The UK government launched the SEND and AP Improvement Plan in the spring of 2023. The plan recognises that many schools struggle to support pupils’ special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), including speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).
The aim of the plan is to improve the support for children and young people with SEND and those who struggle with social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) needs in alternative provision (AP).
SLCN Background and Description of the SEND and AP Improvement Plan
As we know, SLCN can have a significant impact on a child's ability to learn, socialize, and communicate effectively. Research has identified upwards of 50% of children entering primary school with a delay in their speech, language and communication skills, 8% of pupils having Developmental Language Disorder and 10% of pupils having a long-term speech, language and communication need that continues throughout their school lives. The impact is in long-term issues such as poor academic attainment, low self-esteem, and mental health issues.
The Improvement Plan describes the need for earlier identification and evidence-based provision. Progress will be overseen by a new National SEND and Alternative Provision Implementation Board jointly chaired by the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Women’s Health Strategy.
The inclusion of alternative provision (AP) with support for SEND recognises that 82% of children and young people in state-place funded alternative provision have identified SEND needs. The concern is that AP is increasingly being used to supplement local SEND systems.
Speech and Language Link are pleased that the new SEND and AP Improvement Plan acknowledges the importance of addressing SLCN in the education system. The plan aims to ensure that children and young people with SLCN have access to high-quality support, including specialist speech and language therapy, individualised in-school support. It also requires teachers and teaching assistants to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to identify and support children with SLCN.
The plan emphasizes the importance of early identification and intervention for children with SLCN, something that we, at Speech and Language Link, wholeheartedly agree with. We know, and the Improvement Plan confirms that early intervention can help to prevent long-term issues and ensure that children with SLCN can access the support they need to reach their full potential.
The SEND and AP improvement plan recognizes that children with SLCN may also have other needs, such as SEMH needs. It identifies the importance of addressing these combined needs and recognising their inter-relation. By providing a holistic approach to support, children with SLCN and SEMH needs can receive comprehensive support to ensure they succeed.
Other changes proposed through the SEND and AP Improvement Plan
Within the Improvement Plan, there is a plan to increase core school funding after a response to the consultation on the schools National Funding Formula (including the notional SEND budget); a mechanism for transferring funding to high needs budgets and possible changes to SENIF and other associated elements of the wider current early years funding system.
Through this plan, the Government aims to develop National Special Educational Needs and Alternative Provision Standards, identifying what should be ordinarily available in early years settings, schools and colleges. The National Standards will include what types of evidence-based support should be available at universal, targeted and specialist levels, identifying whose responsibility it is to ensure this is available. The Government will work to ensure independent special schools have similar expectations of them too.
For pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs), a standard EHCP template, to be available digitally, will be developed to be implemented from 2025. This will be supported by new guidance for local authority SEND casework teams and local multi-agency panels (to advise the local authority at key decision points through the EHC process and review stages). There are also proposals for effective mediation approaches so that by autumn 2024, there will be clearly set out processes to be followed by all local partners.
New local SEND and alternative provision partnerships will create evidence-based local inclusion plans (LIPs) that will set out how the needs of children and young people in the local area will be met. This should enable clearer communication with parents about how their child’s needs will be supported. The plans will be monitored through an obligation to publish a local and national inclusion dashboard, identifying how well areas are meeting the requirements.
Developing highly skilled staff is a priority in the plan and there is a commitment for a joint Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care approach to SEND workforce planning, due to complete by 2025. In addition, there will be a mandatory leadership national professional qualification for SENCos.
At Speech and Language Link, we welcome many of the proposals outlined in the Improvement Plan and offer our assessment and intervention packages, including whole school teaching strategies, as well as our Link Speech and Language CPD courses to upskill staff. We are especially keen to be part of the schools’ resources to support SLCN at the universal and targeted level and to introduce our whole school approach to working with pupils, ensuring that we can demonstrate individual and whole group progress.
The plan has received some mixed responses, and, as always, it will be the implementation that will affect how pupils with SEND and their families are supported, However, overall, the new SEND and AP Improvement Plan is a positive step forward in supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. By focusing on SLCN and providing high-quality support, early intervention, and a holistic approach to addressing needs, we can ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed in education and beyond.
As professionals, teachers, and teaching assistants, we have a crucial role to play in identifying and supporting children with SLCN, and we should embrace the opportunities this plan provides to improve outcomes for these children.