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The future of SEND and Alternative Provision

by | Apr 26, 2023 | High Needs and children's education | 0 comments

Yesterday’s Westminster Education Forum was concerned with the next steps for alternative provision in England. The Department for Education has released the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan which proposes reforms for the SEND system to address poor outcomes across the board for children with SEND and those attending alternative education provision. The proposed reforms aim to create a more inclusive education system that is less adversarial for families and more financially robust. They include:

  • Supporting local areas to develop a three-tier AP system (targeted support in mainstream, time limited placements and transitional placements)
  • Rethinking finance and breaking the link with individual pupil movements, instead financially supporting children and young people to remain or return to mainstream (AP)
  • Introducing metrics to benchmark good performance in alternative provision (AP)
  • Increasing regulation and oversight for unregistered settings, recognising that many children and young people attend them

These reforms undoubtedly have merit, and potentially provide a structure upon which the ‘revolving door’ approach might actually become a reality nationally – something we have been championing at IMPOWER for years and delivering on a local scale with our clients. But the timeframes for reforms are long and we could be waiting years for the changes to become effective. Focusing on system health today, and identifying what can be done without delay to improve outcomes and make more effective use of resources, is vital to the sustainability of these plans.

Three recurring themes dominated the panel discussions and the Teams chat at the event.

Exclusions

The delegates were concerned with some of the reasons given in their local areas for exclusions, and one speaker asked whether we can really justify excluding children and young people from their education communities when we consider that pupils excluded at aged 12 are four times more likely to receive custodial sentences as adults. There is overrepresentation of a number of groups with protected characteristics in those who are excluded, and these mirror patterns in the prison system. Is the long-term impact of an exclusion from school proportionate to the breeching of a ‘no noise corridor policy’, or a disregard for the school’s uniform rules?

Understanding need better

One speaker spoke of her concern that we are treating behaviour as a ‘need’ rather than a presentation of an underlying need. Children who are educated in alternative provision are, by their very definition, not having their needs met. A discussion about internalised needs vs externalised needs as a basis for provision planning was an interesting take on whether we consider needs holistically enough in support planning. Of course, bringing together the strengths and assets of a child through a holistic assessment like the Valuing SEND tool is an excellent place to start.

Relationships between mainstream and AP

Many delegates were keen to discuss the relationship between mainstream and AP. Many mainstream schools are now commissioning their own AP, due to a lack of sufficiency and not wishing to use an unregistered placement. There were also reports that colleges and further education organisations were refusing the take students from AP settings, simply because they were attending AP. This makes the argument for reintegration to mainstream even stronger, but, shouldn’t a further education placement be based on achievement and potential, rather than the setting a young person attends?

IMPOWER’s interventions play a key role in solving these problems. The SEND Advice Line set up for different local authorities provides vital support to hard working, burnt out teachers at points of crisis. These calls reduce exclusions and help teachers to meet increasingly complex needs in their own settings whilst accessing support locally. Valuing SEND gives us a rounded, holistic view of need and maximises the strengths and assets of each individual, leading to better decision making. Reintegration of children and young people to mainstream improves life-long outcomes and enables better opportunities into adulthood. All these things can contribute to and pave the way in making these government reforms a success.