I recently set out my areas of focus on education in our 2023-24 Business Plan. My ambition is to make schools places where children want to be, and a site of wider support. For those with additional needs or at risk of falling behind, support needs to accessible in every school across the country and centred around the needs of the child and their family.
The SEND Implementation Plan sets out a roadmap for improvements across much of the system, however these reforms need to be delivered swiftly to ensure every child, including those with SEND, can flourish in school every day.
To attend school every day means not only addressing the barriers that the office has identified through the Attendance Audit but also understanding what makes a school a great place for children to be. We know that children want to access the right support in a setting familiar to them, and schools should be positioned and equipped to provide this nexus of support.
For many children, even having fantastic teachers won’t be enough to overcome the additional challenges in their life and they will need additional support to be able to learn and thrive. Reforms are needed across the system, nationally and locally, to make this a reality.
My office will continue to champion this ambition and hold the system to account where it falls short. This will include research into what constitutes a strong pastoral offer in schools that provides the wrap-around support that children tell us they need.
Alongside this work, the Commissioner will carry out a bold programme of research exploring children’s journeys out of education, the consequences of missing education and the interventions which work to support children back into education.
My office will build on the findings of the Attendance Audit by investigating in detail the experience of children who drop out of the education system altogether or those who have never been part of it. Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out that every child has a right to an education, yet for Children Missing Education they have no access to this basic right.
The Attendance Audit highlighted how little is known about these children and that nationally there is not even an accurate estimate of how many there are. There is therefore a serious need for evidence-led improvements across the system to support these children into education.
As part of the Attendance Action Alliance, my office will also deliver a new research programme investigating the range of journeys children outside of the care system take to become CME and what effective action can be undertaken by schools, local authorities, and other agencies to get children into education. This research will combine new analysis of national data with qualitative research with children and services, placing their stories at the heart of the analysis.
Lastly, my office will continue to champion the rights of children with additional needs, building on the research already carried out in 2022-23. We will closely scrutinise the delivery of the government’s Implementation Plan so that it delivers for all children with SEND, providing constructive challenge to departments where planned reforms will not meet children’s needs or deliver the intended benefits.