Parents to control special education needs budgets
On Monday 14th May 2012 the government announced major changes to the provision of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision in England. From 2014 parents will be given control over the budgets for their children’s support. Children will be provided with a Learning Difficulties Assessment (LDA) by the Local Authority either on request or if they are regarded as requiring an LDA. The local authority is then required to put together a robust support programme which will remain in place as long the child remains in education and has learning difficulties until they are 25. In addition parents will be given the option of managing the budget for their child’s support programme.
The government has described it as the” biggest reform of SEN for 30 years” and the changes being implemented will legally force education, health and social care services to plan provision together. In making the announcement Sarah Teather, minister for children and families said:
“Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need. It is unacceptable they are forced to go from pillar to post – facing agonising delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment.”
Under the scheme a number of approaches will be trialed including giving parents the funds directly or leaving them with the local authority.
Alison Ryan, a policy adviser for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, welcomed the new requirement for agencies to plan services together. She did however, raise concerns over the level of redundancies amongst education psychologists and speech and language therapists. She noted that the plans were being implemented during a period of cuts which have:
“eaten into many of the specialist services teachers rely on to help them support children with special educational needs…”
Ryan also said there were worries over the potential impact on forward planning and the ability to co-ordinate as a result of putting budgets in the hands of lots of individuals and families.
“Many parents can be the best advocates for their children’s needs, but you cannot say that for every parent. Sometimes it may be a matter of their own ability to decide on the best type of expert assistance for their children,”
Are the Changes To SEN Provision A Good Idea?
Broadly speaking, the proposals appear to be sound. Any parents or teachers who have tried to get a child in their care statemented in order to obtain support will tell you that Sarah Teather is right. The assessment system is currently fragmented and extremely difficult to understand and negotiate. A parent of a girl with Asperger’s who was interviewed on BBC television witnessed that it took three years to get her daughter diagnosed and for appropriate support to be put in place by which time a bright student who needed help had fallen far behind her peers educationally. With set timescales for the assessment process enshrined in law and easy to understand guidelines for parents and support providers the potential will exist for such cases to become the minority rather than the norm and that has to be welcomed as an improvement.
We would however, echo the concerns raised by others. With the levels of cutbacks already taking place in the support networks for children with special educational needs will there be enough specialists to support all those who need it? If not, then the potential benefits of such a major overhaul to the SEN system will be lost. Some parties have asked how they will define SEN as there is no official definition. But, according the DfE’s own guidance notes they are using the terms as defined in the Education Act 1996. Furthermore, Section 7.2 of the guidance covering the definition of learning difficulties states:
Learning difficulty is the term used in legislation while ‘learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities’ is a deliberately wide definition in common usage in the FE system, and includes people with mental health difficulties, autistic spectrum conditions, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioural emotional or social disorders, physical, sensory and cognitive impairments and other identified and non-identified difficulties in learning. All of these conditions could fall within the definition of learning difficulties for the purpose of a Learning Difficulties Assessment.
According to some news reports on this announcement the government is seeking to remove the majority, some 1.5 million children, from the SEN register because they have been misdiagnosed and their conditions are social or emotional. It has been suggested that these children need pastoral rather than SEN support. Firstly, we would question the accuracy of such a sweeping statement. How is it possible to accurately ascertain the numbers who have been incorrectly labeled without reassessing every child already classed as SEN? Secondly, by the government’s own terms children with emotional or social disorders could still fall under the definition of learning difficulties. Finally, there will inevitably be a large number of children who will have much valued and needed support removed despite having special needs. So we would recommend that robust plans are put in place to ensure that these vulnerable children don’t fall behind. There has been no such announcement made regarding this.
The guidance for local authorities is in effect until the next review in 2013 while the full changes will come into effect in 2014. We would therefore, look forward to seeing clearer plans on how children currently diagnosed as SEN will be re-assessed and a comprehensive framework of support for those with other needs, who will be removed from the SEN register, put in place before we can give the policy our wholehearted support.
Filed under: Education News, Education News Insights, Education Policy | Tagged: Association of Teachers and Lecturers, ATL, Education Reforms, LDA, Learning Difficulties Assessment, Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, SEN, Special Educational Needs | Leave a comment »