New SEN assessment will fail without legal bind, teachers warn

15th July 2011 at 01:00
DfE is told health and education services will not co-operate unless plan is enforced

Radical changes to the system for supporting children with special educational needs (SEN) will fail unless they are enforced through legislation, teachers have warned.

A new education, health and care (EHC) plan, which will run from birth to the age of 25, is set to be introduced as part of the biggest shake-up of SEN arrangements for a generation.

The plan, which replaces the SEN statement, is designed to make sure doctors, teachers and social workers co-operate and to reduce the need for multiple assessments.

But without new laws compelling the different groups to work together the plan will be no different from SEN statements, organisations representing special schools have told the Department for Education.

The groups, which all support the aim of having a single assessment, made the warning as part of their official response to the consultation on the SEN changes, detailed in a green paper released in March.

Children's minister Sarah Teather has already admitted that introducing the reforms will not be easy. In May she told MPs on the education select committee the "very slow" and "deficient" NHS must improve, and she would depend on key "passionate" people to ensure her changes worked.

Representatives from the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-maintained Special Schools said they believed "strongly that legislation is required to enforce the co-operation of health services".

"Without this, arguably, the new assessment framework will be no different from and no more powerful than the existing system of statements. Currently, health and social care should co-operate with education, but in practice often do not. It is difficult to see exactly how this will change purely on the basis of co-operation," their response said.

The response from Nasen, formerly the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said: "This move to ensure continuity and consistency for young people and their families must be applauded. However, it will only be successful if legal duties apply across all three services: education, health and social care."

"The current statementing process already has the components for all three agencies but they are not always able to provide the required provision. A change to an EHC plan will have to be more binding than the current statement to ensure that all services commit the necessary resource."

In her response to the consultation, Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: "Questions must be raised about whether a single plan will secure improvements in practice."

She said issues with the way services are organised and how they operate "must be addressed" if the new EHC plans are to be effective.

"Critically, while the SEN green paper falls under the aegis of the DfE, other government departments, including the Department of Health, must be required to be jointly responsible for resolving the issue, given the multi-agency nature of effective provision for pupils with SEN."

The Association of School and College Leaders said: "Our members have noted that delays in the provision of medical advice can slow processes considerably and hope that it will be possible to improve this situation. Unless all services are subject to statutory requirements and timeframes the situation will not improve."

The Government's response will be published in the autumn term.

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