Charities, private companies and schools should take over the running of special educational needs services from local councils in a radical shake-up of provision, a think-tank close to the Government has proposed.
Parents should also play a vital role in deciding how the #163;5.2 billion a year spent on children with educational problems is allocated, according to a Policy Exchange report published today.
Along with charities and teachers, parents would run "regional partnerships" to organise SEN provision across an entire area, the think-tank says.
Children's minister Sarah Teather is set to announce an increased role for parents in the SEN system and more local decision-making in a green paper due to be published by the end of the year.
The Policy Exchange report also suggests that SEN funding should only be made available to pupils with the most severe needs.
Other children should get support through the pupil premium in a bid to remove any incentives for teachers to diagnose SEN wrongly. "By removing this (monetary) link schools will be incentivised to identify the real issues, and deal with them effectively," the report claims.
Under the current system, local authorities are unable to commission services properly for children with the most severe needs.
This results in them being sent to private schools a long way from their home at significant cost to the public purse, it says.
Establishing regional partnerships and allowing other companies, schools and charities to bid for SEN contracts would "drive up performance as well as introducing a further mechanism of accountability for parents", according to the report.
"Other potential providers could bid to run high-cost services in their local area. These providers may well be private companies, charities or even schools, clustersfederations of schools or academy chains."
Inspections of providers could be triggered if they were "deemed to be ineffective, failing to deliver choice or failing to respond to parental demand," the report adds.
But Claire Dorer, chief executive of the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools, said local authorities "should stay at the heart of decision making".
"There were lots of examples of success with regional planning and it did help local authorities work efficiently," she said.
"But you need funding to go with this sort of arrangement, and you can't leave it to local authorities to choose to work together - especially at a time when so many people who run SEN services are fighting for their jobs."
Lynn Greenwold, chair of the Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties, said: "We are in favour of better support locally for SEN, but we are already seeing services being decimated because of budget cuts."
Parents, power and pupils
- Allow different providers to bid to run local SEN services.
- Enable parents to play a key role in deciding who runs services and holding them to account for the quality of their performance.
- SEN schools should not be excluded from the free schools policy.
- Training for SEN teachers needs to be 'drastically' improved.
- Establish national assessment criteria to ensure all pupils with similar conditions receive the same help.
- Government should publish updates on how well SEN pupils are doing so local regional variations can be ironed out.
SEN: Reforming Provision in English schools. Policy Exchange.