Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services: full Report Contents

4Provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

86.Our interim Report considered the effects of the Coronavirus Act’s temporary provisions. A key focus was on the power of the Secretary of State to modify local authorities’ duties under the Children and Families Act 2014 to assess and provide for the educational, health and care needs of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In May, June and July, the Secretary of State used this power to relax the duty on local authorities, modifying it from an absolute duty to one of reasonable endeavours.117 Regulations relaxed the time limits for assessments and provision to be put in place, meaning that local authorities needed only to meet the requirements “as soon as reasonably practicable”.118

87.The absolute duty on local authorities to assess and provide for children and young people’s needs resumed from August, and the Regulations on time limits expired on 25 September. The rights of children and young people with SEND have therefore been fully restored; however, the temporary powers of the Secretary of State remain available should they be needed again during the two-year sunset provision of the Act, unless repealed. Our interim Report made several recommendations about how the Secretary of State should use his powers in relation to duties towards children and young people’s educational, health and care needs, if they are required again during the pandemic. We also made recommendations about the Government’s guidance to local authorities on how to interpret and apply reasonable endeavours. We will continue to push for implementation of our recommendations while the temporary powers remain available.

88.Evidence to our sub-inquiry suggested that the restoration of children’s and young people’s rights in this area would not, of itself, enable consistently good quality provision. It was clear that the pandemic had “brought into focus and exacerbated widely acknowledged pre-existing systemic issues in the wider SEND system”, which was far from operating as the 2014 Children and Families Act reforms had intended before the pandemic struck.119

89.Below we briefly summarise these systemic problems and add our voice to calls for urgent action to address them. We also consider the adequacy of funding the Government has made available to help children and young people with SEND catch up on education lost to the pandemic earlier this year.

Addressing systemic problems in SEND provision

90.Ali Fiddy, Chief Executive of the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA), described how many children and young people with SEND received little or no support in the early months of the pandemic. This was in part because of local authorities’ very varied interpretation of reasonable endeavours, as discussed in our interim Report.120

91.She also reported that the patchiness of support during the pandemic was “a reflection of what things are like in normal times too.”121 Three weeks earlier she had told the House of Commons Education Committee that lack of support for children and young people with SEND during the pandemic had to be seen in the context of a “deepening crisis in SEND provision”.122 Charlotte Ramsden, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services told us that the pandemic had both exacerbated some of the problems in the system and delayed much needed improvements.123

92.The reforms under the Children and Families Act 2014 were intended to ensure children and young people’s needs were identified earlier and, where necessary, supported through integrated education, health and social care services. They were intended to more effectively involve families in decision-making. They also extended provision, raising the upper age limit for support from 16 to 25 years.124

93.In September 2019, the National Audit Office assessed the effectiveness of the whole system, including for children and young people receiving lower level SEN Support in schools and those with more substantial needs requiring integrated education, health and care (EHC) plans. It found several systemic problems, including that increased funding in recent years for “high needs”, i.e. support for children attending special schools and those with EHC plans in mainstream schools, had not kept pace with a rising number of pupils. It concluded that the system was “not, on current trends, financially sustainable”; that the inspection regime provided “limited assurance about the quality of support for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools”; and found “substantial unexplained local variation” in provision.125

94.The Education Committee completed an in-depth, 18-month long inquiry in October 2019. It found that the 2014 reforms were the right ones but had been hampered by poor administration and inadequate funding. Contrary to the intention to involve families in decision-making, parents had to “wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, full of conflict, missed appointments and despair”. The Committee identified a lack of accountability in the system, which left young people’s needs unidentified and unmet. It concluded that the integration of education with health and social care had simply “not worked”.

95.The Education Committee concluded that the Department for Education’s approach to these problems was:

[…] piecemeal, creating reactive, sticking-plaster policies, when what is needed is serious effort to ensure that issues are fully grappled with, and the 2014 Act works properly, as was intended.126

96.Acknowledging many of the problems in the system, the Government launched its own SEND review in September 2019, setting out to “boost outcomes and improve value for money”.127 The Department for Education has not yet published any outcome of this review. In July, it responded to the Education Committee’s 2019 report, emphasising a 12% increase (£780 million) in high needs funding in 2020/21; ongoing work to improve inspection regimes and “improvement and intervention support” from the Department’s SEND Advisers; and work, and £28 million of funding, to improve information, advice and support for children and young people and their parents.128

97.In early September, Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Education told us that work on the SEND review was ongoing and taking into account learning from the pandemic. She insisted it remained a “completely top priority”. She hoped that the Department could publish the outcome by the end of 2020.129 The Secretary of State for Education later told the Education Committee that the outcome would not be published until “the early part of next year.”130

98.Delivering effective support for children and young people with SEND during a public health crisis was inevitably a massive challenge, to which some local authorities were unable to rise. The pandemic demonstrated and exacerbated a widely acknowledged pre-existing crisis in SEND provision. As set out in our interim Report, many children and young people received little or no support for three months. The Government must now prioritise its SEND review, launched over a year ago, and bring forward as a matter of urgency reforms which address fundamental problems of funding, consistency of support, accountability and integration of services, identified by the Education Committee and the National Audit Office in 2019. The outcome of the SEND review must be published no later than the first quarter of 2021 and set out the Government’s plan to reach a sustainable funding model while achieving the core aims of the 2014 reforms.

Catch-up funding for students with SEND

99.On 19 June, the Department for Education announced a £1 billion coronavirus catch up fund to “directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time” on children in England. The fund comprised £650 million to be shared across all primary and secondary schools, to support children who have fallen behind during the pandemic, and £350 million for a National Tutoring Programme to provide “access to high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged young people over the 2020/21 academic year.”131

100.Charlotte Ramsden of the ADCS and Ali Fiddy of IPSEA were concerned that an apparent lack of ring-fenced catch up funding for pupils with SEND would exacerbate existing disparities in funding and outcomes between them and other pupils.132 Children with SEND consistently make less progress than other pupils with the same starting points.133

101.When we heard evidence, the Government had not published detailed guidance about allocation of the catch-up funding. Vicky Ford told us that the £650 million to be shared across all schools would be allocated on a per pupil basis, at £80 per pupil at mainstream schools and £240 per pupil at special schools. The Minister did not confirm the per pupil funding for pupils with EHC plans or receiving SEN Support in mainstream schools.134 Department for Education guidance later made clear that the higher per pupil amount was only being allocated to special schools.135 Three allocations would be made, in autumn 2020, early 2021 and in the summer term, 2021.136

102.The Minister explained that the £350 million for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) would be allocated to schools on the basis of their “free school meals cohorts”, which she believed was a good proxy for disadvantage and would include a high proportion of pupils with SEND.137 The Department later wrote to us stating that the NTP was intended to “provide targeted support for children and young people who have been hardest hit from disruption to their education”. From November 2020, all schools would be able to use their NTP allocation to access “heavily subsidised tuition” from an approved list of providers and “the most disadvantaged schools” would be able to apply for funding to employ “in-house academic mentors to provide small group tuition”. A further strand of the NTP funding, allocated using the Department’s existing proxy measure for disadvantage based on attainment levels in English and Maths, would be available for “small group tuition for 16–19 years olds in English, maths, and other courses where learning has been disrupted”. It would be for schools to decide “which pupils require tutoring support, for how long and which model of tutoring to use.”138

103.Ali Fiddy was concerned that catch up funding allocated in this way would risk:

[…] exactly the same problem we see with SEN Support, where that funding is not ring fenced and it does not get used in the place that it is needed the most.139

104.We welcome the Government’s educational catch up fund made up of £650 million to be allocated across all schools and £350 million for pupils in more disadvantaged schools to access subsidised small group tutoring and mentoring.

105.We agree that catch up funding should be weighted towards children who have been “hardest hit” by disruption to their education. We know that many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will be in the hardest hit group; many received little or no support earlier this year. We know that pupils with SEND are likely to fall further behind without commensurate help. Pupils with SEND in mainstream schools have often borne the brunt of the dysfunctional SEND system, missing out on support for their needs through a lack of ring-fenced funding. We are very concerned that catch up funding allocations do not adequately reflect this. In the light of experiences earlier this year, it is unacceptable that the £1 billion catch up premium does not include ring-fenced funding for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. We recommend that funding for the remaining tranches of the universal catch up allocation be increased by around £211 million, to allow mainstream schools to receive £240 per pupil with an EHC plan or receiving SEN Support, ring-fenced for their catch-up support in this academic year. We further recommend the Department procure an additional strand of specialist provision in the National Tutoring Programme, designed to support pupils with EHC plans and those receiving SEN Support, across all schools.

117 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services: interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act, HC 386, paras 48–50

119 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services: interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act, HC 386, para 47

120 Women and Equalities Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services: interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act, HC 386, para paras 51–4

122 Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 1 July 2020, HC 254 (Session 2019–21), Q692

124 National Audit Office, Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England, HC 2636, September 2019, p 5

126 Education Committee, Special educational needs and disabilities, First Report of Session 2019, HC 20

127 “Major review into support for children with special educational needs”, DfE press release, 6 September

130 Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 16 September 2020, HC (2019–21) 262, Qq996–8

131Billion pound Covid catch-up plan to tackle impact of lost teaching time”, DfE/Prime Minister’s Office press release, 19 June 2020

133 National Audit Office, Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England, HC 2636, September 2019, para 1.18

136Catch up premium’, Gov.uk, accessed 26 November

138 Department for Education (CVD0042)




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