Parliament to Debate SEN Reforms

Children and Families Bill 2013

Back in December we reported in this blog on the government’s reforms to the SEN system. The draft provisions have now been revised and presented to Parliament as Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill. Some of the revisions are welcome but significant concerns remain.

Summary of reforms
• A requirement for local authorities to involve parents, children and young people at all stages
• A requirement for co-operation and joint commissioning across education, health and social care
• Local authorities must publish a ‘local offer’ of services for children and young people with SEN
• Statements to be replaced by a single Education, Health and Care Plan
• Extended age range 0-25

Welcome developments
Many of the points made by the Commons Education Committee as outlined in our previous blog post have been taken on board. We particularly welcome the following:
• The parental right to ask for an assessment has been reinstated.
• Where health or social care provision is made for educational reasons, it will be treated as special educational provision. This means that speech and language therapy can continue to be regarded as educational.
• The new Code of Practice will be published in draft and subject to consultation.
• Parents will be able to express a preference for an approved independent special school or specialist college.
• An EHCP will not automatically stop if a young person falls out of education or training.

Remaining concerns
There are still significant concerns about how these reforms will affect people with Down’s Syndrome and their families. We’d like to highlight three points:

Not a joined up system
Many children and young people with Down’s syndrome have health and social care needs as well as educational ones. However, despite the original promises, the reforms will not give us a joined up system with education, health and social care as equal partners. It is still far from clear how assessments and plans will work in practice. The legal duty to arrange educational provision in an Education, Health and Social Care Plan will not extend to health and social care. There will be no single means of appeal as the First-Tier Tribunal will only deal with education.

Young people over 16
It is very welcome that, unlike statements, EHCPs will continue once a young person leaves school for college. However these reforms are coming at the same time as a shake-up in the system of funding special needs in schools and colleges. We would like reassurances that there will be an adequate and fair distribution of funding to colleges in order to support our young people as they move into adulthood.

Local offer
The local offer as it stands does not have any minimum standards or enforceability. Unless this happens there is a danger it will be a mere signposting service. There should also be a single route of complaint instead of parents having to take things up with individual services. The requirement in the Bill for local authorities to publish comments on the local offer is not a substitute for proper accountability.

What next?
The second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons is scheduled for Monday 25 February. This includes a debate on the general principles of the Bill. The Bill will pass to Committee stage where it will be examined in detail clause by clause.

What can you do?
• Contact your MP and explain why it is important for them to attend the second reading debate.
• Comment on the Bill via the Public Reading section of the Parliament website by 26 February These comments will be collated for consideration by the Committee.