After a very busy year in 2019 for a number of SEND parents’ groups, including the national march and the action to take the DfE to court over SEND funding, three leading SEND groups got together and decided that we are stronger when we campaign together.
Three volunteer parent-led organisations, Special Needs Jungle, SEND National Crisis and SEND Action joined up under the banner of “SEND Community Alliance”, the independent SEND campaigners group.
Why SEND Community Alliance?
We have chosen the name to recognise that our respective organisations have members and supporters who are not only families but also young people with SEND, adults with disabilities, and SEND professionals. We believe that bringing together the enduring presence of SNJ highlighting SEND issues, the dynamism of the SEND National Crisis team that created the national day of action, and the bravery of the SEND Action team that took the Government to the High Court, creates a force to be reckoned with. We aren't doing this for ourselves, we're doing it for our children, and for your children.
Although still remaining three separate organisations, we will use the alliance to unite and amplify our message for government, local areas and political parties. If you or your group would like to support us, let us know
Time for action
We say it is time – past time - for immediate action to ensure that the aims, spirit and legislation of the Children and Families Act finally become a reality.
It is clear from the findings of the SEND Inquiry that local authority SEND and social care departments, and local health services, have failed to put disabled children and their families at the centre of the process; one of the central tenets of the reforms.
Lack of funding and cuts have played their part in preventing the success of the CFA2014. As has the fundamental failure of the Department of Education to adequately forecast the true cost of these ambitious reforms, or to track local areas’ often wasteful spending of over £700 million pounds meant to implement the system.
But what has made the situation a true crisis is the lack of will of most councils and local NHS to change their culture and embrace the holistic vision of the reforms. This, combined with a lack of both local transparency and rigorous national accountability, has made a mockery of the reforms many of them didn't want in the first place.
But more naval-gazing isn't enough. We demand to know:
- What ACTION each party plans to take to fix SEND
- We want to know how they intend to carry the plans out
- We want to know how much they intend to spend to do it right for now and for the long term - and how they plan to ensure it goes to the right places,
- We want to know how they are going to bring about a successful change of culture within LAs and NHS departments, where the current failure to live up to the spirit of the reforms continues to bedevil the day-to-day experiences of families.
- We want to know how they intend to monitor change and create true accountability clear, transparent and meaningful ways that will drive positive change for children with SEND
- And we want a voice: SEND Community Alliance wants representation on national SEND decision-making bodies from grass-roots groups like ours, including young people, not just the same old talking-shop committees peopled by the same faces who have failed in the last five years to make a success of the reforms.
A major goal of the 2014 reforms was to put ‘children and families at the heart of the system’. This has not happened. As the SEND Inquiry report outlines in detail, the failure to successfully implement the changes have had a devastating impact on our families. We have witnessed the reversal of inclusion, the dismantling of specialist support services and seen our children marginalised and discriminated against. An already adversarial system has turned into a bureaucratic battleground.
Despite the long-running SEND inquiry and the other recent reports from the National Audit Office, the Local Government Ombudsman, and the Education Committee's funding inquiry, all evidencing the extensive failings in the system, nothing has changed. There are still thousands of disabled children without any education, in some cases abandoned by the system for years.
Our children continue to be refused admission to schools, unlawfully excluded and forced into home education. Educational outcomes are deteriorating. Despite austerity being "officially" over, children and young people are still seeing their specialist support cut, their transport removed and their legal rights breached. The constant battle to access appropriate provision is adversely affecting the mental health and life chances of our children and their families. It's also costing these families thousands of pounds they can't afford, fighting for the right provision.
Extra funding is not enough to fix SEND
The promise of extra funding from the Department for Education is appreciated. However, this is a one-off payment and is not sufficient to cover the backdated cost of the reforms or remedy the mistakes that have been made. Without protections, these same mistakes will be repeated.
Any funding given directly to LAs is likely to be used to reduce their deficits, rather than to support pupils with SEND and restore the many specialist services that have already been cut. We need a firm commitment to targeted and sustained investment in SEND and extensive close monitoring to have any hope of making progress. Any additional funding must be ring-fenced and audited.
We are extremely concerned that the recent consultation on revised arrangements for the Dedicated Schools Grant proposes closing off the possibility of local authorities transferring funds from other budgets without providing any alternative. The consultation states the Government’s intention is that over time DSG deficits ‘should be recovered from DSG income’ and yet ‘No timescale has been set for the length of this process.’ Although this is now on hold for the election, if it is picked up by a new government, it is vital for the validity of the consultation that a new Government clarifies its intentions regarding alternative sources of funding and the timescale.
For too long now we have had to advocate for the rights of our children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities just to claim their rightful place in society.POPPY ROSE & NADIA TURKI, SEND NATIONAL CRISIS
Accountability is key
SEND Community Alliance cannot overstate the importance of improving real and continuing accountability and enforcement. Failure to meet statutory timescales and duties results in the delay and denial of the provision our children need to succeed in education, as well as increasing the stress and workload of our families.
Failure to commission required reports and to specify and quantify provision results in weak, unenforceable EHCPs. The value of early intervention is well documented. Schools must be supported to be inclusive by investing in the facilities, training and specialist expertise they need to meet our children’s needs, and by encouraging and rewarding inclusive practice.
We’re really excited to join forces with Special Needs Jungle & SEND National Crisis. We’ve all been supporting one another behind the scenes for some time and have achieved so much in raising the profile of SEND issues. Now it’s time to really capitalise on that progress and to bring about meaningful change that will make a difference to all our families’ lives. Together we want to make sure our families' voices are heard. We want to hear from all of you. What are your priorities? What should we be doing next?GILLIAN DOHERTY, SEND ACTION
Culture change is vital - and parent-blaming MUST end
Positive change will require investment and improvements in accountability, but above all, it will require a change of approach by both national and local government and by the NHS when dealing with disabled children.
The pernicious narrative that scapegoats our families for rising ‘overspends’ that are the result of underfunding and lack of oversight is damaging and divisive. The language of EHCPs as a "golden ticket" and "perverse incentive" is disgraceful and outdated. If the system was working as it is supposed to, children would have their needs met early on and fewer may actually end up needing the intensive support that should come with an EHCP. This was the vision of the reforms that has only ever been paid lip service by the vast majority of LAs and many schools.
Families must truly be placed at the centre
Our children are not cells in a spreadsheet. They are human beings who are deeply loved. They have the right to an education, to the support they need to thrive and to be valued by our society.
Successful SEND reform can only be achieved with the involvement of our families. These are our lives, our futures. We know what needs to be done. The Children and Families Act 2014 put children and their families at the heart of the process. It's time that became a reality.
SEND Community Alliance
A version of this page first appeared on the Special Needs Jungle website