Updated SEN rules may cut red tape

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Charities hope families and teachers fighting to get more support for children with special educational needs will be freed from a "bureaucratic nightmare" when rules on funding are updated.

Charities hope families and teachers fighting to get more support for children with special educational needs will be freed from a "bureaucratic nightmare" when rules on funding are updated.

Decisions on who should fund pupils with special needs sent to school outside the area where they live should become clearer when the rules change. All costs will become the legal responsibility of the council where pupils live.

A government consultation on the plans to update legislation has been welcomed by agencies that support SEN pupils. They say the changes should stop long-running disputes between local authorities that prevent children from getting the help they need.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, the special educational needs body, said many families were caught in the middle as councils argued about costs.

"Hopefully, these changes will mean children looked after or educated outside of their local authority area will still be able to access the same help as other pupils," she said.

"The big issue with looked-after children at the moment is that they are the lowest-achieving cohort. This (change) could mean they get the resources they need and their families are not stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare."

Current rules, known as "belonging regulations", say that if a child is educated or looked after outside the local authority area where they live, the home council is liable for costs and is responsible for identifying special needs and drawing up a statement. There will now be clarity in that the cost of SEN provision and providing statements can be recouped by the educating authority from the home authority.

The review was partly prompted by a court case to decide who was responsible for a child placed in Staffordshire by officials from the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The judge said young people "belong" to the local authority area which looks after them, in all cases.

He also said the regulations have a wider remit than just financial responsibility, especially when a child has special needs.

Charities have also welcomed another report released this week in which the Government emphasises its commitment to helping young people with learning disabilities to succeed in life.

Valuing People Now, a three-year strategy announced by the Department of Health, says schemes will continue to run in local areas to help young people progress from childhood to adulthood. This spring, ministers hope to announce that they have secured more employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

The report says families will be able to become more involved in the lives of those who are disabled and recommends a "personalised" approach to their care.

Keith Smith, chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, said: "The emphasis on making it happen for everyone is really positive. This includes people with complex needs, people whose behaviour challenges services, people from black and ethnic minority groups, people on the autistic spectrum and offenders.

"If we can get it right for these groups, then we will be well on the way to improving the lives of all people with learning disabilities."

Barbara McIntosh, co-director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, said: "We need to make sure Valuing People Now does not fall by the wayside. People with learning disabilities don't need any more paper promises.

"It's worth remembering that the original Valuing People was greeted with much fanfare and included a delivery plan, but more than seven years later implemention is still very patchy."

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