Why was the DBV in SEND programme created?

The Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) green paper identifies three key challenges facing the SEND system: poor outcomes for children and young people with SEND and in AP; low parental and provider confidence; and financial unsustainability.

The Department for Education recognises that change is needed but that this will take time. It is therefore currently providing three support offers to local authorities and their partners in relation to funding challenges and High Needs budget sustainability. The aim of all three programmes is to facilitate sustainable management of local authorities’ high needs systems, with support and intervention tailored to the problems areas are facing. The programme will not 'write off' any High Needs budget deficits.

The three programmes are:

Introduced by DfE in 2020-21 for those local authorities with the greatest financial challenges. Additional Safety Valve agreements have been made since the programme started.

The Delivering Better Value in
SEND Programme

Introduced in 2021-22 as an optional programme providing dedicated support and funding to 55 local authorities – chosen based on those facing the greatest financial challenges after those authorities that have already been invited to join the Safety Valve Intervention Programme.

Tailored support and challenge depending on the financial position of the local authority. All local authorities who are not on the Safety Valve or DBV SEND programmes will be contacted by the ESFA. Advice from the ESFA will draw on learning from existing programmes and relevant research conducted by the department.

What is a DBV in SEND diagnostic?

To make a lasting improvement to outcomes for children and young people with SEND, local areas need to work out the root causes of their challenges and their opportunities to improve - this is done through a 'diagnostic', which is at the heart of Phase One of the DBV in SEND programme.

How are system partners being involved in Phase One?

Prior to the DBV in SEND programme, participating local authorities have already worked extensively with their local partners, and this work will be built upon in the diagnostic.

Local stakeholder engagement (including with parents and carers, with teachers from schools and colleges, and with health and social care colleagues) will be vital to ensure everyone has fed into the plan and has bought into the outcomes the local area wants to achieve together. In Phase One, Newton/CIPFA will support authorities to lead this engagement by providing communications tools, using participatory workshop methods, and where appropriate and asked by the authority, joining stakeholder meetings.

Schools forums will be consulted as part of the diagnostic phase. It is also expected that local Parent Carer Forums will be involved in the diagnostic phase of the programme.

Further activities involving partners and stakeholders across the system will be completed in the remaining diagnostic work and in the transition into the implementation phase (Phase Two) in each local area. When it comes to developing implementation plans and deciding what changes to take forward, it is expected that each participating local authority will do this in close conjunction with its local partners.

In Phase Two, there are various ways in which system partners could be involved. For example one local area established a 'system leadership group' with education, early years and other partner representatives; held an ‘engagement week’ to understand views and perspectives across the system, including a live virtual event with over 200 attendees; and established 'design groups' across different workstreams to foster co-creation between education providers, parents and the local authority.

Other ways in which system engagement is taking place so far:
  • Authorities holding specific diagnostic launch events or issuing specific diagnostic communications to local system partners.
  • Authorities inviting colleagues from health, social care or education to participate in multi-disciplinary reviews of historic cases, designed to capture professional opinion about how the local system should change.
  • Gathering bespoke feedback from local parent-carer groups (via surveys or focus groups) on their perspectives of how the system needs to change.
Illustration of a group of people interacting in an illustrated local area

Who is delivering Phase One of the programme?

Newton Europe, in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), is working with the Department for Education (including SEND Advisors) to deliver Phase One. Newton works as a transformation and improvement partner to local authorities and CIPFA is the local government accounting standard setter in the UK. Between them, they have worked with hundreds of public sector organisations, particularly local authorities and have a thorough understanding of children’s services and the SEND agenda.

The Phase One approach is one that is:

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Both organisations have worked extensively alongside local areas to transform how services are delivered. Their focus is always on improving resident outcomes and ways of working, and consequently sustainably improving financial performance.

Evidence-based, data-driven, and delivery-focussed
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Newton and CIPFA take a partnership approach to working with local areas to create robust plans which will have a measurable and sustainable difference, and as delivery partners understand the challenges associated with implementing change.

Rooted in co-production
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The organisations believe any programme of work needs to be co-produced, bespoke, and based on detailed evidence of each local area – balancing visibility and assurance with local autonomy to genuinely add value to existing work.

In addition, for Phase One the DfE has established a national system steering group, made up from sector leaders across a wide range of systems, including representation from parent carers.

This steering group is providing sector-led advice and support to the DfE, Newton and CIPFA in the delivery of Phase One and providing a further route to the wider sector as well as an additional channel of feedback for participating local authorities and the wider sector.

Its remit includes:

  • Advising and supporting DfE with delivery of the programme by informing and shaping engagement with key sector stakeholders.
  • Providing feedback to and from the sector.
  • Providing essential steer, challenge, and support of the programme, offering advice on potential risks, pressures, and dependencies.
  • Facilitating programme engagement and sharing of intelligence with wider sector.

Sector Steering Group representatives

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers (Solace)
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)
Local Government Association (LGA)
Society of Country Treasurers (SCT)
NHS England (NHSE)
Confederation of Schools Trusts (CST)
Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS)
National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF)
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)
Department for Education (DfE)

Participant testimonials

Local areas participating in Phase One have provided feedback on their experiences of the programme.

“The case reviews might be one of the best things I've ever done in my career in education...I want to replicate this exercise with the entire team as it was so valuable.”

Assistant Director in SEND

DBV local area

“The excitement seeing the data has created is amazing”

Programme manager

DBV local area

“We thought we knew our area well, but we didn't have an external and solid evidence base to back it up… it's aiding us in conversation with partners, it has more legitimacy”

Director of Children’s Services

DBV local area

“The variation analysis helped us initiate a deeper dive into what makes inclusive schools - very interesting”

SEND lead

DBV local area

“We always embark on these type of conversations with trepidation, but it’s been a really good conversation. I feel really enthused and energised by the approach, it sounds like there’s some real support coming our way so thank you.”

Education Improvement Consultant,

Participating Local Authority

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