Dorset Council Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Strategy 2021 to 2024

Last updated 5 December 2023

Our vision

Our vision is clear and focused.

We want our children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) to be healthy, happy and safe, and able to achieve their potential to lead a fulfilling life.

We want them to have, and to expect, the same opportunities in life as other children and young people.

This vision is within the context of Dorset’s Children’s and Young Peoples plan 2020-23, which sets out that: 

  • we want Dorset to be the best place to be a child, where communities thrive and where our families are supported to be the best they can be. Our partnership has a bold and courageous vision to deliver the best education for all our children and young people
  • to prepare our young people for independence (adulthood)
  • for our children and young people to experience the best possible health and wellbeing


Our commitment

Our work is shaped by the following commitments.

We will:

  • embed co-production across all aspects of our work so that parent carers and children and young people with SEND are recognised as equal partners and are fully involved in decision making
  • work in partnership to promote transparency and consistency in decision making and delivery of support
  • embrace new ways of working to support and enable innovative practice
  • commit to identify and understand the challenges faced by our families who have children with SEND
  • commit to providing good quality services with clear and accessible information
  • prepare young people for adult life and independence from the earliest years
  • ensure that moves between services or changes in provision and support across all ages are smooth, seamless and supportive

Improving our services – what our children, young people and families say

We work in partnership with Dorset Parent Carer Council and listen to our families with children and young people with SEND.

We will continue to be ambitious and continuously improve our services so they can positively impact the lives of our children and young people.

In January 2021 we issued a SEND parent carer survey and families told us the following.

What we do well - our parents and carers have told us:

  • families who are supported by locality teams have had positive experiences
  • positive experience from families working with our wider SEND system including Education, Health and Care (EHC), who support SEND families
  • families who are supported have had positive experiences through the EHC Plan process within their educational settings
  • families have had positive experiences of the EHC Plan annual review process within their educational settings
  • positive experiences from families through the graduated approach at SEN support within their educational settings
  • positive experiences from families with their SEND travel arrangements
  • our newsletters and advice letters realise good take up and engagement from SEND families

However, for others there are areas of our SEND system which can be difficult, and their experiences are that:

  • understanding how the system works is difficult, this means that they can feel lost and sometimes find it difficult to find out what is available for their child
  • they worry their child will struggle to ‘fit in’ or make friends and cannot always access services for example out of hours school provision or after school clubs
  • there is too long a wait for some assessments and therapies e.g. Speech and Language Therapy and Educational Psychology and not enough of these services
  • some feel that getting an EHC Plan is the only way of accessing the support their child needs
  • services are often not joined up, don’t always work together and families have to give the same information repeatedly to different teams
  • they worry the County hasn’t got the right range of educational provision to meet their child’s or young person’s needs, and sometimes that there is not enough of it
  • they worry about how their children are supported in mainstream schools
  • their child with SEND, their siblings and themselves as parent carers, are facing increasing levels of anxiety and poor mental health
  • they are concerned about their child’s future, and the ‘cliff-edge’ of adult services

Improving our strategy means that our children and their families in the future will say that:

  • we are listened to and respected
  • our needs are understood, acknowledged, and provided for
  • our voice and views are at the heart of all decision making for our child
  • we are involved in co-production of services and support at all levels of the system
  • we have access to good quality and impartial information, advice, and support
  • we have regular communication that is tailored to specific needs
  • our needs are identified early
  • the pathways to access help are transparent and equitable
  • we have more help from a range of agencies for our children and young people on SEN Support
  • we can access a variety of short breaks and after school activities
  • the professionals that work in partnership with parents are well trained and empathetic, and work flexibly around us with a person centred approach
  • we are welcomed and included, and we are accessing education, social and leisure opportunities within our local community
  • we are no longer excluded from schools
  • we know what to expect and when moving from children’s to adult’s services; planning for adult life starts early is person-centred and aspirational

The national context

Since the introduction of the Children and Families Act reforms in 2014, we have used data to better understand our SEND children and young people so that we are able to commission the right education, health and care services.

