Overhaul of special needs provision outlined

THE government is planning to overhaul special educational needs (SEN) provision, to make the system less bureaucratic and reduce the number of young people who are classified as needing support.

In a new Green Paper the department for education outlined plans to give parents better access to funding if their child has SEN.

It says that parents do not have confidence in the current system because of the perceived conflict of interest between local authorities assessing need knowing they will have to provide SEN support.

More than one in five children, or 21 per cent of pupils in the UK, are identified as having SEN.

This could be because they have learning difficulties or disabilities, or because they have behavioural or emotional problems. Children who have severe, profound or multiple health and learning needs or disabilities, receive a statement of support from their local authority which entitles them to funding.

But only 2.7 per cent of the 21 per cent of children with SEN in this country have statements.

The government says it is often unclear to parents and to local services who is responsible for delivering on the statement. Services such as speech and language therapy may appear in the statement but are funded and commissioned by local health services.

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The government will tackle this by introducing one single assessment process and education, health and care plan.

Ofsted has also warned that too many children are being identified as having SEN, which they believe prevents some children from achieving their potential because it lowers teachers’ expectations.

Jenny Drake, headteacher at Jack Taylor School in Swiss Cottage, which provides support for pupils aged five to 19 who have severe to profound learning difficulties, said: “There would never be a question about the special needs of the children in our school; 50 per cent have profound multiple learning difficulties and 33 per cent are on the autistic spectrum.If this is about making it easier for parents to get the support they need then it’s great because they battle all their lives for their children. But if it’s about cutting support for special needs provision it would be a bad idea.”

The Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) charity, which campaigns for all children with SEN, welcomed the Coalition’s commitment to improving the SEN system and raising parental confidence.

However, it expressed concern that the Green Paper does not contain more detail as to how the proposals will increase accountability and confidence.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said: “Parents and voluntary organisations have given us overwhelming examples where they have felt let down by local services. 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 and mean that parents don’t feel they have to push to get the services they are entitled to.”