Seven ways to sort needs

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Statementing could be scrapped under new proposals, reports Nicola Porter

Legally-binding statements setting out individual entitlements for children with special educational needs could be scrapped in Wales under plans to shift the focus to schools.

Seven options for a radical overhaul of SEN provision - part of a major policy review by the Assembly government - were presented to Assembly members last week.

One of the most popular options involves giving clusters of schools ring-fenced funding for special needs, under a passport-type scheme.

Schools would be responsible for allocating resources according to the identified needs of pupils, based on continuous assessment, termly reviews and multi-agency monitoring.

The current statementing system has been criticised for being costly, bureaucratic and unfair. In January 2004, 3.3 per cent of Welsh children with the most specialised needs were awarded statements - too many according to key stakeholders. The proportion was expected to be 2 per cent when the system was set up.

Some have claimed that the children of "pushy and academic parents" are more likely to succeed after threatening legal action.

Mark Provis, a member of a task force set up by the Assembly to investigate the future of statements, said the passport model was attractive. Mr Provis, head of inclusion at Carmarthenshire council, outlined seven options for updating or scrapping statements (see box below) at a meeting of the education and lifelong learning committee.

In written evidence, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it wanted statements dropped in favour of a "record of entitlement" for children with significant difficulties in at least two areas of need (such as physical disability, or emotionalbehavioural problems). These would be enhanced by individual plans.

Dr Chris Llewellyn, the WLGA's head of education, said: "Fewer statements could result in resources being used to provide support on a whole-school basis."

But a spokesperson from the Special Needs Advisory Project Cymru, said:

"Services at mainstream school level need to improve dramatically - statements mean parents have a safeguard if they are unhappy."

Dr Alison Stroud, policy officer with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy in Wales, said provision should be left to health professionals, not courts. There is a severe shortage of trained therapists in Wales.

Emily Phillips, speech and language therapist at Ynysowen primary in Merthyr Tydfil, said she and her colleagues were desperate to spend more time in the classroom, but scarce resources made it impossible.

Options for change

1 Refine the current system, focusing on planning, monitoring and reviewing progress.

2 Statements for the most vulnerable 0.5 per cent of pupils, with ring-fenced funding.

3 Multi-agency passport.

4 LEAs monitor quality and impact of schools' SEN provision.

5 Schools take the lead, with SEN central to improvement plans.

6 A school-centred model based on targets and learning plans.

7 A hybrid approach.

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