Recent reforms mask an apparent apathy towards SEN in Parliament
When Parliament passed the new SEN and disability reforms as part of the Children and Families Act early this year, they were hailed as “the most fundamental reform to the system for SEN and disability for 30 years” and a “landmark moment” by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson.
And yet since then, there has been very little help, support or explanation on the new changes from the Government. Coupled with the attendance figures at recent Parliamentary debates on the new SEN reforms, this paints a different picture about MPs concerns of special needs education in this country.
In a debate on the new policy on the 16 July, there was minimal turnout from both sides of the House, with footage showing those few who were in attendance looking entirely disinterested, texting on their phones, and some even appearing to be asleep.
The following day, a discussion on educational provisions for autism saw just 11 MPs in the chamber.
When MPs are absent from the chambers, or look so disinterested and apathetic, it’s hard not to question whether they care about the plight of up to 20 per cent of our children who need extra help in schools. If this is such a fundamental reform, why aren’t more MPs showing they care and taking it seriously?
We all understand that MPs have very busy schedules and lots of important priorities, but this doesn’t give a very good impression to the millions of parents who have children with some form of SEN, or to the teachers who help guide these children through school.
Despite taking over four years to shepherd the final SEN legislation through, it now feels that parents and teachers have been somewhat abandoned by MPs, as the last minute rush to push legislation through has dispersed into relative silence on what the new policies mean in reality.
From all the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, there have been countless complaints by teaching unions, educational practitioners, local authorities and parents over a lack of information on the reforms and the mad dash to ensure requirements were in place by the start of the school year.
The final approved reforms weren’t published until the week after schools broke up for the summer holidays, so many parents had no idea about what the new changes would be until they returned in September, by which time, everything should have already been in place.
Teachers have been left scrambling to find out as much information as they can, amid reports that there simply aren’t enough qualified professionals to the meet the needs of the new reforms.
Not only are there not enough trained educational psychologists, for example, but there’s also confusion over which institution should be responsible for delivering the new provisions. And while MPs remain disinterested in the subject, it’s the children with SEN who will suffer.
Every child should have the right to a quality education, and whilst these new reforms may prove to be of huge benefit to them in the future, right now they are proving controversial and causing problems in their adoption.
It appears that MPs rushed through this legislation at the end of July so they could wash their hands of it over the summer. This has meant there has not really been a grace period for the new reforms, and no gradual introduction of the changes, which has undoubtedly caused teething problems, at the very least.
Parents are questioning the new status and provisions for their children, and teachers are still waiting for new guides to be written and published which will help explain all the changes and new procedures.
Meanwhile, it seems that MPs have returned to business as usual.
Rachel Collinson is Marketing Manager at LDA, which supplies SEN resources for schools and homes: