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New proposals for special education needs

The Government has this month, announced the biggest reform of Special Educational Needs (SEN) for 30 years. Following an Ofsted Report in 2010, the new proposals will hand back power to parents of such children and hopefully ensure that there is more clarity as to who is responsible for providing much needed resources.

The Ofsted Report published on 14th September 2010 found that many pupils would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving their own teaching methods. It was also found that many schools were not providing adequate support and that expectations of such children were far too low.

Part of the recommendations were to ensure that the quality of assessments as to SEN were improved and that any support given was effective. In addition, it was deemed important that those providing services were accountable for their actions and that legislation be simplified to allow parents and schools to function appropriately in the best interests of the children concerned.

The Government launched a Consultation on the issue and received 2,400 formal responses giving support for the proposed reforms. The proposals will now become law following reports in Summer and Autumn 2012, and a final report in 2013.

The new proposals aim to:

  • Simplify the assessment process (making it from birth to 25 years) giving parents a legal right to control the funding received for the support of their child
  • Replace the existing system of statements with a combined education, health and care plan
  • Ensure increased co-operation between schools, local authorities and health authorities
  • Change the current culture to ensure schools focus on improving the achievements of those with SEN
  • Provide greater transparency on the support available to those with SEN
  • Provide a greater choice of schools and state academies for parents
  • Launch an internships trial to help those between the ages of 16 and 25 get into employment
  • Narrow the scope to avoid children wrongly being labelled as having SEN.

21% of School children currently have SEN, and the Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather has said that “the current system is outdated and not fit for purpose.” It is clear from the concerns raised by Ofsted in 2010 that there was a lot of confusion in the way that services were being provided with parents struggling to find accountability for inactions or a general lack of progress. There also seems to have been a culture of resignation in some schools that those with SEN would not succeed in any event.

By focusing on teacher training and a cohesion between all authorities, the new proposals should ensure that the rights of children are put first. Simplifying the process should also make it easier for parents to ensure that the needs of their child are met with a clear idea as to who is responsible for any failure in this regard.

What remains to be seen however is whether the decision to narrow the scope of the SEN category will mean that some children who require support will be left without it. This is certainly the view of many teachers with some seeing it as a way of cutting costs.

It is also to be seen exactly how parents will be given assistance in managing their budgets and how this system is to work, in particular whether there will be checks and balances to ensure that the interests of the child remain paramount to any decisions made by their parents, and to what degree will the local health authorities and schools have a say. It is undoubtedly a huge responsibility and parents should not be left alone to make such important choices.

The overhaul in training of teaching staff may well ensure that those with SEN are correctly identified but it will need to be well managed to avoid children with minor SEN slipping through the net altogether. An appeals process for such categorisation will need to be established and schools will need to make sure that suitable processes are in place to ensure adequate support is provided.

Additionally, with the amalgamation of various authorities, the potential for crossover is clear with educational issues being dealt with by health professionals who are evidentially unqualified to do so. The interests of the child must remain the major focus and parents must be given support where necessary. There is still a long way to go before the new system is operational and schools will await the further reports to see how the proposals progress. They are currently being trialled in some pathfinders and feedback obtained will assist further.

© RadcliffesLeBrasseur


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