The Future of Special Educational Needs?

On 9th March 2011,Children’s Minister Sarah Teather 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.
Why do things need to change?
 parents find themselves having to battle their way through the current system in order to get the support they believe their child needs. This can be very frustrating.
 this often develops into an adversarial assessment process with the local authority providing the assessments and the funding needed for support
 SEN statements do not join up the education, health and care support for the child
 multiple assessments from different providers often lead to delays in getting support
 too many children are being identified with SEN. In recent years the proportion of children with SEN but without statements has nearly doubled – from 10 per cent of all pupils in 1995 to 18.2 per cent or 1.5 million children in 2010. If you include the 2.7% who have Statements, that’s 1 in 5 children in this country identified as having SEN. (source Dept of Education)
The ideas set out in the Green Paper have been informed by the views and expertise of families, teachers, local authorities, health professionals and national and local organisations working with them.
What are the aims of the Green Paper?
 high quality early identification and intervention for all children where they need it, such as the health and development review for children aged between 2 and 2½ years.
 to ensure assessment and plans run from birth to 25 years old – this will cover the awkward transition from teenage years to early adult working life.
 replace School Action & School Action Plus categories of SEN with a single Early Years setting-based category and school-based category of SEN;
 a new single assessment process and ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ by 2014; health and social services is included in the package of support, along with education. This will replace the Statementing process but will provide the same statutory protection to parents as the statement of SEN and will include a commitment from all parties to provide their services. There is an aim to reduce the time it takes to complete this process and if there is disagreement between the Local Authority and the parents then it is hoped that the matter can be settled through mediation rather than Tribunal.
 overhaul teacher training and professional development to better help pupils with special educational needs and to raise their attainment
 local authorities and other services will set out a local offer of all services available; this will be ‘easy to understand’.
 the option of a personal budget by 2014 for all families with children with a statement of SEN or a new Education, Health and Care Plan; Key workers will be trained to advise families and help them navigate the range of help available across health, education and social care.
 give parents a real choice of school, either a mainstream or special school; they will remove the current bias towards inclusion. Preferences will be met “unless the choice would not meet the needs of the child, be incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or be an inefficient use of resources.”
 introduce greater independence to the assessment of children’s needs. There is mention of targeted funding to voluntary and community sector organisations that have a strong track record of delivering high quality services relating to assessment and support.
The 4 month consultation which began on 9 March will run to 30 June 2011. A period of testing proposals in local areas will commence in September 2011. Detailed plans should emerge the end of the year, and will form the basis for any necessary legislative changes to be taken forward from May 2012 at the earliest.

What has been the response so far?
The BDA has welcomed measures to enable earlier assessment of children, but is deeply concerned at the present severe cuts to Local Authority special educational needs teaching and assessment personnel and the impact this will have on delivery of services to Dyslexic pupils.

The BDA has welcomed the increased collaboration between health, education and social care as well as suggestions for improved transparency and parental choice. The increased participation of the voluntary and charitable sector they also welcome although funding for the latter will be a crucial issue.

This is of necessity only a brief summary of the Green Paper. Full details can be found at http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/sen/a0075339/sengreenpaper
A head teacher quoted in the Green Paper says: “If I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before in my car – I get a map. A good map shows all the routes and the landscapes and the options. Where is the map for families to use if their child is identified with SEN? Here is our chance to create a map – one that all people can understand – using common language and well explained assessments.”
Barbara Lowe May 2011