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UK General Election: What an analysis of the party manifestos says about SEN/disability and inclusion?


What an analysis of the party manifestos says about SEN/disability and inclusion?

by Professor Brahm Norwich

 

This blog discusses from a SEN/disability and inclusive education perspective the Education Policy Institute / Nuffield Foundation’s manifesto analysis by Jon Andrews, Shruti Khandekar, and Robbie Cruikshanks – General Election 2024 An analysis of manifesto plans for education. They cover these manifestos: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green, and Reform.

This 75 page report is structured around five priority areas for education in England:

Each area if then covered in terms of:

Though there are many references to SEN/D throughout the report there is only one reference to inclusion. This is in the area of School organisation and outcomes and the sub-area: What should a new government do? Here the EPI identifies 4 areas for reform, one of which is: ‘Reform the current accountability framework including the role of Ofsted and its gradings’ (p. 29). The reform is to avoid perverse incentives, e.g. curriculum narrowing or unnecessary workload and to support ‘school improvement and inclusion across all types of school’.

Of the 5 priority areas two have no SEN/D references: Post-16 and higher education and Education workforce. The other three areas that do mention SEN/D are as follows:

 

Early years

Landscape

‘Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are markedly underserved, with many failing to be provided with a place. Only 18 per cent of local authorities in England have sufficient pre-school provision for disabled children’. (page 17)

What should a new Government do?

‘Weight early years funding much more heavily towards children from low-income families and children with SEND’ and ‘increasing the disability access fund (DAF) to reflect the costs of quality education and care for children with disabilities, and simplifying access to the DAF’ (page 19)

What parties are proposing?

‘The Liberal Democrats have also pledged to include a specific emphasis on identifying and supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities in training for early years staff. The importance of early identification of SEND in children has long been recognised, as noted in the SEND Code of Practice; and delaying identification at the early years can compound challenges for children through escalation of unmet needs….’ (page 21).

Overall assessment

‘No party has made commitments relating to addressing the levels of funding for SEND pupils. However, the Liberal Democrat proposal to increase the early years pupil premium, reflecting our recommendation to weight additional funding towards disadvantaged pupils, is a positive step towards creating a more equitable early years funding system’. (page 24)

 

 

School organisation and outcomes

The current landscape

‘There are also disparities in provision for those with special educational needs and disabilities, the most significant factor is whether a given child is recorded as having SEND is the primary school they attend’. (page 27).

‘Academisation is also strongly associated with lower chances of being identified with SEND during primary school, all else being equal’ (page 28).

What the new Government should do

‘Set clear expectations and resourcing of local authorities including in pupil place planning, SEND provision, and managed moves, giving them powers where necessary. Recognise that wholesale structural reform is likely to have limited impact on outcomes in and of itself …’ (page  29).

Another area for reform was about accountability and described above.

What the parties propose

Accountability

‘The Liberal Democrats propose a new parental engagement strategy which would include requiring schools to provide accessible information to parents on what their children are learning’. EPI suggest that particular attention needs to be given to children from low-income backgrounds and ‘parents of children with SEND also face greater barriers to engagement’ (page 67).

Curriculum and qualifications

They comment about Labour and the Liberal Democrats commitments here to medium to long-term reviews. EPI did not have this as one of their own immediate priorities, but comment that: ‘A review of the curriculum and assessment must include how it works for all children and in particular those with special educational needs and disabilities’ (page 31).

There are no SEN/D references related to Pupil and student outcomes or Pupil absence.

 

SEND and pupil wellbeing

‘The Conservatives say they would deliver ….15 new free schools for children with special educational needs, while the Green Party focus on provision in mainstream schools with £5bn of investment in special educational needs’. EPI comments: ‘Offering additional provision via new schools is likely to mean considerable time before those places are available, often taking many years between application and opening’.

‘Labour would take a “community wide approach” by supporting provision in both special and mainstream schools though no further detail is given beyond improving expertise in mainstream schools’.
EPI comment that they have previously proposed a national framework of support for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools.

‘The Liberal Democrats commit to provide additional funding to local authorities to pay towards the cost of each pupil’s EHCP’ but EP comment that this lacks clarity. ‘They also propose a national body for SEND to fund support’ but EPI again say this lacks detail. (page 33).

Structural reform

‘The Liberal Democrats directly address the functions and funding of local authorities in education with a commitment to give them both the resources (though not clear what this means in practice) and powers for local authorities to manage place planning, in year admissions, and provision for special educational needs for all schools within the local authority. Labour make a similar pledge requiring all schools to co-operate with the local authority on admissions, special educational needs and place planning’ (pages 36/7).

Overall assessment

‘Of pressing concern is the lack of urgency and detail about how the parties would support pupils with special educational needs and disabilities… no single party addresses the challenges of the SEND system holistically, and all would require significantly more detail’ (page 38).

 

School and College Funding

The current landscape

‘… funding for pupils with SEND has struggled to meet needs. There is an ongoing rise in children and young people with SEND and Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)… High needs funding and its distribution has struggled to cope with this rising demand… the shortage of state-funded special school places is necessitating the use of independent providers at high costs’ (page 54).

What should a new government do?

‘Reform allocation of the high needs block of school funding, both increasing the overall level of funding to provide for increased prevalence of SEND and changing the funding formula to better reflect current need’

What are the parties proposing?

High needs funding

‘…there is concerningly very little from any of the main parties by way of commitment to either the level of funding offered, or how it is distributed. This poses a serious threat to both specialist provision and the financial sustainability of local authorities as a whole’ (pages 57/58).

Overall assessment

“The final, but most pressing concern, is that of high needs funding, for pupils with acute special educational needs. Commitments from the main parties are again limited, or do not set out what they will achieve and how they will do it….. the next government must review funding for special educational need including how funding is allocated’ (page 60/61).

 

Final comments

This report offers a thorough analysis of 2024 election manifestos about English education policies, showing serious limitations in what the parties are proposing. It shares two of the priority areas with the SENPRF’s framework – funding and workforce, but the EPI workforce coverage has no SEN/D content. The EPI analysis also has no clear references to value orientation or vision, with only one reference to inclusion, as discussed above.  Also, with its strong evidence based approach to policy making, this might be expected from the EPI.

The SEN Policy Research Forum’s framework works from a specific focus to the general system, while the EPI analysis as do the manifestos work from the general while identifying specific areas needing attention, e.g. SEN/disability. Gaps are evident in areas covered by EPI and manifestos – accountability, curriculum and assessment identified by the Forum, while the Forum framework has gaps about the early years and both about Higher education.




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