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Season 1 Episode 6 - SEND, Social Emotional & Mental Health Needs in Schools: Great Minds Together

with Emma Mander and Meg Walls

In this episode I speak to Emma Mander and Meg Walls from Great Minds Together, an organisation that works with schools, families and Local Authorities to tailor bespoke intervention packages based on the individual needs of children. Working on a 'child first, funding later' basis, Great Minds Together ensures that children are always at the centre of what they do. They devise interventions that are unique, filtering in the needs of the schools & families with the additional aim of helping schools to manage budgets in effective ways: providing much more, for much less to support more children, buy more resources and even recruit more staff.

Throughout 2019 Great Minds Together worked with over 120 families. They found that the current education system for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH) is challenging, complex and sets schools and local authorities up to fail.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 Act introduced the biggest reforms to SEND in a generation, aimed at making the system less confrontational, promoting better involvement of parents and increasing focus on outcomes and transition to adult life. Since then, the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in the UK has increased to almost 1.4 million, representing 15% of the total pupil population.

271,000 pupils, have an (EHC) plan and a further 1 million pupils (11.9%) are on SEN support with the most common types of need being identified as speech, language and communication needs and autistic spectrum disorder.

SEN support is most prevalent among primary age pupils. For EHC plans however, as age increases the percentage of pupils with EHC plans also increases, up to age 16, where nearly 4% of all pupils have an EHC plan.

However, in the House of Commons Education Committee report on Special educational needs and disabilities schools described a lack of understanding, clarity and agreement about who was responsible for different interventions.

Sabrina Hobbs, Principal at Severndale Specialist Academy, said, ‘…we can bat around stuff like funding and resource and all the rest of it, but education is currently paying for health needs within schools. That could be speech and language therapy, it could be mental health, it could be nursing and all sorts. As a special school, we are currently paying in excess of £90,000 a year just for nursing care, for our students who have been assessed by health to need wraparound care provision for their health needs. That is not to do with education or access to education; it is just to be secure in their health while they are at school—or anywhere—but when they come to school that stops and it becomes the responsibility of education, which means that we are using educational budgets to pay for that. That is happening in our school as a specialist school, but it is happening across all schools, in mainstream schools, in primary and secondary, and it will have an impact on how school leaders can use the money they have for SEN support.’

Many children in England with special educational needs and disabilities are not getting the help they need. The NAO says those children without an education, health and care plan are "particularly exposed" and are more likely to be excluded from school. The system for supporting Send is not "financially sustainable", with local authorities increasingly overspending their budgets for children with high needs. NAO chief Gareth Davies said access to the right support was "crucial to the happiness and life chances" of Send pupils.

"While lots of schools, both special and mainstream, are providing high-quality education for pupils with Send, it is clear that many children's needs are not being met.’’

Is it time for a rethink of how we can support our most vulnerable pupils in schools?

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