ACEVO Guest Blog – When Cultural Revolution Meets an Embryonic Market

Brian LambGuest blogger Brian Lamb, Chair of the Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in SEN, describes the opportunities and challenges of responding to changes in SEND legislation.



There is a profound change happening to the system of special educational needs and disability (SEND). This is partly a result of the new Children and Families Act 2014 but follows from changes to budgeting and commissioning arrangements in Local Authorities which leaves schools responsible for a large part of the special needs provision through delegated budgets.

All change

The new legislation has abolished the old categories which children with special educational needs used to be grouped (school action and school action plus) and schools have to ensure that they have a good school based offer for all children with SEND.

Statements, the main avenue for securing additional local authority resources for provision, are being replaced with a new Education, Health and Care plan.

In producing these plans commissioners will be required to jointly commission services between the three agencies and agree provision with parents or young people. Parents of children with a plan, or young people if they are over 16 will be able to take part of the provision in form of personal budgets or direct payments.

Schools as commissioners

“much like the revolution in social care…”

The Government have made clear that they expect to see schools taking responsibility for the first £10,000 pounds of funding towards children with SEND as part of their school’s offer and that commissioners need to ensure that a market of services grows up to answer the needs of those with personal budgets-much like the revolution in social care and short breaks over recent years.

This also coincides with the introduction of health personal budgets from this year.

Revolution through Local Offers

Local Authorities also have to produce a Local Offer detailing all of the relevant services that could be accessed to support children, young people and families within their area or which they use. This will come with greater transparency about who is entitled to services and how to access them.

This amounts to a cultural revolution for schools looking to source SEND support where they will not be relying on Local Authority Services as the only source of provision. Where those Local Authority services will far more routinely be traded services and where more voluntary sector and independent providers will be part of the wider market of support and provision for early year’s settings, schools and colleges.

Further, if personal budgets and direct payments do take off parents and young people will be commissioning services.

Meeting the challenge

“Schools and other settings are going to support and advice…”

Schools, parents and Local Authorities are all going to find this new commissioning environment challenging. There is only the most embryonic of “markets” in education support outside of Local Authority provision and this depends on a patchwork of local knowledge and support.

Schools and other settings are going to need support and advice on how to commission and how to ensure that by working successfully with parents and young people to deliver a more personalised schools offer attuned to the needs of individual learners.

Some schools that work in clusters have already looked at joint purchasing arrangements for SEN support services which are then shared with a number of schools. However for many schools such arrangements do not exist and they will need support to put these in place.

We need to also start looking at more innovative ways of delivering solutions in an economic environment for LA’s where budgets for higher needs pupils are going to come under increasing pressure and where schools continue to have multiple demands on the schools budget.

Voluntary sector solutions

This is where the voluntary sector can have an increasing impact. As a trusted partner of parents the sector has often been used it role as either direct provider of services through special schools or specialist support services or through advice around interventions and best practice. Yet voluntary organisations, especially at local level, are not equipped to operate and prosper in this new commissioning environment.

Yet providing advice and support around better commissioning of services locally and providing more support in making the local market in specialist support service work better is crucial.

A major gap in the current implementation plans is how to bring together commissioners with voluntary originations who help commission or source innovative service solutions and expert advice. But first schools have to understand the new legislation so there is also a role for the sector in helping them to negotiate the complexity of the new legislation and commissioning environment and then make the most of it.

The prize if we can get this right is that the personalised support and better use of resources envisaged by the Act can become a reality leading to richer lives and better outcomes for some of the most disadvantaged children in the country.


Brian Lamb OBE chaired the Lamb Inquiry into parental confidence in SEN for the Government and is a consultant specialising in SEND.

ACEVO Solutions has developed a specialist special education needs and disabilities (SEND) support offer for providers and commissioners. Click here to find out more

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