New strategies have been formed to ensure that provision is improved and more of our children can and will remain in their local communities, an example of such is the Capital SEND strategy 2020-2025.

Dorset is committed to inclusion in mainstream and we firmly believe every teacher is a teacher of special needs. Therefore, building the capabilities of our mainstream schools to support more children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities will ensure more children can attend a local school.

Strengthening the capacity of our whole school system, maintained and academies support more children in mainstream and meeting need at every is at the core of our strategy.

However, we recognise that whilst most children and young people will be supported in a mainstream school, some need more specialist support in specialist provision.

The Dorset Council Plan 2020-2024 sets out that the Council will provide more specialist education for children with complex communication and learning needs.

The published Children and Young People Plan 2020-2023 develops the strategy further within its key priority area: Best Education for All.

This priority area is supported by the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Capital Strategy 2020-25, which will create approximately 500 places across Dorset, including 280 places at the former St Mary’s site, places will start to be available from January 2022.

There are currently two Free School (Special School) projects underway with the Department for Education (DfE) to expand specialist provision for Dorset. The first of these is Harbour School, which is set to create 160 places for children and young people aged 9 – 19 years old.

They plan to have 96 places for children and young people with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) and 64 places for children and young people with high functioning Social, emotional and mental health needs. The school is currently open with a small number of students in temporary accommodation while the DfE build a new school on the old Bovington Middle School site.

The project has a planned completion date of September 2022.

The second project is a planned 75 place free school which was granted a capital allocation in 2019.

The DfE have undertaken a long-term feasibility study on a site and are now working toward the opening of a new Special Free School in Osprey Quay in September 2023 which will support children and young people with SEND in the 14-19 age range.

Over the last 12 months we have worked with Dorset Parent Carer Council, our early years settings, schools, and other education providers to identify the changing needs of our SEND population.

We have listened to what we need to improve in our local services so that we can meet the needs of our SEND children and families.

The introduction of our Locality teams brings together colleagues from across Early Years, Early Help, Children’s Social Care, Educational Psychology, SEND and Inclusion services under the leadership of new Heads of Locality and Strategy that link together with our CCG Health partners.

We are explicit that “SEND is everyone’s business”.

Through the new integrated structure, colleagues work in multi-agency integrated teams with a line manager for their locality. Everyone in the team has access to the specialist expertise they need to support children and young people early.

The key outcome for our SEND children and young people, is that the practitioner support they are receiving through our graduated approach is based locally, in a team that have closer familiarity with the educational settings, communities and with coordinated across education, health and care. Specifically, within early years, we have recently changed our approach to Early SEND Support funding, and this is now open for all children not only those who are accessing 2, 3 or 4-year-olds funding.

Portage Consultants support children where concerns are related to social communication and associated difficulties that are not age appropriate, significant global developmental and / or physical delay or disorder, difficulties associated with a diagnosed medical condition or syndrome which may indicate long term, complex needs or continued lack of progress despite targeted interventions having been put into place.

Our approach allows us to understand more about children’s needs earlier and to use that information to inform our planning for the next stage in the child’s life in preparation for moving onto school.

This year, Adults and Children’s Social Care in partnership with Dorset’s Education Service commissioned a report into the Birth to Settled Adulthood offer (summer 2021).

The review identified the need for an improvement programme.

Activity to refresh the joint vision and priorities across the Dorset partnership, as well as focused work on earlier co-production to ensure that those young people who require support as they transition to adulthood are able to be fully involved in their journey.

Progress in Dorset since 2017

Between 23 January and 27 January 2017, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) conducted a joint inspection of the Dorset local area to judge its effectiveness in implementing the special educational needs and disability (SEND) reforms set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.

As a result of the findings of the inspection, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) determined that a Written Statement of Action was required to address four areas of significant weakness in the local area’s practice.

The former Dorset County Council (DCC) and the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are jointly responsible for submitting the written statement.

