Green Paper shakes up SEN

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Children's Minister Sarah Teather.

Statements of SEN replaced by joint education, care and health plans
More choice and budgetary control for parents
Critics fear cuts undermine laudable aims

The Government has proposed what it calls the “biggest reforms to special educational needs in 30 years” with the publication of its Green Paper on SEN: Support and Aspiration: A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability.

The Green Paper, led by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, the Children’s Minister, calls time on statements of SEN which will be replaced by a single assessment process leading to a combined education, health and care plan running from birth to the age of 25. Professionals from education, health and social services will be charged with working together to carry out assessments and formulate plans.

“We have heard time and time again,” said Ms Teather, “that parents are frustrated with endless delays to getting the help their child needs, and by being caught in the middle when local services don’t work together.

Under the new proposals, parents are to have more involvement in their child’s assessment and are promised a greater role in determining which school their child goes to. From 2014, parents will also have a legal right giving them access to their own budgets and control of funding support for their child. In addition, parents and community groups are to be empowered to set up special “free” schools.

In line with earlier Coalition initiatives to weaken local authority (LA) influence over education, the Green Paper seeks to “inject greater independence” from LAs in assessments by looking at the role charities and voluntary groups might play in coordinating support packages.

The Green Paper also calls for earlier identification of SEN which, it says, would lead to earlier intervention and support where it is needed. Additionally, School Action and School Action Plus systems are to be scrapped and the training and development of teachers is to be overhauled to take more account of children with SEN.

Many of the main aims of the Green Paper have received widespread support, with commentators from across the political spectrum and the charity sector welcoming the proposals to join up health, education and social care. However, many critics have questioned how the Coalition’s proposals will be put into practice, particularly against a backdrop of ongoing Government funding cuts.

Writing in SEN Magazine, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham, claims that “The noble aims of this Green Paper will be harder to deliver because of the choices this Tory-led Government has made over the last ten months.” Mark Lever, of the National Autistic Society, is concerned that, following cuts to local authority budgets “the Government are setting their own plans for joint-working up to fail.”

While welcoming the “simplified assessment process”, Srabani Sen, of Contact a Family, said that “the Green Paper is not clear about where responsibility lies to ensure that a joined up package of support is delivered”.
Philip Parkin, General Secretary of teaching union Voice warned that “The fragmentation of the education service will make it increasingly difficult to operate a coherent programme for SEN”, while Laura Courtney, of the Every Disabled Child Matters Campaign, fears that plans will fail without a stronger link to social care support.
Worries also exist over the provision of specialist support, such as speech and language therapy, under the new system. It is not clear who will be expected to foot the bill for such interventions and providers may face a skills gap, as many qualified specialists are currently being made redundant in response to spending constraints.

The Government is inviting the views of all interested parties on the SEN Green Paper and the closing date for consultation is Thursday 30 June. A response form and a copy of the Green Paper can be downloaded from: www.education.gov.uk/consultations

The May/June issue of SEN Magazine (out during the last week in April) will include a special feature on the SEN Green Paper, with articles by Sarah Teather, Andy Burnham, Baroness Warnock, Mark Lever and Neville Brown.

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