The SEN Code of Practice, introduced in 1993, was intended to formalise and make transparent the in-school arrangements for identifying pupils with special education needs and the provision for them. Essentially a document supporting inclusive education, it should have been a vital vehicle for the allocation of scarce resources.
The principle underpinning the operation of the Code was a staged process of intervention to remediate special needs at an early stage. For the LEA with a statutory obligation to make proper provision for SEN, the introduction of the Code appeared to be a sensible mechanism for alleviating the considerable financial and moral pressure they continually faced.
In fact the reverse has been true. As a result of the Code the expectations of parents and schools have been raised. Indeed the broadening of the definition of special needs to include a wider range of learning difficulties has arguably coincided with the existence of the Code.
This has inevitably led to more pressure on the system, not less. More significantly, however, schools have made use of the Code as a guaranteed way o getting still more resources from the LEA to supplement their own provision. More pupils are being progressed through the staged process by schools to the formal statementing stage, which rightly brings with it extra funding.
From the LEA perspective this is a double whammy - not only do extra resources need to be found to fulfil the obligation to meet special needs, the statementing process itself is a costly and time-consuming business. Together with more parents exercising their right to formal assessment or appealing to SEN Tribunal, this places an even greater administrative burden on the LEA. The net effect of increased demand is that the 2 per cent of the school population considered by Warnock to be in need of special attention has now risen to an average of 2.9 per cent - more children requiring more resources: in one LEA alone, a massive 73 per cent more, costing pound;7million over the past three years.
Although, more positively, the Code has resulted in LEAs working more closely in partnership with parents and governors, the question remains whether they can continue to meet the raised expectations.
Jane Martin is education officer, Dudley LEA. The views expressed are her own