By Professor Sandy Toogood – Head of Clinical and Behavioural Services at Abbey School for Exceptional Children

Originally posted on 30 November at

Partnership can drive innovation and best practice where the goal is strengthening provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and behaviours that challenge.

As the UK feels the economic and social impact of COVID-19, it is vital that the SEND sector works efficiently and creatively, pooling knowledge and expertise. Partnerships are one way of nurturing collaboration and developing high-performing systems within a person-centred context.

Ensuring young people with SEND are provided with the support, therapies, and education they need, is a complex and costly challenge for local authorities.  A fast-growing cohort of children and young people with SEND across the UK, makes unlocking the challenge of SEND provision an urgent concern for many local authorities.

The Commons Select Committee report into the state of the sector which was published in late in 2019 suggests that five years after government reforms were launched to better support children and young people with SEND, more than half of the first 100 areas inspected were found to have significant weaknesses in their provision.

Although cost and budgetary concerns are a key issue in specialist provision, what is striking in the Commons report is the focus on the cultural shifts needed to enable positive change in the sector.

The report calls for a systematic culture change and a fresh outlook that takes a long-term view and considers the best possible outcome for children and young people with SEND, their families, local authorities, and the wider community.

A collaborative model that supports and enables positive partnerships to meet young people’s needs could form part of such a change – enabling innovative solutions that would not only create better outcomes for pupils and their families, but also support the public sector as it grapples with this complex and challenging issue.

Partnerships with specialist providers could, for example, help local authorities educate children and young people with particularly complex needs within borough. Expertise, insights and resources could be shared not only with families and commissioners but also between maintained and non-maintained schools in a particular geographical or local authority area.

This kind of approach would bring local authorities closer to the goal of delivering a comprehensive range of effective services to members of their local community. Children and their families would benefit from avoiding the emotional, social and economic impacts of out-of-area placements while local education authorities would save in the long run by making fewer out-of-borough placements and paying associated management costs.

Partnering with specialist providers offering at-home support for families of children with behaviours that challenge could be life changing for those families. It could also be good for authorities wishing to enhance service competency and capacity at the local level. Challenging behaviour is associated with increased risks of injury, loss, segregation, isolation, exclusion, and carer stress, and is the reason cited most often in placement breakdown and institutionalisation. Competent services seek to mitigate the challenges inherent in complex patterns of behaviour by building multi-layered supports, on a case-by-case basis, that are based on a prior understanding of context and function.

The benefits of partnership could be widespread in terms of best practice, knowledge sharing and insight. Collaboration could mean more families supporting their child’s development locally, and in the long run, reduced need for residential placements. Cultural change is rooted in shared purpose and a clear vision that puts collaboration at the heart of best practice in SEND provision, and must be a key first step to achieving widespread sustainable transformation in the sector.