Children’s minister defends delays to landmark review and warns Covid has ‘intensified’ issues

Children’s Minister: Will Quince

The government has named 23 members of a steering group set up to help push through its much-delayed SEND review, as a minister warned Covid had “intensified” issues.

In an open letter to parents of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, children’s minister Will Quince said improvements to the system were “needed, and overdue”. The steering group will “help us move forward” with the review, he added.

The SEND review was first promised in September 2019. The government has now missed three of its own deadlines to publish it, with Covid cited as a major contributor to the delays.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said last week that he was hoping to have it out “in the first quarter of next year” so it can “dovetail” with a planned schools white paper.

In his letter, Quince said the pandemic had “intensified some of the issues in the system, and we have needed time to reflect on those”.

“We also wanted to do justice to the huge amount of input we have received and take time to check back with people that we had properly understood what they were telling us.”

And while he said he did not think it was “helpful to offer up specific details ahead of publication of the full set of proposals”, he did point to several issues that needed addressing.

Points to be Addressed

He said based on evidence gathered, the government knew it was important that proposals “offer a way forward to reduce local variation”.

“We also need to improve early intervention, make clearer the support and services everyone should be able to expect and have funding and accountability systems in place which support this.”

He said improving complex systems would be “challenging”, and said proposals “must align” with other improvement work, such as the care review, recovery planning and “wider reform”.

“And we need to make sure changes we propose are supported and understood across health and care services, as well as education providers,” Quince added.

SEND Review Steering Group

The SEND review steering group is chaired by Steph Brivio, the DfE’s director of strategy, social media and disadvantage.

Of the 23 members, 12 are civil servants, 10 are representing charity or third sector organisations. Only one, Olive Academies CEO Mark Vickers, works in schools.

Members include children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, Confederation of Schools Trusts CEO Leora Cruddas and Ofsted national education director Chris Russell.

According to the government, the group will work to deliver proposals “that improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND, to improve the experiences of their parents and carers, and to deliver reforms that will bring financial sustainability to the SEND system”.

The group met for the first time on September 28.

As well as informing development of and feedback on the review’s progress, the DfE said the group would “shape and provide steers” on policy solutions, support the development of “robust implementation arrangements” and advise on the review’s “communications and stakeholder and user engagement“.

SEND review steering group: The members

  • Steph Brivio: Director, Strategy, Social Mobility and Disadvantage, Department for Education (DfE) – Chair
  • Mark Vickers: Chair of Alternative Provision/SEND CEO Network
  • David Holloway: Senior Policy Manager, SEND, Association of Colleges
  • Charlotte Ramsden: President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services
  • Rachel de Souza: Children’s Commissioner
  • Leora Cruddas: Chief Executive, Confederation of Schools Trusts
  • Christine Lenehan: Director, Council for Disabled Children
  • Michael Freeston: Director of Quality Improvement, Early Years Alliance
  • Sally Burlington: Head of Policy (people), Local Government Association
  • Tina Emery: Co-chair, National Network of Parent Carer Forums
  • Mrunal Sisodia: Co-chair, National Network of Parent Carer Forums
  • David Bartram: Director, Prescient Education
  • Tony McArdle: Independent Adviser; Chair, SEND System Leadership Board
  • Sue North: Head of Children and Young People, NHS England and Improvement, Learning Disability and Autism Programme
  • Chris Russell: National Director, Education, Ofsted
  • Fiona Walshe: Director for Mental Health and Disabilities, Department for Health and Social Care
  • Alex Skinner: Director of Local Government Finance, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
  • Donna Ward: Policy Director of Children, Families and Disadvantage, Department for Work and Pensions
  • Lynsey Jones: Head of Schools and Early Years, Her Majesty’s Treasury
  • Indra Morris: Director-General, Children’s Services, Communications and Strategy Group, DfE
  • Charlie Lang: Deputy Director, SEND Review Division, DfE
  • Alex Marsh: Director of Academies and School Reform, DfE
  • Fran Oram / Sophie Langdale: Director of Children’s Social Care, DfE

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