Local authorities should be proactive in identifying and supporting children with SEN and disabilities, writes Erin Smart
It is interesting, though very concerning, that there is such a strong link between those pupils with SEN and disability and children in need. Half of children in need have SEN or disabilities and this means that, as a group, they require higher levels of support and early intervention to ensure they are accessing suitable education.
In my experience, families of children with SEN or disabilities are facing a constant battle in trying to ensure interventions, provision and access to suitable and appropriate education. These families are vulnerable, and with all the stress they are under, it is not realistic to keep this up indefinitely. Unfortunately, though, they must. It is this hostile relationship between the local authority and the parent that prevails and causes endless problems, often due to the authority being unable or unwilling to recognise parental concerns.
In my view, however, the authority should be proactive in their identification of children with SEN and disabilities and should be embracing their duty to provide for children. This would mean a joined-up approach and a clear production of evidence to identify the child’s needs, which would then ensure appropriate access to education.
No need to fight
Ultimately, it is the local authority’s responsibility to support these children, and parents shouldn’t have to fight with the authority to remind them of this duty.
When faced with such an atmosphere of confrontation and defensiveness, parents lose faith in the local authority and this often echoes through their child’s entire education, making it impossible to work together for the common aim of educational access and inclusion.
The quality of plans – or lack thereof – is another concern for parents, and authorities must now focus on improving these. I have not seen a single plan which does not require further amendment. I find that parents only become increasingly frustrated as local authorities do not give proper consideration to the parental views or professional evidence, despite legislation specifying that the parental voice must be taken into account.
The local authority only needs to provide suitable education, not the best, for children with SEN. This is often used as an argument against inefficient use of resources; the best education, as with everything, costs more money.
Parents, however, are constantly being told that the aim is for every child to be able to “do their best” and “fulfil their potential”. Whilst this is every parent’s aim and is obviously an ideal ambition, it over simplifies the legal stance and confuses parents time and time again. This only adds fuel to the parental view that the authority is not doing enough.
Therefore, more needs to be done to make sure that maintained schools are supported to be able to be the best and ensure children have all the support they need available to them. This means specific and quantified education health and care (EHC) plans, funding for therapy provision and one-to-one support as needed and identified by professionals.
Erin Smart is a solicitor at national law firm Moore Blatch. She specialises in supporting parents with appeals to the SEND Tribunal: