London Assembly Education Panel: Special educational needs in London

The London Assembly Education Panel are holding an enquiry into special educational needs in London.


They are accepting submissions of evidence until the 18th October.

London Assembly Education Panel Chair Jennette Arnold OBE joined us at the Whole School SEND Strategy Summit to call for submissions of evidence from our network.

You can watch the video here


Below is the evidence submitted by Whole School SEND:

Whole School SEND is a coalition of schools, practitioners, charities, policy influencers, parents, carers and young people, hosted by London Leadership Strategy.

We are committed to improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND by networking, collaborating and better scaling and embedding what we already know works.

Evidence suggests that outcomes improve when SEND practice is embedded into a wider school improvement and school strategy, owned by school leaders, and when classroom teachers are equipped and able to support learners with SEND. The Whole School SEND Consortium's aim is that SEND practice is owned and implemented by the wider community to ensure better outcomes for children and young people with SEND across the system. Whilst much progress has been made, we are still some way from achieving this in all schools and we hope that the Whole School SEND Consortium will drive this forward. 

As a third sector organisation comprised of a variety of different individuals and organisations, we have considered the questions raised within all of the sections of the call for evidence. These have been collated together to form our submission and are supported by specific suggestions for activity to address the challenges identified.

How can we ensure that pupils in London can access adequate SEND support now and in the future?

Capacity within schools set against increasing need:

One of the key challenges that needs to be addressed is the lack of capacity within the system, set against a growing need. DfE are predicting that by 2026 there will have been a 29% increase in the Special school population since 2007, compared to 15% for Primary and 11% for Secondary. The same projection data suggests that we will need 13,000 additional places by 2026, equivalent to approximately 130 new schools requiring 6,500 staff of which 1,600 will need to be teachers.

However recent announcements indicate that there are currently plans for 19 schools through the free schools programme creating additional capacity of 1,600 places

There has also been special provision funding made available to support capital investment in creating SEND places However, the distribution mechanism for this funding was based on general demographic growth projection rather than on SEND specific data and does not appear to be informed by known capacity or local predicted need.

  1. Commit to conducting an annual audit of existing capacity within the state maintained special schools sector in order to inform a strategic plan for the development of the provision capacity necessary to meet local need.
  2. Develop a London specific response to the recruitment of Special school staff to compensate for the lack of attention given to Special schools and SEND more broadly within Government recruitment initiatives.


Systemic Variability:

Appeals by families within London are higher than the national average (4.3 per 10,000 of school population) at 5.6 (Inner London) and 5.4 (Outer London). Additionally, the inter borough variance is very broad with the Inner London range being from 12.1 (Westminster) to 1.3 (Tower Hamlets) and the Outer London range being from 10.4 (Ealing) to 1.1 (Waltham Forest). The impact on young people of this variance needs to be explored in some detail, with a particular focus on lost entitlement and the stress it places families under. There would also be value in exploring whether there are any benefits of variance for the boroughs and how any incentives can be removed in order to ensure greater systemic equity.

  1. Conduct a review of those boroughs with disproportionately high and disproportionately low levels of appeal to identify commonality in terms of characteristics such as administrative systems, cultural leadership, funding and provision capacity.
  2. Aggregate the outcomes of the joint CQC / OfSTED regional SEND Reviews in order to identify common themes to be addressed through supportive networks and inter borough professional development.
  3. Create a pan borough ‘London Offer’, not just for residents but also for visitors, that highlights the availability of services and opportunities for those with SEND.

Competence and confidence of the workforce:

Current SEND professional development provision for teachers, both during their training year and post-qualification is currently unable to serve the needs of the workforce. The NQT survey data consistently shows that SEND is an area of dissatisfaction across all types of training route, . Without suitable training opportunities, delivered progressively over time in line with the recommendations of the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development, we risk setting up teachers to fail and children alongside them. We need a better understanding of whether children are being identified as having an SEND as a result of a learning difficulty or whether this is because of teaching difficulties.

  1. Conduct an evaluation of access to SEND specific professional development opportunities and triangulate with school based data such as exclusion and percentage of population on the SEND register.
  2. Commission the development of SEND specific professional development opportunities and set up a comparative longitudinal study of participation in this training and impact on broad pupil outcomes.
  3. Support the development of centrally based SEND expertise through the GLA, offered on a cost neutral basis.


Impact evaluation:

There would be value in establishing what is being spent, how it is being spent and what impact on pupil outcomes is achieved as a result of that expenditure. This would support the development of a collective understanding of how to maximise the impact on young people of the increasingly limited financial resources available. This should focus particularly on the expenditure of the notional SEND budget and how this is managed effectively.

  1. Establish a forum for the development and sharing of SEND specific, evidence informed interventions to showcase non-commercial resources, bringing together knowledge developing schools with knowledge consuming schools.


Accountability structures and counter inclusionary impact:

The pressure on schools to meet specific data driven targets, combined with the consequences of not successfully meeting those targets can lead to schools behaving in a counter inclusionary manner. There can be a temptation to dissuade parents of children with SEND from selecting their school, or to suggest that other schools are better equipped to meet need.

