Every parent wants to see their child happy, confident, doing well at school and on track to becoming a successful, secure adult. They desire academic success, rewarding careers, and place value on loyal friendships and time to pursue hobbies.
At the heart of every parent’s dream for their child is the ambition that they have the same life chances as any other, regardless of the individual challenges they face or the obstacles they must overcome.
As lead ministers for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), our ambition is just that. Our vision is that these children have dreams as big as any other young person, and aspirations that are just as high. That’s why we’ve made fundamental changes to the way the SEND support system works for families, the biggest in a generation, placing them at the heart of the process and working hard to ensure their views are taken into account throughout.
In the past few months, we have both sat down separately with parents like you to find out what’s working, and what isn’t. We have discussed the challenges of implementing the new framework for SEND across education, social care and health and the daily challenges you face supporting a child with special educational needs or a disability.
We know there is still a long way to go to deliver a system that works smoothly, in the coordinated way it is intended, but your insight and experiences are invaluable in helping us achieve this. Meeting with families like you ensures that our work remains focused and we want to continue these regular meetings.
But we should all be proud of what has been achieved over the last few years and we are both heartened by the support we have received from everyone involved.
Moreover, we are getting hugely encouraging feedback from parents of children with SEND who say the new system is making a real and lasting difference to them. A few weeks ago, we published a report which investigated the experiences of some of the families going through the process of getting an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. They told us that they like many of the principles in the reforms and overall are satisfied with the new approach. They also highlighted areas needing improvement, and their personal stories have been a valuable tool for councils to improve the service they provide. It’s also vital that we strike the right balance between timing of assessment and quality of the finished plan, something we know varies considerably across the country.
This kind of feedback is vital to give us a richer understanding of where we, and all other agencies involved in this radical system change, need to work harder.
And today we have published new figures which will help direct this work. Data collection like this is an essential part of assessing progress. This, together with the work of our team of SEND advisers and findings from the new Ofsted and CQC local area SEND inspections, will help target the support and challenge we give to councils.
We are already seeing many examples of great practice, delivered with real enthusiasm – such as in York, where the importance they place on good communication is supporting families through the system in a sympathetic way, and has seen more than 90% of new plans completed within 20 weeks.
The data put out today shows some really positive stories emerging. For the first time, we have collected and published the rate of recruitment of Designated Clinical Officers (DCO), who act as a key link between health professionals and other partners. It’s great to see that 147 council areas (97%) now have these in place. Indeed, we are seeing fantastic progress in some areas, such as in Kingston & Richmond’s SEND Family Voices scheme, where parent-carers are involved in key decision-making and support Kingston Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in commissioning its community paediatrics services.
A fundamental part of the reforms was to ensure that where required, young people have the same legal protections all the way through to age 25 – and today’s data bears out this fundamental point: 19 to 25-year-olds who need that extra bit of time in education are now receiving EHC plans, and are being supported all the way to adulthood.
Throughout this process it’s been clear, through our meetings with families like you, that the people involved truly want these reforms to work - but we know this is a steep learning curve. Councils are still learning new ways of working, and these will become routine in time.
Our network of Independent Supporters, into which we are investing £45 million between 2014 and 2017, are proving to be a catalyst for this change – they are helping embed the reforms, creating positive, powerful relationships with families, like you, who are accessing support. It’s encouraging to see the impact these individuals are having on children and young people with SEND - the very people who are at the heart of our work.
The job is not yet done – but there are clear signs that we are on track. We know what we have to do to keep things moving forward. The progress that has been made is thanks to the enormous dedication of all involved, and the candid insight you provide to continually challenge us.
Today, 74,000 children and young people with SEND are in possession of an EHC plan – a vital step in boosting their life chances. We can all be rightly proud of how far we’ve come. And in doing so we must remain resolute in our drive and determination to see the new SEND system, whether in education, heath or social care, become a springboard to a successful and happy life.