A map for the maze?
The Government's drive to inclusion depends on parents and teachers having confidence that it can work for their children. If parents lose faith in the system, the number of refugees from mainstream into special schools could increase. The Special Educational Consortium, a coalition of 300 individuals and organisations, fear that the Government's revised draft Code of Practice for special educational needs could undermine parents' belief that mainstream schools can provide for their child.
The code proposes that statements will no longer be "specific, detailed and quantified". The consortium is concerned that this could mean parents, teachers and even Office for Standards in Education inspectors would not know whether provision is being made. It is often specific support detailed in a child's statement that gives parents confidence that a mainstream placement can work. Parent Bob Dowd says: "Parents want to know exactly how their child's needs will be met at school. They don't want to risk their child's education."
The revised code also proposes that money for statemented provision should be delegated to schools and, in order to give greater flexibility, should not be earmarked within the school's budget. While the consortium is in favour of the proposals for delegated budgets, it is vital that it is transparent how this money is spent to ensure children with disabilities and special needs get the support they need.
There are positive examples of how flexibility can be introduced at early stages of the code. A successful example can be seen in Bristol, where money passes directly to the school, for children who might normally qualify for a statement, at stage three of the code. Feedback from parents has shown the success of this flexible approach, which leaves recourse to a statement for those for whom flexibility has not worked. One parent explains: "I knew exactly what was happenin and she's now got extra help. We didn't have to wait for a statement."
The draft revised code is as notable for what is missing as it is for what is included. Some of the detail of the current code is promised to appear in good practice guidance to be published at a later date. While it is helpful to have additional guidance, what remains in the code must clearly explain statutory duties.
The DFEE proposes regulations about the allocation of special needs resources to schools and local education authorities, but the code offers no guidance. Parents who are worried about their child's lack of progress and ask the school for additional help face a difficult maze. The school tells the parent that the education authority has the money to provide the help, but the LEA refers the parent back, saying that the money has been delegated to the school. The code needs to include guidance on all statutory duties. Schools, teachers, parents, OFSTED and the SEN Tribunal need one document that clearly sets out statutory duties.
However, further guidance will be needed next year following the introduction of the SEN and Disability Rights in Education Bill. This could leave schools in the position of having to consider which guidance to follow, which could be a recipe for confusion. The consortium has a diverse membership which is in agreement that significant changes are needed to the code if it is going to receive an unequivocal welcome. As Lindsay Brewis from Scope says: "While we welcome an improved code, we would rather see a good code in line with the proposed new special educational needs Disability Rights legislation than rush it through at this stage." The consortium is concerned that an over-hasty introduction of a new code could mean parents and teachers lose confidence in the Government's agenda for inclusion.
Philippa Stobbs is policy officer of the Special Educational Consortium, which protects the interests of children during the passage of legislation that may affect them. Tel: 020 7843 6318