Increasing numbers of children are being identified with SEND and ALN – how can they all be supported?


According to the most recent government data, more than 1.5m children in England have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In Wales, the government estimates that up to 20% of children may need special educational help during their school journey, making up over 92,000 of the current school-attending generation in Wales having additional learning needs (ALN). In England, 17.3% of school-attending children have SEND – 13% do not have an education, health and care plan (EHCP), with 4.3% having one.

These numbers are rising year-on-year, too. Schools in England and Wales will soon be running with one-in-five children having SEND or ALN.

Achieving the best possible outcomes for this growing number of children is imperative. Of permanently excluded children in the 2022/23 school year, 67% of them had SEND (2074 of 3104). At the same time, 59% of children who have ever been permanently excluded have entered the youth justice system. That means that there’s a 40% chance of SEND children who have been excluded entering the youth justice system. The knock-on effect of this can be catastrophic.

Creating a consistent path forward

So, how can the education system respond to this? How can it improve outcomes for children with SEND and ALN? The government SEND greenpaper published back in March 2022 offers some suggestions, not least in streamlining EHCPs. In Wales, the ALN code takes a different approach, with individual development plans (IDPs) intended to be flexible documents varying in length and complexity depending on the needs of the child.

EHCPs and IDPs exist to track, record and help improve the journey of each young person with SEND or ALN. The issue identified and seeking to be resolved by the Department for Education is around how they are captured and in what format. Similarly, there are standard templates in Wales around which IDPS should be drawn.

As things stand, there is a loose outline for EHCPs but the level of detail within them is at local discretion. This has resulted in inconsistencies at local and national levels, leading to inconsistent responses to them. This is particularly acute where professionals work across two localities: getting to grips with two interpretations of EHCPs takes time and increases the manual, administrative burden upon professionals. Whilst there is more room for local discretion with IDPs, templates will help to ensure consistency.

The path forward for EHCPs, and children with SEND, will be provided by the DfE. Crucially, too, all EHCPs will be digitised. This will make them not only consistent, but also accessible. The curation of EHCPs, and indeed IDPs, necessitates a multi-agency approach, from schools, to parents, to professionals. Being able to access such documents digitally makes transferring, updating and sharing them much easier.

As we can see from the data, only 4.3% of children have an EHCP, with a further 13% requiring one. Creating a clear, consistent and digital path forward will enables schools and professionals to work with more families on extending the best possible provisions to children with SEND.

How technology will help

The digitisation of EHCPs and IDPs will require the input of technology systems. Creating templates that can be implemented nationally will make setting up, recording and sharing information on such young people much easier, more transparent and more consistent.

The next potential issue is how the different technologies that are available in the space can be interoperable with one another. With different systems catering for different needs, no local authority or school should have a system forced upon it. Different authorities and schools will most likely be using different systems. For the aims of streamlining EHCPs and IDPs to better support children to work, systems will need to be implement the same/similar template for EHCPs/IDPs and share data between them.

As a technology provider in the education sector, CACI has long seen the benefit of interoperability with third party software providers in the sector. The ability to send and receive data seamlessly creates efficiencies in the process that will be to the ultimate benefit of the end service user, in this case children with identified SEND and ALN.

Creating a rich, single view of every child can only be beneficial in data mapping, understanding behaviours and tackling the challenge of improving outcomes for all children. We too often see information, systems and processes siloed into regions and sectors. Tackling this will be fundamental to improving outcomes for children with SEND and ALN.

With increasing numbers of such young people being identified, an effective and efficient system response will be essential to achieving the overarching goal of improving outcomes for them.