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The Children and Families Act 2014 provided for an major reform of the system for identifying children and young people in England with special educational needs (SEN), assessing their needs and making provision for them.

This briefing provides an overview of the system introduced in 2014, and also includes, in an annex, a brief history of the movement towards reform that took place in the years preceding the 2014 Act. The 2014 reforms began to be implemented in September 2014, in a phased process to be completed by April 2018.

The Government has also reformed the funding system for SEN, alongside wider changes to the school funding system. A national funding formula has been introduced to allocate ‘high needs’ funding to local authorities – largely, this is for special educational provision. From 2018-19, local authorities are cannot transfer more than 0.5% of their wider ‘schools block’ funding into their high needs budget, although requests to transfer more may be made to the Secretary of State. A call for evidence on high needs funding ran from May to July 2019. The Government has not yet published its response.

Inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission of local arrangements to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities began in May 2016.

In September 2019, five years after the introduction of the current system of SEN support, the Government announced a review of the system’s effectiveness. The review, along with a Green Paper, is expected to be published in June 2021. The Government has stated that reflections on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will now form part of the review.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 gave the Secretary of State powers to temporarily disapply certain statutory requirements relating to education. This includes the requirements on local authorities to secure education and health care provision under an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) under the Children and Families Act 2014. During the spring and summer of 2020, temporary changes were made to reduce the requirements on local authorities in light of the pandemic. Concerns have been raised about the support children and young people with SEN received during this period, and that they may suffer particularly badly from the educational impact of the pandemic.

A body of evidence is forming about the operation of the reformed system. In October 2019, the Education Committee published its report on the system, a wide-ranging piece of work that found significant concerns about the financial sustainability of the system and systemic problems in its operation. The Government published its response in July 2020.

A separate Library briefing provides responses to Post-16 Special Educational Needs FAQs, CBP 8561.

This briefing applies to England only.

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