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Parental Rights - Personal budgets wrest control from LAs

Parents will be given funding so they can have "greater control" over the services given to their child, under proposals outlined by the Government.

The details of the personal budget are yet to be announced, but the aim is to re-allocate some of the money that goes to local authorities and give it directly to parents who can then choose how it is spent.

This may include funding for specialist equipment, language support or physiotherapy. It is not designed to contribute to independent school fees.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, has called for "very clear guidance" on how the personal budgets will work.

"What will happen if the child's provision costs more than the budget allocated to parents? What about transport costs?" she said. "There will be a need to consider local provision and its ability to meet the needs of the children it serves. This could become more difficult with the growth of academies and free schools."

Christopher Robertson, lecturer in inclusive and special education at Birmingham University, said that a "quasi market" approach to SEN promoted by the Government could prove "problematic" if less funding was available. "It is also difficult to see how a coherent system of provision can be developed and sustained if there is a free-for-all," he said.

"I can (fore)see children travelling for miles each day to attend provision deemed to be right by their parents or carers. In a climate of cuts surely more, not less, systematic planning is required at local, regional and national levels."

Artemi Sakellariadis, director of the Campaign for Studies on Inclusive Education, said the proposals will not give a "real choice" to parents.

"If the full spectrum of provision is to become available for all parents to choose from, the capacity of mainstream schools to respond to the full diversity of learners has to increase," she said.

The green paper also proposes to compell parents to go to mediation if they disagree with a local authority decision about SEN support in a bid to cut down on legal action. Campaigners have warned that families could be put under pressure to settle cases and accept decisions they are unhappy with.

Meanwhile, schools will only have to publish "core" information about their SEN services rather than the 17 different parts they are currently required to make public.

But new league tables showing the performance of special school pupils in detail will be published for the first time in order to make their teachers "more accountable".

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