The House of Commons Education Committee has today published its report following the SEND Inquiry launched in April 2018. The cross-party group of MPs received more than 700 pieces of written evidence from parents/carers, local authorities, schools, colleges, SEN professionals and charitable organisations. IPSEA made a detailed written submission and our CEO gave evidence at one of the Inquiry’s 12 oral evidence sessions.

The 127 page report makes a series of recommendations for improvement, including that:

  • the joint CQC and Ofsted inspections should become part of an annual inspection process to which all local authorities and their partners are subject, and there should be clear consequences for local authorities and health bodies that fail their annual inspection
  • the jurisdiction of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) should be extended to enable it to investigate complaints about schools
  • the Government should introduce a reporting and accountability mechanism so that parents and schools can report directly to the Department for Education where local authorities are not complying with the law
  • as part of the current SEND review, the Government should examine the notional budget for SEN Support
  • whether through its existing programme of inspections, or a separate type of specialised inspection focusing on SEND, Ofsted must deliver a clear judgement about whether schools are delivering for individual children with SEND, particularly those supported under SEN Support
  • the SEND Code of Practice should include stronger guidance on SEN Support to ensure there is clarity over how children should be supported at this level
  • SENCOs should be required to undertake the NASENCO course as soon as they take on a SENCO role
  • Ofsted and CQC should inspect the availability, take up, quality and provision of training on SEND law for local authority professionals involved in Education Health and Care Needs Assessments, plan writing and reviewing and Tribunal work
  • the Government should map therapy provision across the country and identify cold spots
  • a new role should be created, similar to the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer for looked-after children, with responsibility for coordinating all statutory SEND processes including the annual review
  • a ministerial-led cross-departmental working group should be formed to develop and oversee a strategy to develop sustainable supported internship, apprenticeship and employment opportunities for young people with SEND
  • the role of the Designated Medical Officer/Designated Clinical Officer should be placed on a statutory footing
  • requirements relating to the local offer should be strengthened
  • the Ministry of Justice, as part of its reporting on SEND Tribunal cases, should publish a yearly digest of relevant trends and information to enable local authorities to improve their service and ensure they are making lawful decisions.

 We are pleased the Committee recognises that the 2014 reforms were the right ones and that it is not proposing any further legislative reform. Indeed, the report sends a strong message to the Government in this regard, emphasising that “it should avoid the temptation to address the problems within the system by weakening or watering down duties or making fundamental changes to the law.”[1]

 We also support the finding that the solution to the current crisis in SEND provision is not only more money. There also needs to be a culture change, improved SEN Support and most importantly a proper system of accountability when local authorities get it wrong. There is a raft of evidence of poor decision-making and non-compliance with the law and yet there are very few consequences unless a family pursues a complaint to the LGSCO.

 At present, there is a sense of complacency about negative findings from the local area SEND inspections and we welcome the Committee’s recommendation that this inspection regime should be strengthened. We also fully support the extension of the LGSCO’s jurisdiction to schools to ensure that parents and young people have a remedy when things go wrong at this level. This is particularly important when SEN Support is not being delivered. 

 We understand the rationale for the recommendation that the Government should introduce a reporting and accountability mechanism enabling parents to report directly to the DfE where local authorities fail to comply with the law, but we are concerned that this is again placing the burden on parents rather than on local authorities to make lawful decisions. We welcome the suggestion that there should be more training of key local authority professionals on the SEND law framework. Alongside a robust accountability system, this is crucial to achieving improvement in policy and practice.

 We are interested in the suggestion that a new neutral coordinator role should be created to support families through the SEND process, but we are not convinced this is workable if it is a role funded by the local authority.

The Committee recognises that there needs to be better joined-up working across education, health and social care and we support the suggestion that the Designated Medical Officer/Designated Clinical Officer should be strengthened. However, we are disappointed that so little attention has been paid to the lack of social care input in the EHC needs assessment process, and social care’s responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 and the Care Act 2014. This is an important omission which is again symptomatic of the lack of joint working across government departments.

 Ali Fiddy, IPSEA’s Chief Executive, said:

“IPSEA fully supports the Committee’s call on the Government to act now in addressing the SEND crisis. Parents and those working in the sector are all “review weary”. It’s now time for the Government to tackle the problems that have been repeatedly identified by, amongst others, the LGSCO, the local area SEND inspections and now the Education Committee.”

[1] Paragraph 18