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Children with SEND must be at heart of recovery

Children with special educational needs and disabilities must be at the at the heart of the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Local Government Association has warned.

While the pandemic has taken its toll on all children and young people, impacting on many areas of their lives, the group hardest hit by the pandemic is children with special educational needs and disabilities, the LGA warns.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The pandemic has taken its toll on children and young people, including their education and social routines, but this disruption has been worse for those with SEND.

“The SEND review is a great opportunity to improve the lives of children and young people and their families by shaping a reformed system, but the delay in publishing it means that issues will only continue to grow,” she added.

The government’s SEND review was launched in September 2019 but has yet to publish. Children and Young People Now have reported that children’s minister Vicky Ford has said it could be months before the review publishes following COVID.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales held its Virtual Annual Conference this week and said local authorities and schools have worked hard on education recovery during COVID-19 to ensure that no child is left behind.

However, a much greater focus is required on pupils with SEND who typically face a longer time to recover lost learning than other pupils and whose needs will become greater and more complex the longer it takes for the government to publish and implement its review of the SEND system.

One of the greatest challenges already facing local authorities is providing support for children and young people with SEND as demand for statements and Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans has soared by 480 per cent in the past five years, from 74,209 in 2016 to 430,697 in 2021.

This increased demand has forced many local authorities to overspend on their high needs budgets. These pressures have been recognised by the government which has increased high needs funding for councils over the last two years – an additional £780 million in 2020/21, compared to 2019/20 funding levels, and a further £730 million in 2021/22.

The government must urgently publish its SEND review, the LGA urges, setting out reforms that increase mainstream inclusion and provides councils with long-term certainty of funding to meet the needs of all children with SEND.

A cross-government strategy is also needed that puts children and young people at the heart of the national recovery to ensure every child can thrive, with local safety nets properly resourced and well organised.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble added: “While we appreciate the need for the review to be well-thought through and not published in a hurry, delaying it creates real consequences for children in terms of their support and development.

“A cross-Whitehall strategy is needed that puts children and young people, particularly those with SEND, at the heart of recovery and ensures the services that support children and their families are fully funded so the younger generation can lead more enriched and fulfilling lives as we emerge from the pandemic,” she concluded.

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