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“Digital first” the DfE recommends tech in SEND reform plan

The long overdue SEND Improvement plan has finally arrived following the SEND review over a year ago. This received an unprecedented 6,000 responses from those desperate for reform.

The National Autistic Society survey found that …

  • More than a quarter (26%) of parents waited over three years to receive support for their child.
  • Three quarters (74%) said their child’s school place did not fully meet their needs – this had almost doubled since 2017.

The DfE admitted that just 61% of plans meet the Statutory guidance that, after a request for an EHCP is made, it should take no more than 20 weeks to get the support in place

Although many feel the plan still falls short of the necessary accountability and urgency, there are several positives within the plan including:

  • Investing in 33 new special free schools.
  • Increasing SEND funding by more than 50% to over £10 billion by 2023-24
  • New guides for professionals to help them provide the right support.
  • Introducing a standardised and digitised EHCP (Education, Health and Care plans) process and template to minimise bureaucracy and deliver consistency.
  • Increasing the number of staff with an accredited SENCo qualification in early years settings.
  • Improving transition to further education by introducing common transfer files alongside piloting the roll out of adjustment passports to make sure young people with SEND are prepared for employment and higher education.
  • Working with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to deliver an updated local area SEND inspection framework.
  • Plans to cut local bureaucracy to improve parents experiences of accessing support.

Importantly for SEND assessment, the proposal includes a plan to digitise the EHCP process, making it quicker and simpler wherever possible. Over the last decade Earwig has proven that technology can make all areas of SEND assessment much more efficient, using purpose built software and a standardised EHCP template. The planned, software-supported process will work with tools such as Earwig and make it easier to  assess achievement, track progress and report to parents and other support professionals, saving a large amount of wasted time.


Earwig Academic’s CEO Peter Gelardi said:
The DfE’s new plans to standardise the EHCP template as well as digitising the process and the document across the country is very welcome news. This will reduce the pressure on schools and case workers, speed up applications and annual review changes and minimise the capacity for human error. This is a positive, yet long overdue move and we welcome it wholeheartedly”.


Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:
I am really pleased to see that many of the recommendations I pushed for in these SEND reforms will become a reality – particularly my call for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) to be digitised, to improve their quality and make them more useful for young people. I am also particularly pleased by this plan’s focus on early help for families, many of whom face long, bureaucratic processes to get support for their child. My hope is that this, in addition to the increase in specialist school places, will help prevent families from reaching breaking point.”


Contact’s CEO Amanda Batten said:
We welcome the plan’s ambition to transform services for children with SEND in England. We also welcome the government’s commitment to increase the number of specialist school places. This is vital, as we know there is a shortage nationally. However, throughout the consultation process, we heard from parents again and again about the need for greater accountability in the system. We aren’t confident that this plan has adequately addressed this. In addition, the government’s planned measures will take time to implement. We are concerned that the plan lacks urgency to address the crisis for children who are struggling without support in school today.”


Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, said:
“The SEND system is broken. Autistic children have been left without the support they need in school for far too long. While we welcome parts of the Government’s SEND Improvement Plan, we don’t think it’s enough to end the system-wide failings holding back 180,000 autistic children in England.”

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