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All children need and deserve support to be happy, achieve their best, and go on to lead good lives. This fundamental truth is no different for children with SEN (special educational needs), even though the support they require might be different to their peers.  Yet for many years, children with SEN were sidelined by an education system flawed in its design: a system which was overly complex and bureaucratic, failing to offer high quality, personalised support to children with SEN and to be ambitious on their behalf.

The SEND system was radically overhauled by the Children and Families Act 2014. It was hoped that this would lead to better support for children, and consequently transform their outcomes. But despite the initial promise of the reforms – which were widely welcomed – it is over six years since the legislation was passed and, as this paper shows, too many children with SEND are not receiving the support promised by the reforms.

In September 2019, the Government announced a review of the SEND system to identify the reasons behind this and what action is needed to address it. This Review was due to be published last year but was delayed due to Covid-19. It is now due to be published this year and work is ongoing. Furthermore, the Government is in the process of reforming Alternative Provision (AP), and children with SEN make up the majority of children in these schools.

This briefing outlines five things you need to know about children with SEN, with a specific focus on how children’s needs are met (or go unmet) in schools, and the implications of these for the SEND Review and other reforms.