Today the news has been full of the government’s plans to reduce the numbers of children on the special educational needs register. Drawing on a report from Ofsted, some newspapers are claiming that many children don’t really have special needs and that the label has been abused by schools to cover poor teaching or to acquire more funding. It has also been suggested that a proportion of those with special needs have emotional and behavioural difficulties due to a poor home life. As a result it is reported that the government wants to redefine special needs to those more severely affected which could mean that nearly 500,000 children who are mildly affected will be evicted from the special needs register.
Though I am concerned for the children who are likely to loose their SEN label, I do agree with the idea of changing the SEN system because as I have experienced it is not working well in its current state. It is a hugely bureaucratic system that is adversarial and painstakingly slow at times. Even more frustrating is the lack of communication between different services so I am pleased with the idea of a single education, heath and care plan (that will be replacing the current statement of SEN). I’m also pleased that there will be a right to educational support up to the age of 25 in further education. However, after talking with representatives from the post 16 sector I am doubtful that there is sufficient college provision for young disabled people, certainly at the moment. The option of managing our own budgets also sounds a good idea but in practice will it work if there are cuts to the services that parents will want to buy into for their children. I can just envisage long waiting lists and parental frustration at the lack of therapies and other forms of support. I can also imagine a new breed of parent emerging, one that is not only an advocate for their child but a mini accountant as well. A full time job without the pay!
However, my biggest concern is how those with milder special educational needs will be supported, children like my aspergers daughter who are outwardly bright but whose hidden difficulties make learning very difficult. Contrary to reports, it is not easy to get a child identified as having special educational needs or diagnosed with a hidden disabilty such as autism or aspergers. In my experience, schools can be reluctant to place a child on the SEN register (school action, school action plus) and even more resistant to applying for a statement of SEN. And as I have experienced, until you get your child’s difficulties recognised, it is easy to be subjected to blame for your child’s behaviour and for your child’s needs to be totally overlooked. As a result, I have to question Ofsted’s suggestion that the SEN label is routinely being abused by schools. In my experience and from talking to many other parents it seems that many children with SEN are under identified.
The removal of the graduated approach (school action, school action plus) and the focus on a single SEN category worries me in particular. For those who are currently on school action and school action plus they are unlikely to meet the criteria for the single EHC plan in which case what will happen to these pupils when the graduated approach goes? It also raises questions as to whether future pupils with milder special educational needs will be picked up early enough and provided with the right support? The government have mentioned improving the training of teaching staff but will that be enough?
I believe children like my aspergers daughter need more than a well-trained teacher. They may need small group teaching or one to one support and an environment were sensory stimuli are managed and where there is significant social and emotional support. Can a class teacher of 30 or more pupils cater for such individual and diverse needs? I doubt it. Without the funding to employ additional staff and services, I am not convinced that pupils with milder SEN will be supported adequately enough which brings me to the hub of the problem: funding or the lack of it.
I can’t help but think that Sarah Teather has missed a fantastic opportunity to improve the lives of families like mine. It seems that the proposals have not been thought through enough and I can’t help but wonder whether the government has used the SEN reform as a cost cutting exercise. But there again it’s a tory-led government; what do we expect from a bunch of elitest, wealthy people who have no idea of what it is like to live our lives.
You may also like to read my previous post on the SEN green paper – http://www.aspieinthefamily.com/2011/06/sen-green-paper-my-thoughts/
For more informtion on the SEN reform:
Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability – progress and next steps – http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/sen/a0075339/sengreenpaper
IPSEA’s initial views on the Government’s SEN Green Paper Response – http://www.ipsea.org.uk/Apps/Content/News/?id=450
BBC – Special needs budgets to be controlled by parents – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18061348