31 January 2024

We recently held an event in Parliament to mark 40 years of our work in using the law to help children and young people with SEND get the education and support they are legally entitled to.

We published a new report telling IPSEA’s story and setting out what we think the future should look like, and what needs to happen to improve the way the SEND system works and the outcomes it helps children and young people to achieve. 

Below are some extracts from the speech given by our Chief Executive, Ali Fiddy, about the future we want to see:

As we move into our fifth decade we will continue to support individual families with next step advice and tribunal support. We’ll continue to deliver training on the SEND legal framework, both to empower parents and carers and improve knowledge and understanding of legal obligations among professionals working within the SEND system. And we will focus our policy work on ensuring that the rights and entitlements of children and young people with SEND remain intact.

Photo of IPSEAs Chief Executive, Ali Fiddy, standing at a lectern presenting at IPSEAs 40th anniversary event at Portcullis House, House of CommonsWe are also determined not to let the growing narrative of blaming parents for the troubling state of local authority finances distract from the real problems in the system and from the solutions that are needed.

The SEND system is not in crisis because of the unreasonable demands and expectations of pushy middle-class parents seeking a ‘golden ticket’. I can say with total confidence that children and young people with SEND are not getting more than they are legally entitled to, and most are not getting anything near to what they are entitled to. 

The system is also not in crisis because the reforms to the legal framework in 2014 were flawed. The problems we are seeing now aren’t new. Many of them existed under the old system as well. 

Why is there such an unwillingness to accept that the biggest problem in the SEND system is local authorities disregarding their legal duties? It’s disappointing and frankly absurd that the issues we’re talking about haven’t changed – we’re still saying the same things we were saying 20 years ago. 

The Government’s SEND Change Programme is now underway: this represents the latest stage of the SEND Review which commenced in autumn 2019. But we see this as a missed opportunity. We don’t believe the SEND Review focused on the right things, and we’re concerned that it may make the situation worse for many children and young people and their families. 

The SEND Review was a genuine opportunity to tackle the SEND crisis and improve the educational experience of children and young people with SEND. However, it began from the misconception that the system is littered with disputes. In fact, it is littered with unlawful decision-making and that’s what needs to be addressed. 

Our vision for the future

Looking forward, there are four areas of focus that we consider key to resolving the SEND crisis. 

The priority has to be finding a way to ensure that local authorities fulfil their statutory duties towards children and young people under the current SEND legal framework. This means things like local authorities applying the correct legal tests for assessing a child or young person’s needs and naming a school or college in their EHC plan. It means local authorities making decisions and taking action in accordance with statutory timeframes, and setting out provision in EHC plans that is sufficiently detailed, specific and quantified. 

However, compliance with the legal framework will only be achieved if there are sufficiently robust accountability measures in place to enforce it. At present, there are too few consequences for local authorities that fail to comply with their legal obligations. Non-compliance with the law on supporting children and young people with SEND should become both unacceptable and unaffordable. Also, as well as strengthening the accountability framework in relation to local authorities, we also want to see the jurisdiction of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman extended so that it can investigate complaints about schools. 

Alongside this, we want to see the strengthening of SEN Support in schools and a change in the culture that prevails in many mainstream settings. There has to be a focus on mainstream schools being genuinely inclusive for disabled children in line with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. This should be central to any drive towards inclusive education for all children and young people, so that difference is accepted, reasonable adjustments are made based on children and young people’s individual needs, and staff are appropriately trained. We think that SEN Support should be placed on a statutory footing so that it can be relied on (and enforced) by children and young people who need extra provision and support but don’t require an EHC plan. 

Finally, the system cannot continue to rely on parents and carers enforcing the law. At present, the onus is firmly on families to know, understand and enforce their children’s legal rights by appealing, complaining and pursuing judicial review claims. This has to stop, not least because it is costly both financially and emotionally, but also because it places children and young people without a parent willing or able to advocate for them at a significant disadvantage. This includes children in the care system, children in prison, those whose parents have English as a second language, migrant children, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, and children whose parents have SEN themselves. 

Policy-makers must resist the temptation to change the law again. Let’s drown out the narrative that blames parents and carers for the current crisis in SEND provision and ensure the focus is firmly on solutions that protect children and young people’s legal rights and entitlements.

Image of front cover of IPSEA at 40: reflecting on the past and looking to the future


To learn more about our history, impact, and vision, read our new report, “IPSEA at 40: reflecting on the past and looking to the future”, which showcases our achievements over the past 40 years, and sets out the action that must be taken to improve the SEND system and outcomes for children and young people with SEND.