SEN legislation ‘built on quicksand'

Janaki Mahadevan
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Campaigners for disabled children have warned ministers that legislation aimed at simplifying processes for children with special educational needs (SEN) will falter because of widespread reductions in specialist support services.

Councils are cutting specialist education services. Image: NTI
Councils are cutting specialist education services. Image: NTI

The reforms were announced in the Queen’s Speech as part of the Families and Children Bill and include measures to replace SEN statements with a single assessment and education, health and care plan for children aged from birth to 25 from 2014.

Councils and health services will be required to jointly plan and commission the services that children, young people and families with SEN or disabilities need.

But Jo Campion, deputy director of policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said that the reality in many local areas is that councils have cut services that proposed reforms rely on.

“Despite the government’s good intentions in committing to simpler processes for children with special educational needs and extended legal protection for young people, we are concerned that ministers are building their strategy on quicksand,” she said.

“We know that councils across England are slashing the specialist educational services that are crucial to achieving these ambitions.

“More choice for families is a commendable aim, but it comes in stark contrast to the reality of councils across the country that are making cuts without consulting parents of deaf children.”

The Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) campaign group has also raised concerns that the education, health and care plan will only be available to children who need support in terms of education.

Srabani Sen, EDCM board member, said: “We are delighted that the government will introduce legislation that will create a legal requirement for joint commissioning between local authorities and health services.

“However, we are deeply concerned by plans to restrict access to a single assessment process and plan to children who currently receive a statement of special educational needs.

“We are concerned that this will leave many children with social care and health needs without support. We urge the government to provide more detail on plans, and to respond to similar concerns raised by families in response to SEN Green Paper.”

The Families and Children Bill will also increase powers afforded to the role of children’s commissioner for England following the government’s acceptance of the recommendation’s made by John Dunford into his review of the role in 2010.

Proposals include the Office of the Children’s Commissioner taking on the  functions of the children’s rights director.

Roger Morgan, the current children’s rights director, said: "I especially welcome the intention to underpin the functions of the current Office of the Children’s Rights Director in the legislation and work of the future Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. That is a vital endorsement of the work we have been doing for particularly vulnerable children.

“Until my present office moves into the new organisation, we will continue our work for children in care or living away from home, as we have always done, and we will work with government officials and our colleagues in the current Office of the Children’s Commissioner to build the new organisation."

Children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson said: “Future legislation that brings together the current Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director into a new single body will build on the current work of both organisations and ensure that all children, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society, are treated in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.”

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