First Report of Session 2019–20

 

Overview

The Select Committees findings are damning and show what we have long suspected and known, that a system with the right intentions to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is failing the very people it is meant to help.

“This generation is being let down—the reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood.”

The committee has identified a concoction of a lack of oversight, leadership, joint working, funding and an absence of accountability, by the Department for Education (DfE), which has inevitably led to systemic failures.

We fully support the committee’s recommendation that the Government

“should avoid the temptation to address the problems within the system by weakening or watering down duties or making fundamental changes to the law.”

The impact on children and young people with vision impairment

The committee made a specific decision not to look at the particular types of needs facing groups of children and young people and rather to focus on how system works and how it needs to be changed so that it works for all children.

We support much of the committee’s findings, however, given the low incidence – high needs of children and young people with vision impairment, we believe that there must be specific measures to understand how the system is working for these groups.

There are around 34,500 children and young people under the age of 26 living in England with vision impairment, making it a low incidence special educational need and disability (LISEND) [1].

This is such a low prevalence rate that teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) may only come across one child with vision impairment in their career and will not have the expertise, experience or knowledge can most effectively support the child. The make-up of children with vision impairment is diverse and complex, only a small proportion are severely sight impaired, their level of sight and the support required will greatly vary. No one child’s experience of sight loss is the same.

RNIB’s Freedom of Information report ‘Left out of Learning’, has found that budgets for sensory impairment services have been cut [2]. Children and Young People vision impairment have the same potential to learn, achieve and thrive as their fully sighted peers. We believe that the right support and tools must be in place. Without which the risk of the child not fulfilling their potential and being placed at a serious disadvantage when reaching adulthood should not be underestimated.

Recommendations

We have identified some of the Committee’s recommendations which we call on the Government to implement immediately.

Better accountability

  • DfE should, at the earliest opportunity, bring forward legislative proposals to allow the Ombudsman to consider what takes place within a school.
  • The Government should introduce a reporting and accountability mechanism for non-compliance so that parents and schools can report directly to DfE where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.
  • It should also implement an annual scorecard for local authorities and health bodies to measure their success against the SEND reforms. These scorecards, along with a summary document, should be placed in the House of Commons library no later than three months after the end of the year to which they relate.

Supporting all students with SEND

  • The Government should make the notional budget a focus of its review into the financial arrangements of provision for pupils with SEND, and for those in alternative provision. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the funding system works for children and young people with SEND who do not need Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) so that they are not inevitably dragged into that part of the system.
  • Standardisation of ECHP process.

Most children and young people with a vision impairment are in receipt of a SEND plan and do not receive an ECHP.

“Children are unable to access appropriate support at this level, which has led to a lack of early intervention, and an increase in parents applying for Education Health and Care Plans because they appear to be the only way to open doors for access to support that has become rationed and difficult to access. This has led to an increase in applications, which has further strained a system already under pressure from the introduction of Education Health and Care Plans and the transition process which was much more complex than had been imagined. Has led to practices of rationing, gatekeeping and, fundamentally, children and young people’s needs being unidentified and unmet. Much of this is unlawful, goes wholly against the intentions of the Act and contributes to a lack of faith in the system.” 

We agree that the drive for ECHPs is largely down to parents, and children and young people not receiving the support they need. There appears to be even less accountability for these children. More must be done to ensure that all children with SEND have a clear plan in place, and that schools are held accountable for meeting individual needs.

Code of Practice

  • DfE to strengthen the guidance in the Code of Practice on special education needs (SEN) support to provide greater clarity over how children should be supported. They should also amend the guidance on EHCPs and assessments to create a clearer and more standard interpretation of the process.

We are concerned that the Governments’ review of the Code of Practice is not open to the public. TPT is calling on the Government to reverse this decision. It is vital that parents, young people, and key stakeholders have a say in what needs to be strengthened in the Code of Practice.

Post 16 Education

  • A ministerial-led cross-departmental working group should be established to develop and oversee a strategy to develop sustainable supported internship, apprenticeship and employment opportunities for young people with SEND.
  • A review should be carried out about the capacity of local authorities to meet the independent living needs of young people with SEND, and a shared action plan should be developed.

We agree that action must be taken to support students through college and into education setting. Transitioning into and on from post-16 provisions is a difficult time for any young person, but for those with vision impairment, the challenges can be amplified.

Evidence strongly shows that young people with vision impairment are disproportionately more likely to be NEET, to repeat courses, at the same level, or sometimes even lower, or to be in lower paid employment [3]. Recent secondary data analysis of the labour force survey suggests that 44.4 per cent of 16-25-year-olds with vision impairment are NEET, compared to 22.7 per cent of the same age in the general population [4].

TPT believes that one way of supporting young people with vision impairment to achieve through post 16 education, is to invest in mobility and independence skills throughout all stages of a child’s education.

Research conducted by Blind Children UK in 2016 found that the provision of habilitation support, which helps children develop their independent living, mobility and navigation skills, is inconsistent. Only 17 per cent of children with sight loss received habilitation in the six months covered by the research [5]. Research to be publicised later this year by TPT shows that the decline of this support is continuing.

Any review must look specially at support for children and young people with low incidence high impact disabilities.

Read the Special educational needs and disabilities inquiry.


References

[1] RNIB Sight Loss Data Tool, available at www.rnib.org.uk

[2] https://www.rnib.org.uk/left-out-learning

[3] Transition to adulthood, Final summary report for project “Longitudinal study of transitions experiences of blind and partially sighted young people (Phase 2)” Rachel Hewett, Graeme Douglas and Sue Keil University of Birmingham

[4] Hewett, R. (2014) Investigation of data relating to blind and partially sighted people in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey: October 2010 – September 2013, University of Birmingham

[5] Blind Children UK: Time to Move – a review of habilitation for children and young people with sight loss in England 29 February 2016 https://www.visionuk.org.uk/time-to-move-a-review-of-habilitation-for-children-and-young-people-with-sight-loss-in-england/