Pupil special needs statements to be scrapped: BBC News, 9 March 2011

From BBC News, 9 March 2011 (story by Hannah Richardson, BBC News education reporter).

Ministers are due to unveil a major shake-up of special educational needs (SEN) support in England’s schools.

Under the proposals, education and health care plans are set to replace statements, which detail the support children with the severest level of need can expect.

The plans would be drawn up after a single assessment, rather than the numerous checks children now undergo.

A green paper detailing the proposals is due to be published on Wednesday.

The SEN system is one of the most controversial areas of England’s education system. In 2006 a Commons education committee labelled it “not fit for purpose”.

Currently, children who have a severe, multiple health or learning need or disability are supposed to be assessed by their local authority for the support that they need at school.

‘More mediation’
A statement of special educational needs is then drawn up. This relates to about 2.7% of children in England. A further 21% have a lower level of SEN which is supported directly by the school.

But parents and special needs campaigners claim councils can be unwilling to “statement” pupils, because of the legal entitlement and possible extra costs that it brings. Many face a long fight to get to the stage where a statement is drawn up.

And although statements are supposed to have regard to health needs there can be problems getting access to the services required because they are funded separately.

The whole process can lead to numerous assessments by different agencies involved with the child, such as the school, health and social services. The Council for Disabled Children estimates that a disabled child experiences 32 different assessments on average.

It can also mean delays in children getting the support that they need to learn effectively and a huge amount of stress for parents who are left to fight for what they believe their child is entitled to.

A possible new single assessment system, and accompanying education and health care plan, is to be piloted in 25 local authorities to try out how to get all the services working with the child working together.

‘Conflict of interest’
It is envisaged that instead of a child undergoing many separate assessments on separate days, everyone involved would meet together at the same time.

There have also been complaints that the organisation carrying out the assessment, the local authority, is the one who pays for the support it sets out.

“At the moment we know that parents’ confidence in the system is seriously undermined by that perceived conflict of interest,” a Department for Education spokesman said.

So ministers will also look at involving state-funded voluntary groups in co-ordinating the support packages families need.

This might mean a deaf children’s charity co-ordinating the package of need for a child who has hearing problems, for example.

More mediation will be encouraged for cases where parents and local authorities cannot agree on the support for a child, in a bid to reduce the adversarial nature of the system.

There are also plans to give children personal budgets so that their parents can control how the funding allocated to them can be spent.

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