When the Government published their proposed reforms to the SEN structure, I felt hopeful that at long last families like mine would no longer have to fight for our children’s education. As a mum of autistic children, I have experienced many barriers in getting my children diagnosed and properly supported in school. So great were the problems that my son’s health deteriorated and he missed nearly two years of schooling which has caused him to regress academically. Even though he is now settled in a special school, I worry that his life chances have been compromised by an education system that I found bureaucratic, unsympathetic and inflexible.
So when my local council organised a recent drop-in event to discuss the green paper, I was keen to attend and to put my views forward. Unfortunately attending this meeting became a frustrating affair and I left with many more questions than I started with. What I found was that whilst the proposals appeared positive there seemed to be insufficient detail as to how the proposals would work particularly in the background of government cuts. These are my main concerns.
A new approach to identifying SEN - under the new proposals school action and school action plus will be replaced by a school based single category of SEN. This is intended to reduce the numbers of children categorised as having SEN. Apparently research suggests that SEN has been overused. This may be the case for some children but it is also the case that there are children whose SEN or disability is not identified earlier enough. Will the Governmental drive to get SEN numbers down place some children at risk of not receiving essential support?
Nevertheless, it is proposed that teacher training and development will be improved in order to better equip teachers to deal with SEN in the classroom. However, what will this training involve and will it equip a teacher to identify and respond to the needs of a SEN child or children in a class of 30? What other resources will that teacher have access to to support that child? If the teacher is ill-equiped with no external resources to call upon, then I will be concerned that some children will not receive sufficient support.
A new single assessment process - the proposals state that by 2014 there will be an ‘education, health and care plan’ to replace the current statutory SEN assessment and statement. This new plan will have the same statutory protection as a statement but will bring services together who will work with the family to agree a plan that reflects the ambitions for their child from early years to adulthood. This will be regularly reviewed. The aim is to make the system quicker and to reduce the number of assessments that disabled children have to experience. This sounds a positive move. However, my biggest concern is how are they gong to bring the different services together and who will take the lead and coordinate this. As many of us families have experienced, we often feel like a ball being tossed from service to service with no overall co-ordination which can be frustrating and stressful. Unfortunately whilst I was at the meeting, I was informed by a senior council official that it will not be mandatory for services to commit to this plan so it rather undermines the whole idea of an eduction, health and care plan doesn’t it?
Parental control – it is also proposed that local authorities and other services will set out a local offer of services available to support children who are disabled or who have SEN. It will set out what is available in schools to help children wih lower level SEN as well as other forms of support for those families who need additional help. By 2014 there will also be the option of a personal budget for all families wth children who have a statement of SEN or the new Education, Health and Care plan. Key workers will be trained to advise families and help them to navigate what is available in health, education and social care. I agree with the option of a budget thereby introducing more transparency over funding. However, will the budgets have the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the SEN or disabled child . The other issue is how do we match up or organise budgets with resources. As I have experienced, there are few services available for my autistic children and those that are available are often under-resourced or with long waiting lists such as CAMHS, occupational therapy or speech and language therapy.
Parental choice - the government wants to give parents a real choice of school, whether mainstream or special by improving the range and diversity of schools. They argue that parents of statemented children will be able to express a preference for any state-funded school and have that preference met unless it would not meet the needs of the child, be incompatible with the efficient education of other children or be an inefficient use of resources. No change there then. Yet again this sounds like political rhetoric, promising choice to parents when in reality there is currenly little to choose from, whether your have a child with SEN or not. Indeed in some localities like mine there is insufficient specialist provision and for those children identified with SEN/disability later in their education and where parents seek specialist education they are forced to go outside the borough. It is simply not good enough to bus kids all over the place which creates an unnecessary strain for that child. The point I make is that parental choice will remain limited until there is proper infrastructure including the provision of special schools.
As you can see I am uncertain about the Government’s proposals and slightly cynical that the Government’s intention to reduce the number of children with SEN will be seen as a cost cutting exercise in the background of governmental cuts. Aside from this, there are other vague areas which require greater detail and explanation before I feel confident with the suggestions put forward.
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You have until 30th June to add your comments.