Right Support, Right Place, Right Time?
Two significant events in my professional life coincided last week. After much deliberation, I left my role as an Autism Outreach Adviser within a local authority, having worked within the education system for over 15 years. On the same day, the government released their long overdue review into SEND provision, detailing “what needs to change to ensure that more children and young people are set up to succeed in a sustainable, less bureaucratic system” (DfE & DHSC, 2022); proposing a national vision for a more inclusive culture and practice in mainstream schools. Two seemingly unrelated events – or are they?
Working within the education system has been a fascinating journey for me. I have worked with dedicated teachers, support staff and other professionals who go above and beyond to support the children and young people in their care. I feel honoured to have known and supported, hundreds of inspirational children, young people and their families.
“The SEND review is a response to the widespread recognition that the system is failing to deliver for children, young people and their families”
(SEND Review Green Paper, 2022)
I increasingly recognised the restrictions the education system places on our children and young people, especially those identified with special educational needs and, particularly in my work with autistic children and young people. Despite best intentions, I witness large numbers of autistic children and young people failing to reach their own potential. The SEND Review Green Paper recognises this as one of the key challenges facing SEND in education, confirming “children and young people with SEN have consistently worse outcomes than their peers across every measure” (DfE, 2022). They also acknowledge that the SEND system is “not a positive experience for too many children, young people and their families”. I know many families who have fought to get their young people the support they need, with heavy costs to their emotional and sometimes, financial security. The government also recognise that the current SEND system is not sustainable.
Worryingly, little improvement has been recorded since the last SEND Review in 2014. According to latest figures, there are currently 163,041 autistic children and young people in schools in England, 70% of whom are educated in the mainstream system (DfE, 2021). With numbers increasing, positive change is so desperately needed. Autistic children and young people are twice as likely to be excluded from school (DfE, 2022); 8 out of 10 autistic children and young people report school-based anxiety, with large numbers becoming unable to attend school. Many families feel unsupported in navigating a chaotic EHCP system (my personal view). I could go on. The education system continues to focus on academic attainment, long lessons, systematic testing and exams. On top of this, we are emerging from a pandemic which has significantly impacted on the mental health of our children and young people.
“Autistic young people and their needs do not easily fit into a neat box or band”
(Ambitious About Autism, 2022)
So, is this long-awaited SEND Review a positive step? In some ways, yes. It proposes early identification of need so “the vast majority of children and young people should be able to access the support they need to thrive in their local mainstream setting”. It proposes improved links in the transition between education and employment which, with just 22% of autistic adults in any kind of employment, is desperately required (Ambitious About Autism, 2021). However, other areas of the review are concerning: greater accountability and pre-approved lists of schools will restrict parental choice; limited access to SEND tribunals with mandatory mediation reduces parental rights.
During lockdown in 2020, my dreams for setting up my own mentoring practice for autistic young people emerged and became a reality. This person-centred approach where individuals are valued, is supporting many autistic young people and I am more convinced than ever of the benefit of this type of support. For me, it is the right support, in the right place, at the right time for these young people. So, my decision to leave education and work independently is intrinsically linked to the failings within the system and, whilst I feel a sense of guilt in leaving, I know I will continue to make a difference to young lives.
“Decisions are too often made based on where a child or young person lives or is educated, not on their needs”
(SEND Review Green Paper, 2022)
Much is riding on this 2022 SEND Review being able to improve the education and lives of thousands of children and young people. The Green Paper is open for consultation until July, before the final document is released next year. Do contribute if you feel strongly on this – I might send them this blog!
In the meantime, another year will pass where many outcomes will not change. Parents and young people will continue to face the luck-of-the-draw as to whether they are accepted to a school which is right for them, where they can access the support which is right for them. It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery as to which school they are educated in, if that school cannot meet their needs and it shouldn’t be a battle to get the support they need, when they need it.
All children and young people should be supported to succeed.
Below are links to the SEND Review Green Paper and other documentation I have referenced above:
DfE & DHSC (2022) SEND Review: Right support, right place, right time
DfE (2021), Special Educational Needs: January 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2021
National Autistic Society (2021), School Report 2021.
National Autistic Society (2021), New shocking data highlights the autism employment gap.
Special Needs Jungle (2022), Publication Day: Your first look at what’s in the SEND Review Green Paper.
Open Consultation: SEND Review: Right support, right place, right time
#autism #neurodiversity #mentoring