SEN assessment period set to be cut by six weeks

1st April 2011 at 01:00

Plans have been unveiled to slash the time given to local authorities to assess children with special educational needs (SEN) and issue statements entitling them to extra support.

The time given to councils is to be cut from 26 weeks to 20 weeks under proposals outlined by children's minister Sarah Teather.

The longer-term plan of the Government, according to a green paper published last month, is to scrap statements and replace them with combined education, health and care plans, although it is expected that this will take at least three years.

In the meantime, pressure will be put on councils to complete SEN statements more quickly, despite pressure on services due to public spending cuts.

In the 200910 academic year, half of all local authorities failed to meet the 26-week time limit with all SEN statements, and only 67 out of 152 local authorities had a 100 per cent record. Nationally, 95 per cent of SEN assessments were completed on time, up from 91 per cent in the year before.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, formerly the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said she doubted whether the quicker deadlines would be met.

"I just don't see how it's going to happen, especially at a point when local authorities are losing lots of staff," she said. "Many councils are now only issuing statements to children with the most severe needs, and giving the money to schools instead for early identification."

Jonathan Farnhill, chief executive of the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, said: "Twenty-six weeks is a long time to wait for an assessment. If the system worked efficiently it would be easily achievable.

"But usually the delays are within local authorities. They simply don't have the capacity to complete assessments within the statutory time limit. I can't see how this will improve with cuts to the public sector."

Brahm Norwich, professor of SEN at Exeter University, said quicker assessments would not help to improve parental confidence in the SEN system.

"The Department for Education seems to assume assessment is a matter of just a clear-cut diagnosis, but in fact it usually involves taking time to solve a problem and finding a solution rather than just identifying it," he said.

Department for Education officials will be working with the Department of Health to speed up the length of time it takes to receive the health advice needed to finish a statement.

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