As part of Ofsted’s revisit in February 2019, inspectors were of the opinion that local area had made sufficient progress in two of the four areas identified, however the local area had not made sufficient progress to improve the two remaining areas of weaknesses and sustained the Written Statement of Action.

The Department for Education met with the Local Area the on 11 January 2021 to discuss progress against the Local Area’s Accelerated Progress Plan.

In response to the progress made by the Local Area, the Department for Education stated that:

  • “We are reassured that the strength and commitment of current leaders within the LA and CCG will continue improvements across the SEND system throughout Dorset.”
  • “Based on the evidence provided, the Department and NHS England have concluded that you have demonstrated clear and sustained progress. This means that Dorset no longer requires formal monitoring of its SEND system.” The consensus of the Department for Education’s view with that of the Local Area’s own self-assessment of the progress made since monitoring began, demonstrates the strength and commitment of the local area leadership to continue improvements across the SEND system throughout Dorset.

The local context – SEND statistics and Dorset

The total population of Dorset is 378,508 (2019 mid-year estimate), this includes 74,765 children and young people aged 0-19 representing 20% of the total population (89,573 aged 0-24).

We have 159 schools in Dorset:

  • 1 All through School
  • 36 First Schools
  • 2 Infant Schools
  • 2 Junior Schools
  • 10 Middle Schools
  • 80 Primary Schools
  • 4 Pupil Referral Units
  • 15 Secondary Schools
  • 6 Special Schools
  • 3 Upper Schools

There are 34 different languages spoken in Dorset schools.

5% of school age children are from black and minority ethnic communities compared to 35% nationally.

Early years age children – SEND profile (January 2020)

From school census data 2020/21 the most common primary need for children under 5 is speech, language, and communication needs (639 children, 10% have an EHCP in place) followed by Social, Emotional and Mental Health (102 children, 15% have an EHCP in place).

The majority of these children receive SEN Support.

In the January 2021 early years census, 78 children under 5 were able to access further support through Disability Access Funding in their local setting.

A total of 5,945 children accessed 2, 3 and 4-year-old early education funding.

In 2020-21, 205 children were supported to access early education and childcare through their early years setting applying for Early SEND Support funding.

29% of this cohort are boys who have communication and language needs and 7% are girls.

5% of the cohort are boys with PSED and 2.5% are girls

School Age children and Young People – SEND Profile Statistics (July 2021)

The profile of SEND and educational outcomes in Dorset shows that 9 4% of our children in Dorset Schools have an Education, Care and Health plan with a further 14% accessing SEN Support.

These figures are in line with the National profile for EHCPs at: 4%, the SEN Support national average is 12% meaning that Dorset is slightly higher in this regard.

The table shows how this picture has changed over time.

Table SEN figures for Dorset, the South West and nationally
Total SEN by area  2015 to 2016 2016 to 2017 2017 to 2018  2018 to 2019 2019 to 2020 2020 to 2021 
Dorset 16% 16% 18% 17% 15% 18%
South West  15% 15% 16% 15% 16% 17%
Nationally  14% 14% 15% 15% 15% 16%



Children with SEND are more likely to be boys; 64% of Dorset SEND are boys (62% SEN Support and 73% EHCP) – this is in line with National and South West.

There are variations by primary need: for Autism Spectrum Condition it is 75% and for Speech and Language Difficulties it is 72%.

Free School Meals

18% of children are FSM Eligible in Dorset, 30% of SEN Support are and 36% of EHC.

As with Gender there are differences by primary need: 41% of SEMH children are eligible for FSM.


The Income deprivation indicator affecting children index (IDACI) splits all areas in the country into 10 deciles.

Whilst Dorset is amongst the least deprived areas in the country there are areas of deprivation within the county.

SEND children tend to come from areas with higher deprivation – 19% of PMLD children live in the 2 most deprived deciles, compared to 7% of non-SEND children; for SEMH children it is 13%

For our Post 16 learners at FE College or Specialist post 16 institutions the following applies:

  • number 16-24 year old Dorset residents with EHCP learning at FE Colleges is 325
  • number 16-24 year old Dorset residents with EHCP learning at Special Post 16 institutions is 134

We celebrate the work of our sixth forms and colleges and are continuing to build on our strong relationships with them to look at how we can enhance their provision.

