Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Safety valve programme ‘does not help’ children and young people with SEND, says IPSEA

The Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) says the Safety Valve Programme, which is designed to improve the delivery of SEND services, “doesn’t help children and young people and shouldn’t exist.”

The Safety Valve Programme provides support to local authorities with the highest deficits. It is designed to hold the local authorities to account for delivery of reforms to their high needs systems, so that they can function sustainably.

However, IPSEA says since the Safety Valve Programme aims to reduce costs, this is inadvertently reducing provision for children and young people with SEND.

Parents and carers told their requests for support are ‘inappropriate’

In order to understand more about what local authorities have agreed to do and the likely impact on children and young people, IPSEA made Freedom of Information requests to each local authority with a safety valve agreement.

The analysis found that local authorities across the board are implementing measures to ‘manage demand’ for Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs). This includes setting targets to reduce the number of EHCP needs assessments and the number of children and young people attending special schools and colleges.

Catriona Moore, Policy Manager at IPSEA, says this has resulted in local authorities deeming support requests from parents and carers are ‘inappropriate’ and implementing alternatives to the EHC needs assessment pathway.

This has resulted in a steady rise in appeals to the SEND Tribunal and a high rate of ‘unlawful decision making’, according to IPSEA, and Catriona says this may lead to more legal challenges for local authorities.

In a blog post, she wrote: “These actions not only undermine the rights of children and young people with SEND, but also risk local authorities exposing themselves to more legal challenges than ever before.”

Campaigners are urging the government to suspend the Safety Valve Programme

IPSEA are therefore calling on the government to end the Safety Valve Programme. The charity says the programme is resulting in a reduction of provision for children and young people with SEND, which is putting their education and wellbeing at risk.

As the report concludes: “We are concerned that the safety valve intervention programme fails to centre the needs of children and young people with SEND and instead focuses above all on reducing expenditure. Key performance indicators are all about costs and not about disabled children’s outcomes.”

Campaigners are also concerned about the impact this programme is having on children and young people, and Rachel Filmer, a SEND campaigner and volunteer EHCP advisor, has started a petition calling for the programme to be suspended.

She said: “We believe SEND services have experienced chronic underfunding and that cuts to non-statutory services have created unprecedented, avoidable need for statutory services.”

“Rather than Government investment in early intervention, 38 local authorities have signed Department of Education agreements for the programme. We are concerned that many of these local authorities cannot meet their targets and are failing children, for no benefit, to manage deficits that should not exist. We believe this is not working and must stop.”

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