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End of SEN statements could result in 'bias' to physical needs

Major Government reforms to the system for supporting children with special educational needs (SEN) could lead to pupils' difficulties going undiagnosed, teachers have warned.

The scrapping of the long-established legal SEN statement could lead to under-identification of those with emotional or social problems and a "bias" towards those with physical or medical issues, according to new research.

The survey of 1,500 teachers in primary, secondary and special schools - commissioned by the NASUWT - shows concerns about the axing of school-based SEN assessment.

Children's minister Sarah Teather wants to end the current system of using "school action" and "school action plus" registers to choose which pupils need extra support.

Instead the statement will be replaced with a single education, care and health plan, according to plans set out in a green paper last month.

The survey of NASUWT members will be launched at its annual conference this weekend.

The current system is already more easily applied to children with physical or medical needs, according to the accompanying report by academics at Canterbury Christ Church University.

"A concern is that the green paper is written with a focus primarily on these forms of SEN and that the promised 'new single assessment process' will bias identification towards a medical model," it says.

"There is a risk that this could lead to the under-identification of children whose difficulties are caused by an interaction of emotional, social and cognitive factors."

Children in the school action and school action plus categories are more likely to have learning, behavioural and social difficulties, whereas children with physical or medical problems have statements. Ms Teather has said school-based assessment leads to "over-identification" of SEN.

Mary Henderson, secretary of independent special educational needs helpline SOS! SEN, said: "There is still a lot of detail missing from the proposals. Parents find the individual education plans very useful and like what they embody."

A DfE spokeswoman said: "The proposals in the green paper are about making sure every child gets the personalised support they need so they can reach their full potential. We are looking at replacing the complicated school action and school action plus system with one simple school-based SEN category to help teachers focus on raising the attainment of all pupils, whatever learning needs they have."

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