'Creaking' special needs system faces overhaul

19th December 2008 at 00:00
Two inquiries will review the statementing process and parents' rights to information

The entire special educational needs system is under review, ministers have announced, with two separate inquiries and a scheme aimed at improving pupil statements of need on the way.

Ofsted is to look at SEN "across the piece" next year, in an about turn for a Government that had refused to take a "fresh look" at the system.

A separate review, looking at how to increase parental confidence in special needs, is also being broadened to look at why parents are not receiving the information to which they are legally entitled.

Next year up to 10 local authorities will use a share of Pounds 31 million to work with schools on how they apply the system. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said the pilots would "see how we can use the legal process, the statementing process, to really drive better outcomes".

Lindy Barclay, deputy head of Redbridge Community School in Southampton, was delighted to hear about the review: "I hope they listen to grassroots teachers about what inclusion is really like - the positive aspects, but also how the system is creaking because schools have more and more children that teachers are not trained to support."

Statements, which guarantee pupils levels of support, have become increasingly controversial as some authorities, concerned about the cost, seek to limit their use. A study last year revealed that the proportion of primary pupils with statements varied between 1 and 7 per cent, depending on the authority.

In 2006, the Commons' education committee called for guidance on statements to end the "postcode lottery", warning that the framework was "not fit for purpose". This followed pressure from teachers' unions, Ofsted and Baroness Warnock, the architect of the system.

But Alan Johnson, then education secretary, postponed reform until 2009, when he said Ofsted would examine progress since 2004.

Mr Balls has now revealed the review will have a wider remit and he appeared to suggest there could be less emphasis on statements. "We're going to ask Ofsted to look across the piece at the way in which SEN is working," he said. "What matters is whether the child succeeds. A statement is a step towards that. A statement in itself isn't the solution."

The review into parental confidence was also extended last week after Brian Lamb, chair of the Special Educational Consortium, revealed that some authorities and schools were breaking the law on providing information to parents.

The Government is to use another Pounds 7m to give school leaders SEN training, to support schools in assessing pupils' progress and to improve reporting to parents.

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