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Social Justice

SEND green paper: Ministers wrong to suggest culture is the problem in underfunded schools, say experts

The long-awaited SEND green paper has done little to ease fears around budget cuts in England’s schools, leaders said

Ministers must give both mainstream and special schools the funding they need to support all children, experts said, warning that the SEND green paper will not trigger progress while schools are forced to operate on shoestring budgets.

School leaders have objected to the suggestion that mainstream schools need to “change their culture” to be more inclusive of pupils with special educational needs after the government published its long-awaited proposals.

The green paper on special educational needs and disability (SEND) – outlining proposals to improve outcomes for children with special educational needs and disabilities – was delayed three times after the government launched a review in 2019.

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It sets out plans for new national standards to improve performance across SEND provision, plus a legal requirement on councils to bring together early years, schools and education for older children with local health and care services in a way that makes different agencies’ responsibilities clearer.

The report also recommends changing the “culture and practice” in mainstream schools to identify support needs earlier and more effectively. But the proposals will do little to undo years of budget cuts, experts said.

“Mainstream and special schools alike work incredibly hard to support the needs of all children,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT.

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“Schools cater for pupils with a diverse range of needs and the overwhelming majority already have a highly inclusive culture, supporting every child to the best of their abilities, and putting in place additional support where it is needed.

“However, they need the resources to be able to do this,” he added. “The challenge here is not one of culture, but of a persistent lack of funding from central government.”

Ministers said the proposals will be backed by £70m in new funding, while Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi pledged to “end the postcode lottery of uncertainty and poor accountability that exists for too many families”.

Up to 40 new special and alternative provision schools could be approved under the SEND green paper plans. It recommends cutting the time parents spend researching schools for their children by reducing bureaucracy and providing pre-prepared lists of schools to help them make “informed choices”.

“This paper has been delayed three times, taken nearly 1,000 days to put together, yet it still fails to deliver the transformation in support needed to change this picture,” said Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary.

She condemned the SEND green paper as “incredibly disappointing”, adding: “Warm words on early intervention are not good enough when affordable early childcare is unavailable to most parents.”

The government also plans to spend £10m training around 200 extra educational psychologists who can support efforts to improve the system – but they will not graduate until 2026 at the earliest.

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The SEND green paper’s focus on early intervention seems “right and sensible”, according to Geoff Barton – general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders – but does not display the necessary urgency to transform a system which is currently “in crisis”.

“The frustration is that the government’s SEND review began in September 2019,” he added. “It has taken nearly three years to reach this point, and full implementation of the green paper is some way off.

“In the meantime, many thousands of children and young people will continue to pass through a broken system, with schools left to pick up the pieces without sufficient resources. The government has not shown enough urgency.”

The SEND green paper proposals will now open to a 13-week public consultation.

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