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Right support? Right place? Right time? A SENCo’s view of the government’s plans for SEND and alternative provision

Last week saw the long-awaited publication of the government’s plan to reform SEND and alternative provision, The SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time. Christina Horton, SENCo and senior leader at Anthem’s Mount Street Academy, delivers her verdict…

I’ve been SENCo at Mount Street Academy, an infant and nursery school in Lincoln city, for four years now. With around 55 pupils, in a school of less than 300, having special educational needs, I spent my weekend scrutinising the government’s plans for SEND to find out what they might mean for Mount Street’s children and families, and for those like me who work with them every day.

A welcome focus on early intervention

One positive that I drew from the plan is the focus on early identification and support. This is vital for Mount Street. Being an infant school, it is so important we identify needs early. We really focus on assessing and identifying needs within Nursery and Reception to ensure the right support is in place (where possible) before children enter KS1.

It is also good to see that the government is proposing to offer SEND training for early years provision (private nurseries), and qualifications for EY leaders and SENCos to ensure they are also equipped to identify and support need before the children transition into mainstream Reception classes. It is difficult for us to ensure the right support early enough if nurseries haven’t started the APDR cycle.

Will funding reviews pay off for everyone?

As part of this, the government is also considering a review of inclusion funding for early years - however, at this stage they have only said this is a possibility. I would have liked to see a firm commitment to this, as the current amount received for a child with inclusion funding is minimal and does not cover enough support for the child. For example, last year we had five children receiving inclusion funding at Level 2. All five children had significant needs, with three waiting for EHCPs. This funding only equated to one member of staff each morning to support all five children.

The focus of the plan is to ensure consistency across the country with standardised funding, meaning some areas will have an increase and others a loss. I will be very interested to see what happens in Lincolnshire, our local authority. The government is proposing an increase in core funding to schools to support high needs but how much, in real terms, is this going to mean for each school? As an infant school our funding is already at a disadvantage in real terms - will we see an increase?

My understanding from reading the paper is that the long-term goal is to reduce the number of EHCPs being funded. This will mean that more EHCPs are refused to cut overspending – will there be enough money awarded initially for the high needs support? This remains to be seen! We really need to see a rise in the notional SEND budget, there are mentions of this being discussed later this year but, again, I would have liked to see a commitment to this.

EHC plans themselves are to be standardised and digitised so that they will be easier to access between counties. This should support more transparent working and enable quicker responses.

Improved access to specialist help

There are several proposals around increasing the availability of specialist help in The SEND and Alternative Provision Plan that I am particularly pleased to see because of the long waiting times we experience to obtain this for our children.

I particularly welcome the promise to improve access to speech and language therapy (SaLT) through Early Language and Support for Every Child (ELSEC) pathfinders for those who need early language support. I really hope this national plan filters down effectively at local level, as communication and interaction (speech and language) is one of our biggest areas of need. This year we have had to dedicate one of our TAs to delivering SaLT interventions across school, as we have so many children requiring this provision.

The promise of more specialist free schools and easier access to these for the highest need pupils is also good to see. In Lincolnshire, as I’m sure is the case elsewhere, there are often long waits for spaces - if children are lucky enough to be allocated a space at all. We have had pupils waiting two years or more for a special school place! It will be interesting to see where these schools are going to be based.

Will National Standards be truly inclusive?

The introduction of the SEND and AP National Standards from end of 2025 is to ensure mainstream settings can meet the needs of children with SEND through early identification and interventions, supported by practice guides.

The practice guides supporting the delivery of the National Standards will be evidence based and produced by leaders in their field. These could prove incredibly useful for leaders setting areas for improvement within school and for teachers to know what adaptations can make a difference in supporting SEND.

I have a slight concern that the National Standards themselves could be seen as a replacement for EHCPs in some instances - and if schools aren’t given appropriate funding, they don’t really stand a chance of meeting them! There is also a question over whether standardisation of provision really lends itself to true inclusion, or addressing the needs of the individual child or young person…

More questions than answers…

Overall, I think the plan raises as many questions as it provides answers at this stage. Until we know what the funding and National Standards look like, it is difficult to judge. Mostly, I would have liked it to go further and commit to increasing notional budgets for SEND and inclusion funding. Without this commitment, it is difficult to see how we can bring about the kind of system change that is so desperately needed.