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Three policies to start healing the broken SEND system now

Inclusion and inclusivity are highly contested concepts, but ones the next government must prioritise if we are to truly address the inequity of the current education system.

The Forgotten Third remain of key concern to policymakers and a substantial sub-group are learners with SEND. Recent EPI data identifies that by the end of Year 11, learners in this group are now between two and four years behind their peers, considering the differentials of SEN Support and those with Education, Health, and Care Plans.

Clearly, the current system is not working. So what can we do to support learners with SEND now and in the future?

A universal policy for SEND education

For too long, learners with SEND have been thrown around as a political football in a game that is far from beautiful. This has led to a rise in mental ill health, low academic outcomes and increasingly dissatisfied parents.

The next government needs to commit to driving a universal policy for SEND education which unites the parties, so that vulnerable learners who need consistency and routine are not further disadvantaged by political wranglings. 

All children and young people should have access to the same curriculum offer as their peers, and no child should ever be outside the conversation. Our children should not be disadvantaged in adulthood by a lack of general knowledge; a universal policy for SEND education should begin from this premise.

But we also need to acknowledge that not all qualifications suit everyone, either in their design or content. So we need to recognise the differing pathways learners may take and not devalue the less academic routes if they ultimately lead to greater independence and self-sufficiency in later life.

Mandate a specialist placement for ITT

The current non-statutory guidance encourages ITT providers to “involve special schools in ITT partnerships”. This is simply not enough in a sector where early career teachers report they feel least prepared to adapt their teaching for learners with SEND. 

To adequately prepare teachers for a career in the classroom, they need to be exposed to the varying levels of ability and need. The ‘learn that’ and ‘learn how to’ theoretical entitlement of the ITTECF is just not enough, particularly as rates of learners with SEND continue to rise.

Mandating a SEND placement as part of initial teacher training will expose trainee teachers to a wealth of expertise and specialisms that will provide foundations they can draw on for life.

This will allow them to see the complementary benefits of experiencing both mainstream and specialist provision, and they will no longer lack confidence in adapting their teaching for learners with SEND. Potentially, it could make them better teachers overall.

Re-evaluate funding methodologies

The current policy of a notional budget for learners with SEND in mainstream schools is a mythical beast which gets eaten up in school budgets. Meanwhile, place funding for special schools has not shifted from the £10,000 per pupil it was established at over ten years ago.  Given inflation over that period, the financial landscape for SEND is one of real-terms cuts.

Separately, lack of financial regulation means independent special schools can charge six-figure sums, thus impacting further on available resources within the high needs block – a pot which is meant to provide additional financial support to all settings, independent, mainstream and specialist alike. 

We cannot apply a knee-jerk reaction, robbing the rich to pay the poor, but we do have to be able to adequately fund provision and pay staff a decent wage.

We therefore need to re-evaluate existing funding methodologies and look to create a fairer system which sensibly considers inflationary pressures and long-term affordability, without watering down provision (or expecting schools to do significantly more with significantly less).

It takes a brave government to place SEND front and centre of policy priorities. But if we get it right for learners with SEND, we will get it right for all.

This article is part of a series of sector-led policies in the run-up to the next general election. Read all the others here

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