The Children and Families Act was aspirational. It set out to enable children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) to gain the best from adult life, through a coherent plan centred around the needs of the young person, stretching them to do their best and take an active part in adult life.
But as Ofsted’s Moving Forward? report shows, that dream has not yet been realised.
It didn’t help that the government brought in localism and high-needs funding reforms at same time. Local authorities, which were supposed to be deciding how education, social care and health departments would work together, instead spent valuable time trying to figure out how not to pay for provision and how to shift responsibility. As a result, the system became more fragmented and difficult to navigate.
Learners with education, health and social care needs must have their case presented at three different panel meetings to secure funding for a particular placement, leading to stress and worry for them and their families.
The best providers are those that integrate the work of different professionals. For example, where speech and language therapists work with teachers to improve young people’s ability to communicate and participate fully in lessons. Such collaboration accelerates learning and provides better value for money.
It is crucial that young people learn communication skills. It enables them to shape the way their care is delivered, guide their carers and report unwanted or abusive practice. If people with disabilities have the knowledge and confidence, they are better placed to safeguard themselves.
The same principle applies for any therapeutic and care service offered in specialist educational settings. If young people with complex disabilities know how to keep fit, then hospital admissions will be reduced. Specialised psychological support will reduce GP contact, psychiatric referrals and prescription charges.
For any of this to happen, however, parents and young people need to know what their options are. Again, Ofsted points out a lack of good information, advice and guidance – often it is inaccurate, incomplete and incomprehensible.
For many young people with disabilities, a website or brochure cannot replace a conversation with a trusted professional who understands the best provision for them.
This responsibility often falls to schools. Parents trust school staff to give the best possible advice. The report finds evidence that this doesn’t always happen. Schools often recommend the local provider they already have links with, rather than considering which option is most suitable.
Some schools appear to be actively pressured by local authorities to recommend provision that the local authority wants to make use of – not necessarily what is in the best interests of the young person. There is a reluctance to consider out-of-area placements, even if they are clearly the most appropriate option.
During a parents’ visit day at National Star College – the specialist facility for young people with disabilities in the Cotswolds where I work – one visitor sheepishly confessed: “Actually, I am not a parent, I am a deputy head. Please don’t tell my LA that I am here – they don’t want us to talk about you.”
For the aspirations of the Children and Families Act to be fulfilled, there must be a more honest approach to involving families, schools and young people in commissioning decisions. This needs to be facilitated by commissioners with aspirations for young people. It is not acceptable to be guided by the belief that if young people don’t know there is a better life, then they won’t want it.
Fiona Voysey is assistant principal at National Star College, which specialises in supporting young people with disabilities
This is an article from the 29 April edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here