Government's proposals for special educational needs published
Government to introduce single assessment process
The Government has unveiled proposals which would mean the biggest programme of reform in the education and health support for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities in 30 years.
In its Green Paper the Government proposes to:
- include parents in the assessment process and introduce a legal right, by 2014, to give them control of funding for the support their child needs
- replace statements with a single assessment process and a combined education, health and care plan so that health and social services is included in the package of support, along with education
- ensure assessment and plans run from birth to 25 years old
- replace the existing complicated School Action and School Action Plus system with a simpler new school-based category to help teachers focus on raising attainment
- overhaul teacher training and professional development to better help pupils with special educational needs and to raise their attainment
- inject greater independence from local authorities in assessments by looking at how voluntary groups might coordinate the package of support
- give parents a greater choice of school and give parents and community groups the power to set up special free schools.
Currently children who have severe, profound or multiple health and learning needs or disabilities receive a statement of support from their local authority. However, the Government says that it is often not clear to parents, and to local services who is responsible for delivering on the statement. For example, services such as speech and language therapy may appear in the statement but are funded and commissioned by local health services.
The Government plans to tackle this problem by introducing one single assessment process and education, health and care plan to give children all the help they need.
Children's Minister Sarah Teather said:
"We have heard time and time again that parents are frustrated with endless delays to getting the help their child needs, and by being caught in the middle when local services don't work together.
"Parents and voluntary organisations have given us overwhelming examples where they have felt let down by local services. At the moment there is an appalling situation where public money is being wasted as children are growing out of equipment, like wheelchairs, before they even arrive. The new single assessment process and plan will tackle this issue and mean that parents don't feel they have to push to get the services they are entitled to."
Currently more than one in five children (21 per cent) in this country are identified as having SEN but only 2.7 per cent have statements.
To help children that have a learning need, but not necessarily a special educational need, the Government says that it will:
- Extend the Achievement for All programme so personalised support is mainstream in all schools. This programme has seen an increase in results and a decrease in pupils on the SEN register. We are inviting bids for an independent organisation to extend the programme across the country.
- Facilitate the transition to the open market of Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Talker and Ever Child Counts programmes to help those children struggling with early communication, reading and mathematics.
- Introduce phonics-based training to support children who need additional help in reading.
- Work with SEN specialists as we develop the Reading Progress Check for six year olds to help identify children who require additional support.
- Introduce a new performance table indicator to give parents clear information on the progress of the lowest attaining pupils.
- Direct funding to the most deprived pupils – a third of whom are currently identified as having SEN – through the Pupil Premium.
Responses to the Proposals
Children's Commissioner for England
Children's Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson, responded to Government proposals to reform special educational needs (SEN) support in schools, putting the needs of children and their families at the heart of decision-making. Dr Atkinson said:
"We welcome the vision set out for the overhaul of the SEN system, outlined in the Green Paper 'Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability'.
"Every child has the right to a good education no matter what their ability. We are pleased that the Government recognises that the assessment process should be made simpler and that it will encourage joined up thinking between local authorities, schools, the voluntary and community sector, and other providers. The inclusion of health and social services support in any new system is incredibly important as many parents struggle to access the full range of help their child is entitled to.
"I particularly commend the proposal to pilot a right of appeal to SEN tribunals by children and young people. The right of the child to be heard in such proceedings is established by Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We agree with the Government that mediation should be used as often as possible to settle disputes. However, some disputes will always need to go to tribunal and in these cases it's important that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to good advice, and legal aid.
"We also welcome the proposal to give parents of children with SEN and disabilities the right to express a preference for any state-funded mainstream or special school, and a legal right to control the funding for their child's support. As these proposals move towards becoming law, it will be important to ensure that schools take these preferences seriously.
"Our full response to the consultation will bring forward the views and interests of children to ensure their rights and concerns are fully considered to help influence any legislative changes."
National Association for Special Educational Needs
Lorraine Petersen OBE, Chief Executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN), said:
"NASEN welcomes the green paper. There has long been a need for a more coherent joined-up approach to the assessment of children and young people identified as having SEN. The proposals for an Education, Health and Care Plan to replace the statement will ensure that all those providing services are involved from birth to 25 and commit to providing services in the plan.
"We are also pleased to see a clear emphasis on training and development for staff in schools – building on the schools white paper. We need our teachers to be well trained and confident to identify needs and barriers to learning and provide the right support early on.
"NASEN is delighted the green paper recognises the important role of the SEN coordinator and is pleased that support for training new SENCOs is continuing."
Contact a Family
Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said:
"We welcome the Government's aspirations to improve the lives of families with disabled children as set out in Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.
"Many of the principles outlined in the consultation paper are to be commended. We need to examine the proposals in more detail to assess the degree to which they will meet the real needs of disabled children and their families. However the consultation provides a very useful starting point for debate."
Local Government Association
Baroness Shireen Ritchie, Chairman of the Local Government Association Children and Young People Board, said:
"The aim of creating a single system for people up to the age of 25 with special educational needs is one which the LGA supports. However, more work needs to be done on how to make this ambition a reality.
"Talk of realigning systems simply does not go far enough. What the system needs is a radical transformation built on a firm legislative base.
"Councils are responsible for providing these services to people right through to the age of 25. We need a system that joins up the SEN provision in schools with that in further education colleges.
"We must be clear that if council support for SEN is to continue at its current level, which is something that all local authorities want to see, it must be sufficiently funded. In the recent local government financial settlement, councils saw funding for early intervention cut by 25%. Councils have been leading the way on giving parents greater control over their children's education through personalised budgets, but the Government needs to make sure that the funding from health, education and social care is available to meet these costs."
- special educational needs