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Wigan has benefited from being a pathfinder for special needs reforms

Donna Hall
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The new system is building stronger relationships with parents and professional partners, says Wigan’s chief executive

The government’s special educational needs and disabilities (Send) reforms were rolled out nationally in July but Wigan is a pathfinder authority and has been guiding families through the new system since 2012.

The reforms are essentially a rethink of supporting people with Sends. The new system aims to put each child or young person and their family at the centre of any discussion about their support.

The statement system, which sets out educational needs, is being replaced with a new approach based on an education, health and care plan. Statements formalise a child’s needs but they only focus on learning and don’t involve other services such as health and social care. Parents often get frustrated because they have to repeat their family history to different public bodies.

The government’s solution is a single plan that sets out a child’s needs. Health professionals, social workers, schools and councils are all involved in developing the plan and responsible for its implementation.

For some young people, the plans will continue until they are 25, whereas statements finished when a child left school. Other changes include personal budgets that can be used by families to pay directly for services their children need. Councils also have to produce a local offer detailing the available services.

We were chosen to be a pathfinder authority because of our excellent record in supporting children with Sends. The government gave us a small amount of money to test the changes and report back.

The pilot has been overseen by our assistant director Sue Elliott, who is a joint appointment between the council and Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group. Her dual role offers her a broad view of how the reforms affect different services and how we can all work together.

The government allowed us to be flexible and to try new approaches. We’ve worked much more closely with parents, building better relationships through parent engagement sessions and by ensuring parents are listened to and at the centre of the conversation about support for their child. 

We’ve also developed much closer relationships with our partners, particularly our NHS providers. The involvement of professionals across education, health and social care in developing the new processes has led to much better joint working. We’ve even run joint training sessions for CCG and council staff.

We found having clear processes and guidance has been really important in making sure the changes work. It’s also important to communicate with staff and senior management across health, education and social care so they understand the changes and the positive impact they can have.

The feedback we’ve been getting from families is that the new system is much better. We have great stories of families’ lives being transformed. It’s hard work but if we get it right we can make a big difference.

Donna Hall, chief executive, Wigan MBC

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