The good and the bad of SEND reforms

By Dame Christine Lenehan

| 27 August 2019

September marks five years since the Children and Families Act 2014 became law, heralding the biggest reforms to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in a generation.

Council for Disabled Children director Dame Christine Lenehan considers five positives and negatives of the Act's implementation so far, and sets a vision for the next five years.


1. Co-production

No piece of law and no set of reforms has put working together with children and families so firmly at its heart. It has also strengthened the voices of young people.

2. More time for education

The Act enables young people to have the additional time they need to complete their formal education, up to the age of 25.

3. Better understanding

The development of the role of designated medical/clinical officers is giving "health" a seat at the table, and making it possible for the needs of children to be better understood.

4. Outcomes focus

While education, health and care (EHC) plans have been a challenge, their fundamental focus on better outcomes for young people remains a vital development.

5. Local Area Reviews

These reviews have shone a spotlight on local practice - not just looking at Act compliance but at all the systems, policies and practices that exist to meet the needs of those with SEND and their families.


1. Budget context

The impact of austerity and savage cuts to council budgets have marred the ability of local areas to work in partnership, innovate and develop.

2. Joint commissioning

The budget context has hindered joint commissioning, which requires flexibility, innovation and trust, all of which is much easier when money is available.

3. SEN Support

An early, inevitable focus on EHC plans led to them being seen as the only way of accessing support. This has led to challenges in assuring schools and parents that needs should be met by SEN support.

4. Mainstream barriers

Curriculum and accountability changes have made it harder for mainstream schools to be inclusive.

5. Inadequate local offer

Children and families should have the full range of information to support and underpin an ordinary life, yet this is poorly developed.


  1. There must be a fair funding settlement for schools and local authority children's services.
  2. SEN Support must be strengthened to become the best way to support most children.
  3. Schools must have access to specialist services when needed to supplement their own skills.
  4. Parents and young people must be treated as equal partners in decision-making.
  5. We must identify new metrics to recognise inclusion in schools and parental involvement in the EHC needs assessments.
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