In turbulent times, following a decade of austerity and now in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, championing the needs of children and young people with SEND and their families is perhaps more than ever a core purpose for public service provision in England and in particular, for education, health and social care.

However, in practice and all too often, support for SEND remains a contested space rather than a focus for collective endeavour. This leads us to question “Why, after so long, has so little changed despite supposedly fundamental reforms introduced first in 1981 and more recently in 2014? Why, for example, is the opportunity for children to attend a mainstream school with their peers so often a conditional placement rather than a basic human right?”

This perspective is further reinforced by the conclusion in the 2017 report from the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) Committee that the UK’s SEND legal frameworks are inadequate and discriminatory, violating disabled pupils’ rights to inclusive education.
We believe that a new approach is needed; one that puts the principle of enablement at the heart of everything that we do to:

  • Enable children, young people and families to participate fully in their own communities and lead connected lives
  • Support families to be independent and exercise more choice and control over their lives
  • Prevent unnecessary, convoluted and stressful journeys through cycles of assessments threshold conversations and seemingly unsatisfactory interactions with professionals
  • Reduce long-term dependence on public services

How we think and talk about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) matters. It shapes our collective understanding of events, how we feel about them and how we act – or, perhaps, choose not to. For example, the language we adopt often reflects our perspective – conscious or unconscious – on what is sometimes termed “the politics of equity.” In other words, the extent to which we believe that children and young people with SEND should have the same levels of opportunity or support as their peers (equality) or that the level of  support should be determined by their distinctive physical, emotional, health or learning needs or impairments (equity), rather than what the system can afford.

Just by adopting and continuing to use the terminology of SEND, the system in England differs significantly from many other countries internationally. It is notable, for example that the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have chosen to develop their support. models using the terms Additional Support Needs (ASN) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) respectively.

We would argue that this difference is important and that using additional needs helps promote a discourse that pays attention to the needs and aspirations that children, as future citizens, have in common with their peers and the additional support they might need to overcome barriers specific to their particular difficulties, opening pathways to employment and a positive life at the heart of their community. However, in this instance and despite these deep reservations, we will use SEND as it is the construct upon which the English system is currently organised.

Our aim is for the series to collectively provide new insight, challenge thinking, stimulate discussion and support innovation and change in both policy and practice.
Anton Florek (Series Editor)