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SEND Green Paper: How do we update the processes used in the SEND system to make it more efficient?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 September 2022

Early diagnosis is crucial. Photo:  RetyiRetyi / Pixabay

Miriam McBreen and Jo Van Herwegen.

In our second blog post responding to the DFE’s Green Paper on the future of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP), we look at how processes need to change to ensure the system more effectively supports these pupils.

This includes a need to improve the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process, in particular with regards to diagnosis and labelling, and to support practitioners to work more effectively with families.

First of all, the EHCP process needs updating. While the SEND code of practice suggests actively involving the child and parents, our research suggests the child’s voice is often not captured where it could be. Research from Tyan and Van Herwegen suggests the voices of children with intellectual disabilities as young as five years old can be accurately captured when professionals have appropriate training. This highlights the need for better training to ensure children’s voices are included.

Research from Castro-Kemp et al.  has further shown that several sections of EHCPs are not described in sufficient detail in most plans. But where there is sufficient detail, this leads to higher levels of collaboration between education, health and social care practitioners, and to better outcomes for children. This further highlights the need to improve the EHCP process.

Central to this process is the need for a better use of labels and diagnoses. Existing labels and diagnoses have been found to create confusion, with many labels poorly defined or not linked to functioning characteristics, limiting their usefulness for practitioners. For example, the label ‘multi-sensory impairment’ (MSI) was found to overlap with other labels, and terminology used to describe MSI is varied and poorly defined. Indeed, everyday needs of children with SEND are often not captured by diagnostic labels and the ‘types of need’ stipulated by the UK government. Research has shown that a focus on strategies related to participation needs, such as mental health, learning, mobility or self-care, is much more effective than the use of labels.

Adequate training and frameworks could ensure that children receive an accurate and individualised assessment of needs that is truly holistic and functional to their participation in daily life, and which takes into consideration their everyday life needs.

Further, our research suggests that early diagnosis is crucial, especially for children with complex needs and multiple disabilities. These children often go undiagnosed until much later and are likely to have additional health needs. As health visitors can play a vital role in early identification and providing information to parents, additional training in SEND for these practitioners could make a big difference.

Beyond correctly diagnosing need, better guidelines on the outcomes and goals set for children with SEND in EHCPs are needed, to ensure children are receiving the right level of support, including standards for when these should be reviewed and by whom.

We need to take steps to ensure better communication and collaboration between practitioners and families. For instance, parents often aren’t aware of the placements available to them, or that they can consult their SEND local offer to obtain information about what services are available in their area, or work with a transition officer to find the right school placement for their child. In their research, Kunwar Deer and Kamenopoulou interviewed parents who have children with SEND and who are on low incomes. These parents report negative experiences of the English SEND system in relation to their interactions with schools and local authorities, as well as the quality of education their child received.

Several parents paid for expensive private assessments, went through formal complaint processes or took legal redress to ensure their views could be heard. Additionally, they found that local service provision is not in line with statutory requirements for these families to access leisure activities, respite from their caring role and suitable childcare to facilitate work.

The format used for communication also needs careful consideration. For example, there is still a digital divide, with 15-20% of families having no access to a computer or tablet and findings from the  Office for National Statistics that some parents say they don’t feel comfortable using technology. Thus, while digitisation can support standardisation, alternatives are needed to ensure all families can contribute to EHCP plans.

Overall, the focus needs to be on improving the parents’ experiences and increasing their participation in the decision-making process. Closer collaboration between people who work closely with parents, such as health visitors, as well as links to available placements and ‘what works’ websites, may help address this. If professionals receive training on how to engage with parents in collaborative decision-making, this would help ensure parents’ and children’s perspectives are taken into account. It could also support their engagement and improve families’ experiences of the SEND system and children’s outcomes.

Additional co-authors: Gill Brackenbury, Susana Castro-Kemp, Rosanne Esposito, Vivian Hill, Leda Kamenopoulou and Mel Romualdez



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