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Special Educational Needs and Disability

Policy and Practice in Special Educational Needs and Disability

Support for children with SEND and their families

More than 1.3 million children and young people in England have significant SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability). Professor Geoff Lindsay and Mairi Ann Cullen led research that aimed to develop government policy and professional practice, and improve disagreement resolution and local plans for greater inclusion. The system urgently needed to offer better support for children and their families, despite ongoing underfunding.

The challenge

SEND provision has suffered from some deep and systematic problems. For example, rates of identification of SEND can vary depending on the ethnicity and local authority of the pupil being assessed; pupils with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) may receive more SEND support than pupils with speech, language communication needs (SLCN) with the same support needs. and many parents face a long and disruptive process to get their children the support they need.

The Children and Families Act 2014 was designed to address many of these difficulties, including keeping the child’s needs foremost and avoiding, or at least limiting, the costs and emotional challenges incurred by drawn-out disputes. The team’s work investigated these challenges, and worked with government, the Voluntary and Community Services (VCS) sector, local authorities and practitioners, to improve the SEND system.

Our approach

The researchers made several important contributions to improving SEND services:

  • The Better Communication Research Programme (BCRP), commissioned by the government to address issues raised in the Bercow Report, produced 19 reports to the Department for Education, examining in detail existing services for children and young people with Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and making recommendations for improvements based on the BCRP’s extensive evidence.

  • A database entitled ‘What Works for SLCN?’, was created to provide evidence of best practice regarding interventions, available as a web-based resource for both professionals and parents through the Communication Trust

  • The ‘Communication Supporting Classrooms Observation Tool’ is an online tool developed to help KS1 teachers improve children’s communication skills

  • The team also undertook an independent review of SEND disagreement resolution systems in England, required as a result of the Children and Families Act 2014

Our impact

Research carried out by Warwick researchers, working with a number of other universities, is at the forefront of changes to SEND support. The team worked with charities, central and local government, the VCS sector (Communication Trust, Afasic, ICAN, and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists), and practitioners (teachers and speech and language therapists). to implement evidence-based training for practitioners working with SLCN and information for parents.

Professor Lindsay was invited to chair Birmingham City Council’s Inclusion Commission and London Borough of Newham’s SEND Commission to develop new authority strategies to improve their SEND systems.

The results of the team’s research on the government’s new approach to disagreement resolution were reported by mandate to Parliament together with the DfE’s response to develop the system on the basis of the project’s findings. These included

  • Publishing good practice guidance developed as part of the team’s review and sharing this with local areas through regional networks and delivery support partnerships

  • Continuous professional development for local authority staff

  • Supporting the mediation sector to introduce voluntary standards and accreditation of training programmes for SEND mediation

  • Producing accessible guidance for families on the available routes for complaint and disagreement resolution

  • Introducing a two-year national trial of the expansion of the First-tier Tribunal SEND powers to make non-binding recommendations on the health and social care elements of EHC plans.

The research also provoked debate across the educational and SEND press, as well as from legal specialists, impacting on policy and practice as well as support options for SEND pupils.

Discover the changes made in the ten years since the Bercow Report

Read the Government's response to CEDAR's research into the SEND tribunal process

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