Minister: legislation may be needed on 'complex' SEN

17th September 2010 at 01:00
Teather calls for choice and says parents shouldn't have to 'battle for everything'

The Government is willing to consider legislation in a bid to overhaul the "complex" special educational needs (SEN) system, the children's minister has said.

Last week, Sarah Teather called on parents, charities, teachers and town halls to give evidence that will feed into a green paper to be published in November with the aim of radically improving the entire SEN structure.

Speaking to The TES, Ms Teather said the SEN system needed to be more "transparent" and that legislation may well be required, depending on the paper's findings.

"Families feel they have to battle for everything," she said. "They feel they have to fight to get their child's needs recognised, not just addressed, and that must end.

"It's something both parties feel very strongly about. The prime minister has spoken about it, as he takes a personal interest in this area.

"Parents should be in control of their child's education and future. Importantly, they must be involved in discussions and decisions about the support they need rather than feel they have to battle the system. I want to make it easier for parents to choose where their child is educated."

At the heart of the reforms will be giving parents greater choice over where their child is educated, but the Lib Dem MP said she wants to look at every aspect of SEN, from assessment to funding.

The paper will look to overhaul the funding of the SEN system, making it more "cost-effective" while also maintaining a "high quality of service".

The Department for Education says it will put a halt to the "unnecessary" closure of special schools, while improving diagnosis and assessment to identify children's needs earlier.

The decision to hold the review has been broadly welcomed by SEN pressure groups, who see it as an opportunity to "get to grips" with the Government's intentions.

Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: "We obviously welcome the decision as it now gives us the chance to really get to the bottom of what is behind the Government's very odd policy commitment to reverse the bias towards inclusion. We are very keen to shine a very bright light on that."

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, believes more should be done to improve training.

"The previous government spent #163;5 billion in five years but most schools would ask where it has gone," she said. "There needs to be more professional development both at the initial teacher-training stage and in service.

"The national award for Sencos has had an unbelievable effect. It has given people the skills to think more strategically about SEN. It would be far more cost-effective targeting something like this than just putting money in."

Local solutions

Too many children being 'failed'

The new Government thinks too many children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities are being "failed" by services.

Ministers also want to review the SEN system to make sure it can cope with "limited resources" during a period of public spending cuts. They want to get the "best value" from the millions spent in recent years by the Labour government, as well as "greater transparency" for parents and for families to have a role as "partners in the system". There will be less bureaucracy, freeing professionals up to spend more time with children and families.

Ministers say they have high expectations of participation in society and the economy for young people with SEN and disabilities.

There will be more "local solutions", with schools and local authorities able to develop provision that makes the "best use of staff and specialist resources".

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