As President of nasen, I sometimes get called to represent the organisation at key meetings and events. On the 9th November, I attended the Public Accounts Select Committee hearing, which investigated provision for 16-25 year olds with SEND. A timely report, published by the National Audit Office, was published on the 4th November, which explores and investigates the cost-effectiveness of provision for young people aged 16-25 with SEN and/or Disabilities. I have attached a copy of the full report. The key facts being:
I attended the hearing as an Expert Witness on behalf of NASEN, in order to voice concern over the huge geographical discrepancies in the provision available across the UK.
Of Particular concern are:
· The variability in quality of assessment leading up to allocation of placement, which may be based upon the provision available as opposed to the presenting needs of the individual
· The variability and lack of quality assurance of provision
· The variability in the range and accessibility of provision available: ‘Choice’ of provision is often determined by what is available and accessible, which may not provide any real choice in terms of settings
· The lack of impact and outcomes measures and lack of information regarding effectiveness of provision
· The seeming lack of coherence across and within the various agencies involved
· The lack of meaningful information and, in particular, the lack of support for the young person and their family to make informed choices, where choice is available
· The variability in classification of need across authorities
Evidence supports that the long-term outlook for young people with significant additional needs is often bleak, ensuring a significant drain upon public resources, if support and provision are not available, accessible or of appropriate quality. All these issues impact substantially upon the individual. The resultant lack of consistency in approach to meeting the young person’s needs, invariably and ultimately relies upon the strength, initiative and endurance of the individual and their family to find a solution to having their needs met.
During the panel discussion, I raised a concern that these geographical variances will only get worse with the move towards localism. It is difficult to see how encouraging everyone to do their own thing cannot lead to further and exacerbated variances in access and quality of provision across the country. I suggested that the Core Offer, as outlined within the SEND Green Paper (2011) would go some way to providing information to students and their families, but questioned whether this were an offer of services currently available or those which are necessary to provide for individual needs to be met. Parents would be able to see at a glance those Local Authorities which were providing the national minimum requirement and those which were not. Finally, I supported the notion of a designated advocate or keyworker as necessary to enable students and their families to find their way through the quagmire of bureaucracy at this crucial time, and to make informed choices.
Although the proposed Education, Health and Care Plan from birth to 25, was not discussed in any great detail, it would provide support around the crucial transitional points. However, there are 18 per cent of young people with SEN who do not have a statement of SEN, and who therefore presumably will not be able to access the longitudinal support of this plan; therefore the concerns over transition, quality and choice of provision available remain.
The panel themselves were particularly concerned about support around transition, the 30 per cent of students with SEN who are not in education, employment or training, and what happens to the individual young people at the age of 25.
What is needed therefore, is a national structure in place, not only to determine and define what constitutes good practice, but to ensure any child presenting with a level of need is treated equally wherever they live, whilst recognising the individual diversity of needs, requiring a diverse range of provision to be made available. But Local Authorities vary greatly in the amount of support they give and the funding - although ring-fenced - they make available for it. Questions revolved around how to provide an individual and tailored programme of support, whilst measuring its success against national measures. The need for quality and detailed assessment was seen as the key and it was suggested that assessment be independent of the authorities providing for the support-needs of the individual.
I challenged the notion of outcomes measures related to specific provision types as many individuals simply have no choice – they either attend the local school or college or do not attend at all. I suggested that, whilst outcome measures are important, what was more important was having accessible and quality provision available. Identifying what constitutes quality provision, whether mainstream or through specialist providers, through a separate Ofsted inspection framework for SEN would improve the uniformity in quality of provision available. The discussion also touched on the issues around FE colleges turning away students with SEN due to their drive to achieve 100% success rates.
Sir David Bell, Permanent Secretary DfE and Peter Lauener, CEO Young People's Learning agency, were questioned very closely over the implications of the report and in particular, the lack of equity and uniformity in approach leading to a post-coded lottery of provision. It appears that access to quality provision is still determined more by where the student lives, than by the needs with which they present. It remains to be seen whether the meeting will begin to address these fundamental and important issues.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss the meeting further.
P.S. to view the meeting on Parliament TV click here