The Government’s Children and Families Bill will bring in the biggest reforms to SEN for 30 years. The Bill has good intentions to involve young people in their own provision and to connect up education and healthcare professionals in searching for the right answer for a child. However, the reality of many of the changes is that the provision for children with dyslexia and other special educational needs will be weak.
Education, health and care plans
These are the first major change that will be brought in by the Bill. Education, health and care (EHC) plans will replace statements of special educational needs as an assessment of need for those with severe difficulties. The plans require local authorities and healthcare services to join-up their services and plan for the whole range of needs of the child. Healthcare services becoming more involved with the needs of children with SEN is a positive move. Those in the dyslexia world have been fighting for a long time for dyslexia to be recognised as a neurologically based, lifelong condition, not just an educational issue. It is vital for children’s GPs to be able to recognise the signs of dyslexia and signpost appropriately. Hopefully, EHC plans are a step towards this.
Another positive to EHC plans is that they cover a pupil with SEN from birth to 25 years. At present, statements only last until the age of 16. This means that those who need longer to complete their education or have to take time out from their education are covered for longer. This extension of support will also, it is to be hoped, help with the transitional period to sixth form and further education that many dyslexic people can find difficult. Higher education provision will continue to be covered by the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).
However, there are real concerns about the form of EHC plans. At the moment, statements have a prescribed form set out in the regulations. This is not currently the case for EHC plans. This means that each local authority can have its own system, which may lead to huge variations in how an EHC plan is obtained and what provision is outlined in it. Charities are also worried that the lack of regulations will make it very hard for them to advise parents and young people on the processes involved in EHC plans – for example, how to apply for them and what they will cover. This will leave parents and young people on their own to work through what is likely to be a very complicated system.
Unfortunately, very few dyslexic people will qualify for the EHC plans. This leaves a real concern about what provision will be available for dyslexic pupils, especially since the current cover for them under the School Action and School Action Plus system will be stopped.
The main provision in the legislation for those who do not qualify for EHC plans will be the “local offer”. The Bill requires local authorities to publish the provision available in their area and those services outside their area which they feel would benefit the children they are responsible for. This publication will be called the local offer. It is hoped that this will improve transparency and help parents and children to decide what provision they need. The increased empowerment of parents and pupils to choose the provision they need is a very positive measure. However, there is no mandatory requirement regarding what has to be in this offer. This may lead to a postcode lottery for resources. Furthermore, there does not appear to be any obligation for the local authorities to actually provide any of the services that are listed within the local offer. This is a real concern for dyslexic pupils because if this legislation is not strengthened, the provision they have access to may be severely reduced.
Identification and assessment
The Children and Families Bill puts responsibility on local authorities to make sure their services are geared towards identifying all the children in their area with SEN. It is extremely important that dyslexic children are identified early, as this enables them to be taught in the way that they learn and to develop coping strategies from the beginning of their schooling. This means that children are caught before they fall too far behind and start to lose confidence. In the long run, early identification also saves money, as less intensive interventions are necessary and all dyslexic people are then more able to contribute to society as they have the literacy and numeracy skills they need to get jobs.
A parent or young person retains the right to ask for a statutory assessment in order to receive an EHC plan, as they currently have with statements. This means that parents and pupils do not need the backing of their school to ask for an EHC plan. Young people will also be able to launch an appeal themselves against a local authority’s decision about their EHC plan. At the moment, only parents are able to do so. This is particularly welcome given that the plans will last until the age of 25, and many people may therefore want to represent themselves.
Sadly, the timelines that govern a local authority’s response to a request for a statement have been removed for EHC plans. At present, a local authority has two weeks from the statutory assessment to decide whether it will issue a statement, and to notify the parents of this decision. This is not in the draft regulations for the EHC plan. The only time limit is that a local authority has to issue a final plan within 20 weeks. This leaves parents and young people in limbo as it is not until the local authority has made a final decision that they can appeal. Gaining a statement for a dyslexic child at the moment is a long and difficult process. Making these decisions take longer will harm children who desperately need help. Dyslexic children who are put forward for an assessment are typically already around five years behind their age in terms of their reading skills. Time is of the essence to help them gain the skills they need. The Government’s Green Paper on SEN, Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability, from which the Children and Families Bill sprung, focused on trying to make support more timely for parents and young people. This seems to be being reversed by the Bill.
School Action and School Action Plus
School Action and School Action Plus have been removed in the new (draft) SEN Code of Practice. They will be replaced with a single category of Additional SEN Support (ASS) for all children needing SEN support who do not qualify for the EHC Plan. Additional SEN Support requires schools to ensure that parents and young people are fully consulted and that an agreement is reached with them regarding how the child’s needs will be met. It also requires there to be a review held at least once a term to judge the progress of the child. A plan should then be created that focuses on the outcomes that are expected and the support that will be provided. Parental and pupil involvement and regular reviews are vital in providing the correct support for dyslexic students, so it is good news that ASS will focus on this. However, the graduated approach that School Action and School Action Plus provided has been removed. The concern is that this will cause difficulties in receiving escalated support within a school. In addition, parents, local authorities and tribunal judges may struggle to determine if a school has responded to a child’s needs and provided increased support, information which is necessary to a statutory assessment for an EHC plan.
Furthermore, although the draft SEN Code of Practice recommends the provision of a plan within the school to implement support, this will no longer be an individual education plan (IEP) that parents have an automatic right to be shown. There are no rights written into the Bill for parents to see this plan or the reports written from reviews, although parents may be able to demand to see these under other legislation. The removal of IEPs will also reduce the consistency across schools.
The Children and Families Bill has the ethos of providing parents and young people with more information and more choice about the provision for their children. However, the Bill may, in reality, lead to reduced support for pupils with dyslexia. Campaigning is ongoing, by a wide range of parties, for amendments to be brought to the Bill to make it more in keeping with the original positive plans of the SEN Green Paper.
Dr Kate Saunders is the CEO of the charity the British Dyslexia Association:
Information on the Children and Families Bill and the new SEN Code of Practice can be found on the Department for Education website: