Plan for more special needs choice

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Ministers are considering how to ensure parents can send their child with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities to their preferred educational setting – whether that is a mainstream school, special school or an academy.

The plans,outlined by Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, calls on parents, charities, teachers and LAs to contribute to the Government’s SEN Green Paper, which is to be published in the autumn.

A fifth of school age children have some form of SEN, ranging from physical disabilities to emotional problems. About 3% of children have severe special needs and are assessed by their local authorities and then given "statements" of their needs.

Disability and special needs charities have argued for a long time that parents face long and difficult battles to have their children's needs documented and provided for adequately.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said: "Children with special educational needs and disabilities should have the same opportunities as other children, but the current system is so adversarial that too often this doesn’t happen.

"I want parents, teachers, charities, teaching unions and local authorities to come forward with the changes they think are needed to make the system better for children with SEN and their families.

"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.

"I want to look at every aspect of SEN – from assessment and identification to funding and education. We need to strip away the cumbersome bureaucracy but ensure there is a better, more comprehensive service for families."

Ministers are considering a range of options, including how to:

  • give parents a choice of educational settings that can meet their child’s needs
  • transform funding for children with SEN and disabilities and their families, making the system more transparent and cost-effective while maintaining a high quality of service
  • prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and involve parents in any decisions about the future of special schools
  • support young people with SEN and disabilities post-16 to help them succeed after education
  • improve diagnosis and assessment to identify children with additional needs earlier.

To support fundamental changes to the SEN and disability system, ministers are looking at how to identify children’s needs earlier, develop fairer and more transparent funding arrangements, and streamline assessments to make life easier for parents and families.

Ministers are seeking a wide range of views to help them develop proposals for consultation that are practical to implement, reduce bureaucracy and build on current effective practice as well as make the most of the available funds.

Speaking earlier this year, Nansi Ellis, Head of Education Policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "We are pleased the government is giving careful thought to the education of pupils with SEN and disabilities, and will consider the outcomes of previous work. But it is not clear how this review links with the government's policy to fast-track outstanding schools into becoming academies.

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