“A wolf in sheep’s clothing” – we agree with IPSEA

A statement on the SEND Review Green Paper

In March 2022 the government began consulting on a SEND Review Green Paper. At the same time, it launched a Schools White Paper and published a Schools Bill. That’s a lot of jargon but what does it mean for the PDA community?

In short, the government is proposing a huge overhaul in education for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), impacting most PDA children and young people. The government is inviting feedback on its SEND proposals and the PDA Society will be responding to these, as can you by clicking here. The deadline is 23:45 on the 22nd of July.

Time and time again we hear that the education system is not working for PDA learners. When we last asked the PDA community about their learning experiences, we were told that 70% of young people of school age (686 children) were either not enrolled in a school or were struggling ‘all the time’ or ‘regularly’ to get in – Being Misunderstood Report (figures include home educated children).

Every month we hear from families of PDA children like Joshua who wants to be in school but has been rejected by four specialist settings, leaving him out of school education for two years. As Joshua’s dad shares: “It’s so isolating for Joshua. Months and years have gone by, and he misses having friends and social circles. He wants to know why he’s not accepted and why schools don’t want him and that just makes him more anxious and stressed” – BBC News.

We also hear from families of PDA children who know early on that their children need Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS) but have to fight their Local Authorities to get this. As one parent told us: “Following failed placements at both mainstream and specialist college, then a resulting severe burnout, an EOTAS package was the only way forwards. Having a flexible EOTAS package has been instrumental in helping her recover from burnout and allowed her to work at her own pace, resting when needed. I just wish families could access an EOTAS before their children reach crisis”.

The government acknowledges these challenges: “too often, children and young people with SEND, and those educated in alternative provision, feel unsupported, and their outcomes fall behind those of their peers. Too many parents are navigating an adversarial system, and face difficulty and delay in accessing support for their child”. The SEND review Green Paper is then titled “right support, right place, right time”, who could disagree with that?

Sadly, having reviewed the SEND review Green Paper we’re in absolute agreement with the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) that this is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  As IPSEA share and we agree: “the proposals in the green paper are not about enhancing families’ experiences or improving children or young people’s outcomes, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. The main purpose of the proposed reforms is to save money”.

There are so many aspects to the SEND review Green Paper that concern us including:

  • Giving families only a limited list of schools to choose from
  • Requiring families to undertake mandatory mediation before tribunal
  • Failing to detail how Local Authorities will be held accountable when rights are breached
  • Refusing to rule out changes that could make it harder to get an EHC assessment
  • Putting greater focus on ‘behaviour’ raising concerns this could mean more SEND exclusions
  • Emphasising ‘time limited’ alternative placements and increased mainstream attendance
  • Failing to make any reference to EOTAS or learning in a home environment

Take for example the following statement made in the SEND Green Paper:

“For those children and young people for whom a strong behaviour culture alone is not sufficient, high-quality alternative provision will deploy evidence-led strategies to re-engage them in education, improving their attendance and behaviour…. Over time, this new system will reduce the number of preventable exclusions and expensive long-term placements, as needs will be identified and supported early. More children and young people will remain in mainstream schools, improving their experience, wellbeing, and outcomes.” (page 60)

Translated into plain English what we understand this to mean is:

“If your SEND child can’t behave in mainstream school, we may use alternative provision for a short time to improve their behaviour and get them back into mainstream school. This will save the government money and is best for most SEND children.”

There is no acknowledgement in the SEND Green Paper of the positive choice to be made for those SEND learners, like many PDA children, who thrive in alternative placements or with education at home. The emphasis is entirely on mainstream being best and any reference to ‘longer-term alternative provision’ is heavily qualified with it being ‘transitional’ to something else.

When read in conjunction with the Schools White Paper and Schools Bill this makes for even more troubling reading. The prioritisation of good behaviour and attendance at school is paramount and includes new fines for school absence. This has led to petitions like the Stop the Schools Bill – don’t prosecute when children can’t, not won’t go to school, which the PDA Society has signed.

The Minister for Education, Will Quince MP, recently said: “my ambition is that more children, young people are able to get the support in mainstream schools without the need, wherever possible, for an EHC plan” Special Needs Jungle webinar, 28th of June. We’re extremely concerned this will mean even more pressure on PDA children to remain in mainstream education, and it being even harder to get an EHC plan to access funding for education outside of mainstream.

So, what can we do?  The PDA Society will be responding to the government’s SEND Green Paper consultation which is open until 23:45 on the 22nd of July 2022. You can also respond too.  The consultation site isn’t the easiest to use, so if you plan to respond directly we’d recommend reading this helpful guide from Special Needs Jungle. With thanks to Special Needs Jungle, you also have the option of emailing your responses to SendReview.Consultation@Education.gov.uk.