Areas of need 

The first most common primary need in Dorset is Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) (28% of the EHCP cohort); the national average is 30%.

The second most common primary need is Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) at21% of the EHCP cohort; the national average is 14%.

The third most common primary need is Speech, Language and Communications needs (SLCN) - 16% of the EHCP cohort; the national average is 15%. Together these primary needs make up 65% of the cohort.

Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) are distributed more towards primary years, whilst specific learning difficulties are towards the older years.

Educational settings for children and young people with an EHCP

Dorset’s profile for education placements for our children young people is broadly similar to the profile in the South West.

We have 41% of our children and young people with SEND accessing education in mainstream settings, compared with 43% in the South West and 40% nationally.

A further 34% are placed in special schools compared to 31% in the South West and 36% nationally.

13% of our young people are in receipt of education through Further Education colleges compared to 16% in the South West and 17% nationally

Dorset currently has 3% accessing Alternative Provision which is a higher profile when compared with the South West at 1% and the national profile at 1%

our Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) cohort currently stands at 2% and is below the South West average at 4% and national average at 2.5%.

The remaining percentages constitutes those who are either within Early Years Provision or being Electively Home Educated or Educated Elsewhere.

The profile for these placements follows national and South West trends.

This means that a focus is needed to reduce the number of children and young people in alternative provision through an increase in focus on inclusive education in our mainstream settings.

We must also focus on ensuring that more of our young people can access Further Education in their communities to support their future plans.

Educational Outcomes for children and young people with SEND (data is 2019 due to delays from COVID Education data sets)

Nationally and in Dorset children and young people with SEND do not achieve academically in line with their peers across all phases of education.

This is a key area of focus for the Council. The information below provides an overview of Dorset’s current educational outcomes:

  • at the end of reception year 4% of EHCP children achieve a ‘Good Level of Development, this compares to 5% nationally. Positively 38% of our SEN Support children achieve this level, compared to 29% nationally
  • for the year 1 phonics assessment the pattern is similar. 13% of EHC children in Dorset (20% nationally) and 52% of SEN Support (48% nationally) achieve a pass
  • at Key Stage 1 both groups outperform the national picture, in Maths for example 18% of EHC and 40% of EHC achieve the expected standard; compared to 14% and 36% nationally
  • at Key Stage 2 All Dorset children tend to underperform compared to the national, and this is also true for SEND children. Progress from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 is below average and 20% of SEND children achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, compared to 20% nationally
  • Key Stage 4 based on centre assessed grades at LA level were released for 2020.

These are detailed below in the table showing percentage achieved for Any SEN at Grade 4 our higher and then provides the percentage achieved for our EHCP and SEN support cohort.

% of 2020 grade 4 or higher in GCSE English and Maths by support type, Dorset 

No SEN support 79%

Any SEN support 31%

SEN state EHC support 12%

SEN support 37%

% of 2020 grade 4 or higher in GCSE English and Maths by support type, South West  

No SEN support 79%

Any SEN support 35%

SEN state EHC support 15%

SEN support 41%

% of 2020 grade 4 or higher in GCSE English and Maths by support type, nationally 

No SEN support 78%

Any SEN support 33%

SEN state EHC support 14%

SEN support 40%

Whilst non-SEN children achieved grade 4 or higher in GCSE English & Maths in line or higher than the national this is not matched by SEND pupils.

Key stage 5 performance (based on SEND status in year 11) based on the percentage of 19 year olds qualified to Level 2 with English & Maths shows that all SEN children overall outperform the national (37% compared to 31%), although this is driven largely by good performance of SEN Support children: EHC children in Dorset achieved 12% compared to national 15% have the highest rates of exclusion (DfE, 2016).

