A blog from Dame Christine Lenehan

On the Roundtable with Minister Ford - A Covid Recovery Plan and the SEND Review

As part of our DFE Strategic Reform Partner contract we bring together stakeholder representatives from across the SEND sector to make sure we can put your views directly to government. As part of this, this week I chaired a ministerial roundtable with Minister for Children, Vicky Ford. 


We meet beforehand to develop our conversation so that we can identify our shared asks and this provides the basis for the agenda. We wanted to reflect on where we now are as children and young people with SEND and their families move through the pandemic and beyond. We focussed our asks of the Minister on Covid Recovery Planning, Transitions (with a focus on the experiences of children and young people transitioning between schools and into work, further education, or study, with EHCPs and without) and the SEND Review. 

Since the previous Roundtable, held in September 2020, there have been a number of developments in the pandemic which continue to have a significant and long-term impact on the lives of children and young people with SEND and their families. The ongoing series of national lockdowns continue to affect education, physical and mental health and there is a lack of confidence in the system’s capacity and resource to deliver a robust and effective recovery plan for children and young people with SEND.

The recovery plan must have a clear strategy for children and young with SEND. It has to acknowledge the role of the family in recovery and build conversations with families and carers. As one of our key stakeholders commented:

 

The system talks about the need for children and young people to ‘catch up’ as part of the recovery, and the emphasis and responsibility seems to be on our kids. We need to look at what we are asking them to catch up with and we need the system to be responsible for their catch up – be it in physical therapies, communication therapies, socialisation and emotional development rather than just academic attainment.

In the long term we know we need to focus on a restore and reset approach, including ensuring that any catch up arrangements acknowledge that for children and young people to thrive and learn they need to be able to, first and foremost, reconnect with their friends, engage in social interactions and to have their emotional wellbeing and mental health supported.  Not only will we need to restore support and services that were previously in place and need to be again, but we will need to ensure that there is additional capacity and resource in systems to identify hidden and emerging needs that have developed during or as a result of the experiences children and young people have had during the lockdowns; move through backlogs of education, health and care needs assessments and plans; and ensure the use of risk assessments and management is an enabler to make the reasonable adjustments needed for children and young people with SEND to safely return to education and their communities. 


Beyond this there will need to be a focus on reflection, based on learning from the lockdowns. Reflection on the impact of the increased flexibility in systems and approaches, the improved joint working and information sharing across agencies that has been evident in some areas as well as the blended and personalised learning opportunities that have been developed. The recovery plan will need to include a focus on not only education but health therapies, community- based support and short breaks as the mechanisms across education, health and care that support children and young people’s whole lives as they begin to interpret what the new normal will mean for their aspirations for the future. 


It is always really helpful when the sector comes together with the Minister with some clear messages and receiving a recognition of the challenges families and children have faced through the pandemic. We know there is a need for a holistic recovery, not a narrow catch up, and we want a SEND Review which has listened and which consults. To that end the meeting was positive and engaging and we look forward to future dialogue and a SEND Review in the late Spring.