It is a real privilege to be introducing myself as the new Director of the Council for Disabled Children. I am acutely aware that Dame Christine Lenehan leaves very big shoes to fill. However, I also have the comfort of knowing that I have her full confidence and that of the extraordinarily talented team that we have built together at the Council for Disabled Children over the past 15 years.
I am also aware that I take on Christine’s legacy at a time of both acute challenge and real opportunity. Public services are struggling; local areas that we have seen as reliable beacons of good practice are failing the new SEND inspection framework; only adding to the danger that Christine has highlighted - that meeting the needs of disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs becomes a crisis that cannot be solved. Which brings me on to the opportunity. The upside of the challenge, is that Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is on the agenda and in the spotlight as never before. Our children and the services that support them have moved centre stage in the minds of Directors of Children’s Services. Integrated Care Boards have been required to provide board-level leadership on SEND within the health system – a far cry from the days when we had to explain to children’s health commissioners what SEND was.
These differences have not often enough filtered down to life on the ground for disabled children and those with special educational needs and their families. However, the Change Programme provides an opportunity to test out things that hopefully will. To genuinely find out how we meet children and young people’s needs at the earliest point of presentation. How we most effectively work with families to ensure that they feel supported and that children REACh their potential (forgive the small pun). Critical to ensuring that happens is our partnership with you, and you helping us to keep local areas and government honest about what is working and where we need to try harder, or think again.
I know that Christine will not rest easy on her laurels if our ambitions stop there. So be assured that we will be keeping an eye on the wider Department for Education and indeed government agenda working tirelessly to ensure that leaders understand the need to think SEND first. It isn’t good enough that disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs are overrepresented in statistics such as school non-attendance, exclusion, youth justice and unemployment. Afterall, our vision is a society in which disabled children and young people’s rights are respected, their aspirations supported and life chances assured.
I look forward to meeting those of you I don’t already know over the coming months and to working together towards achieving that vision.