Exclusion Data for Children with SEND

The next table shows the exclusion levels for children and young people with SEND in Dorset. Please note that this data covers the COVID period where many of our SEND children and young people were not at school and therefore this affects the numbers significantly.

Dorset permanent exclusions between 2017 and 2020 by status

No SEN support 

2017 to 2018 = 32

2018 to 2019 = 38

2019 to 2020 = 12

EHC support 

2017 to 2018 = 5

2018 to 2019 = 8

2019 to 2020 = 8

SEN support 

2017 to 2018 = 26

2018 to 2019 = 39

2019 to 2020 = 14

Total exclusions by support type 

EHC 4 (21%)

SEN 14 (74%)

No SEN (1 (5%)

It is clear from the information above that more must be done to support inclusive practice for our SEND children and young people as they are disproportionately over represented when compared with children without SEND.

Health’s commitment to children and young people with SEND in Dorset

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Groups (DCCG) Statement of Intent commits to:

  • commissioning services in partnership with our Local Authorities for children and young people aged 0-25 years old with SEND
  • contributing to the Local Offer to include information about health care services
  • working in partnership with Parent Carer Forums, support groups representing young people with SEND, Health Watch, the voluntary sector and community groups
  • ensuring there is health care provision as specified in the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) as part of our commissioning role

Our NHS Health organisations commit to:

  • supporting the identification of children and young people requiring SEND provision.
  • responding to requests for advice for EHCPs within the required time frame and to review EHCPs when invited to
  • work with the Local Authorities to contribute to the local offer of services available
  • working closely with Parent Carer Forums, support groups representing young people with SEND, Health Watch, the voluntary sector and community groups
  • contributing to regular reviews of children and young people with EHCPs

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group works in partnership with Local Authorities, providers and Parent Carer Forums to continually develop a shared vision and strategy to ensure the development of integrated, Child and young person focussed pathways.

Our shared vision and strategy for children and young people with SEND are in line with the NHS long term plan and has a focus on improved outcomes for children and their families

The NHS long term plan sets out a vision for the future of the NHS noting that children and young people represent a third of our country.

A key message from stakeholders during the development of the long-term plan was that the needs of children are diverse, complex and need a higher profile at a national level. 

Dorset CCG have heard similar messages from our local stakeholders, that the needs of Dorset CYP need a higher profile at a local level. 

The national CYP transformation programme has been established to oversee the commitments of the NHS long term plan with a focus on integrating services, improving the quality of care to CYP with long term conditions, such as (obesity and asthma) identifying local system priorities and reducing inequalities.

Dorset CCG will work with partners to align areas of improvement, The NHS long term plan and the SEND reforms are interdependent, for example there is a higher percentage of SEND CYP seen in obesity groups in Dorset and by working together with partners the Dorset system can support inclusion and enable access for all, including supporting parents/carers.

Children with SEND are often supported by a variety of health professionals, including universal services available to all such as GP and pharmacies as well as specialised services that may include Paediatricians, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Therapy.

There is scope for improved joint commissioning, delivery of services and working between health and all partners to improve outcomes for children and young people. Dorset CCG is committed to the development of our workforce who working directly with our children and young people.

Additional training and support for health providers to understand the range of need and provide high quality, timely contributions to the EHC process has been developed with our partners and will contribute to improving outcomes.

Dorset CCG aims to support all people in Dorset to lead healthier lives, this reflects a need to prevent illness and also reduce health inequalities for our population.

A key part of reducing health inequalities for our Children and Young People is via the Learning Disability register, which enables reasonable adjustments to be noted and the availability of Annual Health checks which are available to all people with a diagnosed Learning Disability from age 14 onwards.

The 2021-22 data for quarters 1 and 2 indicates an increase in the uptake of Annual Health checks, compared to 2020-21.

There is a Dorset wide commitment to further increase this uptake by raising awareness of the register and checks amongst young people, considering alternative ways of offering the checks, such as within the school setting for example and creating young people training and resources for GP practices.


This strategy was last reviewed in 2021. 

The next expected review date is 2024.