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Local High Needs systems should set a shared ambition

by | Jul 23, 2020 | High Needs and children's education | 0 comments

Working with people across the High Needs system, we have set 10 system ambitions to drive effective support in High Needs

This article appears on page 13 of today’s MJ (print edition and ebook)

The crisis facing the High Needs system – which supports children with SEND and those at risk of exclusion – has not gone away, despite the recent drop in demand for Education, Health and Care Plans as a result of so many children being out of school. With schools set to reopen to all year groups in September, many are predicting a surge in demand for statutory support for children with additional needs, including a potential spike in exclusions.

There are clearly challenges ahead. But the pandemic has also provided a window of opportunity to evaluate and reset what local High Needs systems are trying to achieve and how they go about that. Whilst funding levels continues to be a contentious issue, a key part of the challenge facing High Needs is the fact that the High Needs system – like all public service systems – is complex. There are multiple organisations and individuals involved, but they usually lack a shared and inclusive ambition for delivering the best outcomes.

A key reason for this is that individual accountabilities often conflict with the overall outcomes the system is trying to achieve – and critically, these ‘system ambitions’ have never been clearly defined or agreed by all of those involved.

To help address this challenge, over recent months IMPOWER convened two roundtable events to bring together a range of people working across the High Needs system. One of the outcomes is a list of ambitions for SEND that a local system can discuss together and agree to. The aim of publishing these ambitions is to encourage and inspire local areas to build a sense of shared ownership in relation to High Needs.

Adopting these ambitions would improve outcomes, clarify the level of need, increase confidence in the system and reset spending. None of that is easy – but the first step is to bring people and organisations together around a shared ambition to agree how to deliver the best possible outcomes for children with additional needs.

I will conclude with the words of Dame Christine Lenehan (Director, Council for Disabled Children at the National Children’s Bureau), one of the roundtable participants. “Where SEND inspections have resulted in positive judgements, a common feature is an agreed shared vision for what the local partnership was trying to achieve for children with additional needs. I urge local areas to discuss these ambitions with the aim of getting buy-in from all stakeholders”.

10 system ambitions to drive effective support in High Needs

Overarching inclusive ambition: All children and young people with additional needs are valued and their outcomes important. All parts of the system recognise this and work together to ensure they reach their maximum potential, so that they lead as independent and fulfilling adult lives as possible.

  1. Where children have additional needs, parents and professionals have a shared understanding of what these are and are confident in each other and how these needs are being met, resulting in high aspiration and trust
  2. Children with additional needs are identified early and the majority thrive through SEND support, with schools valued for how they support them
  3. The majority of children who have additional needs can fulfil their potential in mainstream settings, as settings are clear about how to meet these needs and the right support is available to enable this at an early stage
  4. Transition is well supported, with minimal need for children to move to specialist settings when they have been in mainstream school
  5. Support planning is clear, joined up and focused on short-term needs and long-term aspirations, resulting in some children returning to mainstream settings after time in special settings where this helps them progress towards their own goals. Wherever possible, support works to reduce the level of need that children and young people experience and to build skills for independence
  6. There is a shared responsibility for supporting children with additional needs across settings and professionals, with routine and timely sharing of skills, resources and experience to support inclusion across education, health and care
  7. Children with additional needs receive the fullest possible support to prevent exclusion, with wide understanding that behaviour is often a form of communication and anxiety
  8. Support is truly integrated for children with additional needs and includes support in the home and from health, wrapping around education provision, to help maximise their life chances
  9. Children and young people with additional needs can access the right support, including their education provision, local to their homes and communities
  10. We all have high aspirations for children with additional needs, resulting in a high number of young people with SEND in employment, apprenticeships post-18 or higher education



  • Dame Christine Lenehan, Director, Council for Disabled Children at the National Children’s Bureau
  • Carol Kelsey, Coordinator, Herts Parent Carer Forum and Representative of the National Network of Parent Carer Forums
  • Heather Sandy, DCS, Lincolnshire County Council
  • Leo Jones, Director, IMPOWER
  • Jo Davidson, Principal, The Staff College
  • Natasha Patten, Designated Clinical Officer for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, NHS Ealing CCG
  • Vic Goddard, Headteacher, Passmores Academy
  • Michael Bateman, Programme Director for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) & Alternative Provision
  • Phil Di Leo, Special School Representative for the High Needs Block in Haringey, Director at the Haringey Improvement Partnership, Chair of Governors at The Vale Special School
  • Charles Savage, Group Manager, Principal Educational Psychologist, Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Olly Swann, Director, IMPOWER
  • Members of the DfE SEND review and policy team