The challenge of supporting children with developmentally determined needs within a system that is built on chronologically determined accountability is a significant one, and one that would benefit from greater political discourse.

This is further complicated by the political rhetoric of ‘all children must’, when we know that if you are really talking about all children, then not all children will. Addressing this tension without risking the accusation of lowering expectations is particularly difficult, but needs to be tackled.

  1. Conduct an evaluation of the distribution of children with SEND triangulated against other demographic characteristics to establish whether there are schools who are SEND avoidant or boroughs who have anomalous data.
  2. Commission the creation of a collection of cases studies highlighting effective approaches to inclusion within schools that also perform highly in statutory data sets.
  3. Lobby government to better value the role that inclusion plays in creating great schools and challenge the use of language that denies the existence of the most complex children.


Accountability imbalance in relationship to Pupil Premium:

The significant focus on education as a lever for social mobility is a key aspect of creating a more equitable society. However recent educational policy has had a singular focus on economically determined disadvantage, resulting in a disproportionate focus on those children in receipt of the Pupil Premium. This is compounded by the formal accountability and reporting structures associated with the Pupil Premium, which has led, in some cases, to an accountability imbalance between socially disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND. There needs to be a refocus on the entitlement that all pupils have to having their educational requirements met and a move away from certain disadvantaged groups getting greater attention than others.

  1. Reshape the language and debate around disadvantage and social mobility to ensure that all pupils are part of the conversation and work towards securing greater accountability within the education system for the educational outcomes of pupils with SEND.
  2. Evaluate the extent to which ‘Schools for Success’ reflect SEND cohorts as well as those in receipt of the Pupil Premium and if necessary create an extension to the programme for those who are securing high quality outcomes for those with SEND.

SEND not part of the Minister of State for School Standards’ brief:

The separation of SEND from School Standards and its inclusion within the Children and Families brief creates a sense of ‘otherness’ that risks diminishing the status of SEND. After all, if we expect every teacher to be a teacher of SEND, as defined in the Code of Practice, then perhaps we should expect every education Minister to be a Minister for SEND.

It also raises the question about the extent to which SEND is considered during the formation of education policy and whether equality impact evaluations are conducted with regard to the way policy may affect children and young people with SEND.

  1. Make a commitment to integrate SEND into all policy formation.
  2. Make a commitment that all future policy will have a disproportionately positive impact on vulnerable groups, including those with SEND.
  3. Create a SEND advisory panel, inclusive of families and young people, to support the development of policy and stress test systemic changes from a SEND perspective.


Post education opportunities:

One of the biggest challenges that needs to be addressed is the disconnect between the potential built in children and young people with SEND during their education and that being translated into higher quality life opportunities. There needs to be significant questioning of why 93% of Special Schools are good or outstanding, and yet only approximately 6% of people with a learning disability known to their local authority are employed Whilst London has a slightly higher percentage at 7.7% this is still unacceptably low.

This also needs to be considered within the context of higher representation of SEND in the prison population and in diagnosis of mental health conditions.

This challenge is not just an educational one, but is also a socio-cultural one that reflects society’s complicated relationship with difference. Without a coordinated approach across all aspects of both the public and private sector, we risk continuing to invest in a high quality of education that does not lead to high quality of life.

  1. Create a London Commission for Learning Disability to evaluate the opportunities and barriers related to the lives of those with SEND and to formulate a strategic programme of activity to enable those with SEND to experience higher quality life outcomes.
  2. Ensure that the GLA leads the way in the employment of young people through making a long-term commitment to offering both supported internships and permanent employment for young people with SEND.


Putting what we know into action:

The history of SEND is littered with the outcomes of reviews and inquiries that have not been actioned. Whilst it is essential that we continue to reflect upon the needs of what is a complex system, there is also a requirement for timely intervention in recognition that the system is currently failing too many children and young people with SEND. A commitment to return to documentation such as the Lamb Inquiry and the SALT Review, evaluate what has been implemented and identify what has not but should have been, has the potential to secure rapid improvement. The knowledge is there, it just needs to be made use of.

  1. Conduct an SEND policy literature review in order to formulate a SEND Plan for London based on the local implementation of key policy recommendations.

These recommendations, if enacted, enable the Mayor to make a visible commitment to securing a place for SEND, and more importantly the young people themselves, at the heart of the education debate, moving it from its traditional place on the periphery. This is an opportunity to make London a city of SEND excellence.


Simon Knight – Director, Whole School SEND

Anita Kerwin Nye – Chair, Whole School SEND

For general enquiries contact the head office via:
020 3096 7705

To be receive updates from Whole School SEND join the mailing list here and connect with us via Twitter.

Whole School SEND is hosted by London Leadership Strategy, a non-profit school-to-school support network run and led by serving headteachers. You can sign up to the LLS newsletter here and connect via Twitter.

Simon Knight, Dir. Whole School SEND and Anita Kerwin-Nye, Chair, Whole School SEND