National board for children with high-level SEND to launch

By Tristan Donovan

| 09 November 2017

A national leadership board to oversee reform of the education and care of children and young people with high-level special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is to be created following a review of residential special schools and colleges.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, has been invited to join the new national leadership board.

The board will take forward the recommendations of the Good Intentions, Good Enough? review, which called for significant changes in how children with the highest-level SEND are supported and educated in England.

The review uncovered multiple problems within the existing system. These included a lack of support to help pupils stay in non-residential schools, a lack of ambition for those with high need and a culture of "mistrust" between local authorities and providers deemed to be harming children's wellbeing.

"A significant contributor to negative experiences and outcomes is the striking level of mistrust within the sector," the report states.

"Adversarial relationships between local authorities and providers leave children and young people caught in the middle and can cause delays in them receiving the right support, frustrating their families and exacerbating their needs."

The review recommended replacing the national minimum standards for residential special schools with more exacting national quality standards, creating more incentives to encourage mainstream schools to do their best for children with SEND and more short break services.

It also called for more collaborative working relationships between local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and providers to help improve children's education and make it easier for families to access residential placements when that is the best option.

"While some of these findings were negative, we have seen enough examples of good practice to know that the vision set out in this report can be achieved," the report states.

In the government response to the findings, Education Secretary Justine Greening confirmed that the government will create a national leadership board to oversee the changes, as recommended by the review.

She also invited review co-chairs Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, and Mark Geraghty, chief executive of residential special school provider the Seashell Trust, to join the board.

The Department for Education will respond fully to the review in the new year but, in the interim, it has updated its guidance to local authorities about their statutory responsibility to visit children and young people with SEND who are in long-term residential settings.

The department has also issued new best practice advice for schools and colleges on SEND support.

"Your report makes clear that there is some excellent practice by schools, colleges, local authorities and other services, and this should be celebrated," said Greening.

"But it also makes clear that, too often, this excellent practice is in spite of, rather than because of, how the system works currently."

Clare Howard, chief executive of Natspec - the specialist further education association, said: "We welcome the review and are keen to work with the Department for Education, local authorities and others to plan for a future where all young people have access to high-quality education or training and care, which meets their individual needs and supports their aspirations."

The review was commissioned by former children's minister Edward Timpson in December 2016.

At present around 6,146 children and young people are educated in residential special schools and specialist post-16 institutions. The cost per placement ranges from £35,000 to £350,000 a year.

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