The government has today unveiled sweeping educational reforms to improve support for children with special educational needs and learning disabilities.
Plans put forward by the government will, it is hoped, address a number of problems, including:
- Parents having to battle to get the support their child needs
- SEN statements not joining up education, health and care support
- Children falling between the gaps in services or having to undergo multiple assessments.
- Multiple layers of paperwork and bureaucracy adding delays to getting support, therapy and vital equipment
- A confusing and adversarial assessment process, with parents' confidence in the system undermined by the perceived conflict of interest where the local authority must provide SEN support as well as assess children's needs Ofsted and others suggest that too many children are being over-identified as SEN, which prevents them from achieving their potential because teachers have lower expectations of them.
The government plans 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.
Children's minister Sarah Teather, who unveiled the Green Paper, called Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability - A consultation, 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."
While the proposals have been broadly welcomed reform to the SEN system, some have questioned how the proposals will be implemented.
Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family, said:
"Many of the principles such as giving parents more control are to be commended. But there are questions that need to be answered on how these proposals would work in practice. The consultation provides a very useful starting point for discussion.
"We welcome, for example, plans to give families greater control and co-ordination of their child's care through personal budgets. However we need to see if enough funding will be available to families through personal budgets to meet the needs of their child.
"The introduction of a simplified assessment process has the potential to make lives less stressful for families. However the Green Paper is not clear about where responsibility lies to ensure that a joined up package of support is delivered for disabled children and their families, and that those carrying out assessments have the right skills and knowledge.
"Professionals must be made accountable if they do not deliver and there is no clear indication of how this would work in the Green Paper. Our own research What Makes My Family Stronger found that 60% of families have a poor or unsatisfactory experience of being listened to by the professionals involved in their child's care.
"We applaud the government's continued commitment to funding parent forums which play a vital role in shaping services to meet the needs of families with disabled children."