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The first meeting of the National SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board

07 June 2023

The first meeting of the National SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board

Earlier this year the government published a SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan setting out ambitious reforms to the way we educate children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Change is badly needed to a system that, despite its complexity, still does not meet the needs it should.

To oversee the reforms, a national SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board has been formed. I attended the first meeting yesterday. It was chaired by children’s minster Claire Coutinho and I found myself sitting round the table with representatives from local government, schools, the early years sector, parent-carer groups, and the children’s commissioner.

But what do I really want from this board? I think the answer is that I want what the other members want – for these reforms to work, for them to create a functioning SEND system that meets the needs of young people, while also being financially sustainable and resilient enough to cope with future demographic change.

It is sometimes too easy to think of the SEND system in terms of the tensions between its constituent parts. It is understandable that colleges often complain about other parts of the system. It is so disheartening when our support staff leave for better pay in schools, or when local authorities supply information about students that is years out of date.

But the way to solve these problems is to look at the system as a whole, from the angles of all its components. Each one of our students with SEND needs support from their home, their school, their local authority, and their college. College students have an interest in the school sector working well, just as school pupils have an interest in the colleges that will educate them in future. Our students need us all to work together.

I am pleased that the voices of colleges have been listened to by policy makers. The Improvement Plan includes recognition of many of the problems that colleges face. Identifying the issues is a good start. Next we need to make sure that the perspective of our students informs the design of new features of the system like Local Area Inclusion Plans and national transition standards.

A huge number of children, young people and their families need this system to work. High Needs funding alone now comes to more than 10 billion pounds a year, and continues to grow. Reform needs to be careful enough to be right, yet rapid enough to benefit those already in the system. Reforming SEND structures is a vast undertaking – but this week has seen an important first step.

David Holloway, AoC Senior Policy Manager - SEND