A Parent's Perspective on the SEND Reforms

I’ve been an active partner since the pathfinder for the SEND reforms began, and it has been a rollercoaster ride. As a parent I am able to adopt the role of critical friend and have probably been given greater access to the workings of the various SEND professionals than any other SEND partner. These have included Clinical Commissioning Groups, Local Authority, DfE, NHS and Ofsted.

Being a critical friend can be a tricky balance especially when there appears to have been little headway on implementation of the reforms. During the pathfinder, the Code of Practice became bedtime reading whilst I prepared a consultation response. Back then I felt that the Code could be vastly improved by replacing ‘should’ with ‘must’. 

The reforms offered great promise recognising the importance of early support right through to adulthood. They offered a refreshing ethos for SEND families, encouraging truly personalised support around the individual’s needs.

Back in 2014 I was eager to embrace the reforms, as was my seven year old who gave a wonderfully exuberant presentation to then Minister, Edward Timpson.

Sadly that promise has been lost in a landscape of confusion which offers some practitioners a useful smoke screen. Even those who embraced the changes are becoming fearful of highlighting their good practice in case they become a ‘SEND magnet’.

Parents soon spot the welcoming schools and nobody wants their child attending a setting where they are not wanted.

Many external drivers hamper even the most willing practitioner in embracing the reforms, including budget changes, restructuring and a drive for academic excellence. It is a complicated picture across all of the partners which serves to marginalise SEND youngsters.

Having experienced placement breakdown for my own child followed by finding a setting that goes the extra mile to support him, I know there are pockets of excellence within SEND provision and a long way to go with others.

The reforms have at least started a conversation where parents are seen as an equal partner, with some even embracing true co-production. Where this has occurred we have seen services shaped around SEND families and informed by the user’s experience. The cultural change needed to embed this practice is still a way off.  It’s time to start seeing SEND youngsters welcomed as a valued part of our diverse society and parents as a valuable (often free) resource.

From my perspective I feel the reforms could be amazing, but without greater accountability and sharing of good practice, we are set for a SEND groundhog day. I would urge the Government to reconsider the ‘shoulds’ and would urge schools to reflect upon their raison d'etre, looking to the Whole School SEND project to help them shape tomorrow’s society.

Finally, a quote from the AET Good Practice Report 2011

“I suppose my message to schools is, you’re there for the children, they’re not there for you. And therefore, actually you do what you can to adapt to the children you’ve got, and not expect the children to become the children you want them to be.

Rosalind Luff, Director of Participation and a parent representative for the National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF)