Service cuts threaten plan to overhaul SEN provision

Written by: HTU | Published:

The government's strategy to overhaul SEN support in England could be threatened by deep cuts to specialist provision across the country.

The government's strategy to overhaul SEN support in England could be threatened by deep cuts to specialist provision across the country.

Charities and teachers have welcomed the aims of the strategy, which was outlined in the Queen's Speech last week, but fear it will be undermined because of cuts to local services.

The government is planning to announce draft legislation in early 2013 that will introduce what it calls a “single, simpler assessment process" for children with SEN or disabilities.

It will see the end of SEN statements and learning difficulty assessments, which will be replaced from 2014 with individual Education Health and Care Plans.

The idea is that services will work together with the family to agree a plan of support for a child from birth to age 25. The plan will be reviewed regularly and will specify who is responsible for provision.

Other reforms will see local authorities required to publish a “local offer", detailing the support available to disabled and SEN children and their families – both in-school support as well as additional more specialist provision.

A system of mediation will also be introduced for disputes between parents and local authorities over provision, while a plan to give children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with the support they receive is to be trialled.

The proposals were published in a government SEN Green Paper and put out for for consultation last year. Formal confirmation of the proposals and a reform timetable was published this week by ministers.

However, the National Deaf Children's Society has warned that cuts to local SEN services could undermine the plans. Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at the charity, praised the good intentions behind the reforms, but added: “We are concerned that ministers are building their strategy on quicksand. We know that councils across England are slashing the specialist educational services that are crucial to achieving these ambitions.

“More choice for families is a commendable aim, but it comes in stark contrast to the reality of councils across the country who are making cuts without consulting parents of deaf children. The government must send a clear message to local authorities that support for deaf young people is vital and must be protected from cuts."

The National Union of Teachers expressed similar fears. General secretary Christine Blower said: “Current government education cuts and the accelerating academies programme, which has a higher exclusion rate for SEN pupils, are fatally undermining available provision. Giving parents the promise of more choice for their SEN child is illusory. Cuts to local authority budgets vastly reduce the specialist services which parents and teachers need to access support and ensure progress."

Meanwhile, the deaf-blind charity Sense, warned that the plans for a single Education, Health and Care Plan “must be underpinned by clear statutory obligations on all education, health and social care agencies and settings including academies and free schools".

Other provisions in the Green Paper which are expected to be included in plans include giving a personal budget for families of children who have an Education, Health and Care Plan so they can control which services they use.

Also, the government wants to give parents more choice over whether their children attend a mainstream or special school.

A statement from nasen, an association for special needs education, said: “It is evident that the government is looking to move many of its proposals forward for implementation in 2014. This will require a new SEN and disabilities Code of Practice that will hopefully support schools and colleges in ensuring that they offer the best possible support for young people with SEN and disability."

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