outcomes for young people with SEND in local areas. Taken together, they reveal a set of ‘enablers’ that need to be in place to secure them.

The Portsmouth and Islington case studies, for example, demonstrate two of these enablers: a focus on high quality delivery of the essentials, and co-production and relationships between families and professionals.

High quality delivery of the essentials

The majority of pupils with SEND don’t have statutory plans. Those who do often start with pre-statutory support. A transparent offer of universal and targeted support, which is clearly communicated and understood by professionals and families, is therefore critical.

In Portsmouth a team of SENCOs worked with specialists to outline the support and provision that should be available for all pupils on SEN support in the city’s mainstream schools, backed up with guidance and resources to enable settings to deliver that support. The resources are rooted in SENCOs’ knowledge of what is feasible in their own settings.

Feedback from professionals, the local Parent Carer Forum (PCF) and external inspections suggests the resources have improved the consistency and quality of teaching and support offered to children with SEND across Portsmouth.

Co-production and relationships

There are a range of ways in which parents and carers may want to feel engaged with their local SEND system. This can range from being in touch with and informed about what is happening, through to sharing views and being part of strategic co-production initiatives.

The parent charter and ‘participation pyramid’ developed by Islington’s SEND partnership recognises this. It opens various avenues for co-production including a SEND Co-production Group with eight elected parent representatives, a consultative group, and a new ‘Parent Parliament’ to gather views on specific issues from a wider group of parent carers.

Islington’s approach to parent participation and co-production has been commended by parents and in a local area SEND inspection.

Building a better system

This summer Isos Partnership will be publishing a wholesale agenda for change to reform the SEND system, based on consultation with leaders across the sector. We will argue that root-and-branch reform is necessary to put the system on a financially sustainable footing, so that it is better able to meet the needs of young people with SEND.

However, reform of this scale requires courage and consensus. It will not be achieved overnight. In the meantime, we need to capture and share examples of effective practice within the system as it currently stands. WWiS sets out to do just that.

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