SEN & Disability – the long and winding road

Today we're thrilled to bring you a guest article from Lorraine Petersen OBE, who was until recently, the chief executive of NASEN, The National Association for Special Educational Needs. She now runs her own education consultancy.

Lorraine has, of course, been very involved in the development of the SEN part of the Children & Families Bill and she writes exclusively for Special Needs Jungle today about her views of the forthcoming changes.


Lorraine Petersen
Lorraine Petersen OBE

The Children and Families Bill due to receive Royal Assent in March will introduce extensive reform of the provision available for all children and young people identified with SEND.

There will be a transitional period in which local authorities and schools, working with parents and young people, will have time to implement all the significant changes.

The implications of the Act are far–reaching and the full impact will probably not be seen for a number of years.

Local Offer

Every local authority is currently developing their local offer – those local authorities that have been Pathfinders will be much further down this road than others. It is my belief that every school should be producing their school offer – what is it that each individual school offers children and young people with SEND? This will give parents and carers a much clearer understanding of what individual schools are able to offer their child – the local offer may say we have a number of Autism Specialist teachers but if they are all based in schools in one area of a large local authority that is not helpful to a parent living in another area of that authority.

Education, Health and Care Plans

In January 2013 there were 229,390 pupils in England with statements of SEN. The Pathfinders have worked with a tiny percentage of these pupils and their families in developing the move from a statement to an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is a mammoth task especially at a time when local authorities are seeing a reduction in their key personnel. Currently we are expecting the transitional arrangements to be in place for three years. This is a long time for parents to be waiting for their child’s statement to be changed into an EHCP. It is also a considerable time for schools to have to manage a dual system – all new pupils from September 2014 will be issued with an EHCP whilst all existing statements will remain until their allotted review.

SEN Support

The single category of SEN Support will replace the current school action and school action plus. The draft Code of Practice (2013) indicated that schools should establish a graduated approach to supporting those children and young people they have identified as having a special educational need. The first step in responding to pupils who may have SEN is high quality teaching which has been differentiated to meet the needs of all pupils.

“Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class even where pupils access support from teaching assistants or specialist staff” section 6.5 draft Code of Practice (2013)

I have no problem with this. Every teacher should be delivering high quality education to every pupil every day. This means that our teachers must offer differentiated and personalised learning at all times.

The questions we need to ask:

  • Are our teachers trained to meet the needs of children identified with SEND as well as take on all the other challenges that they undertake on a daily basis?
  • Are our teachers trained to understand how children learn and therefore adapt their teaching to meet individual needs?
  • Do our schools place enough emphasis on continuing professional development for the whole workforce to ensure they can meet the needs of every individual, every day?

If we get high quality professional development in place, if teachers understand their role in the "Plan, Assess, Do, Review" graduated approach and if local authorities are very clear about what they expect a school to have delivered prior to seeking a statutory assessment, then the new system will support everyone.

I feel that without this emphasis on training both for initial teacher trainees and in-service we will not be able to deliver the aspirations of the single category – SEN Support. If we get it right then the majority of children and young people will have their needs met within the classroom. This will enable the school to concentrate their limited resources on those very vulnerable children and young people who need support beyond high quality teaching.


I believe it is time for SEND legislation to change, the needs of individual children and young people have become far more complex, curriculum and examination reform is soon to be embedded into schools and the educational landscape has changed with the growth of academies and free schools.

The needs of children and young people with SEND must be central to this. However, the other key element in all of this is the radical reform to the way schools are now funded. I am not sure that many parents understand the funding changes and I am sure that many of those working in schools do not really understand it either.

There is an expectation that schools must spend more of their school budget on supporting pupils with SEND. What is left centrally in the local authority is much reduced and is certainly not a bottom-less pot. Schools will have to engage with parents much more in the future and share with them what support is being offered to their child and the cost of this provision. More importantly, what is the impact and outcome of that additional support – if it is not improving progress then it may not be the most appropriate intervention and therefore not an effective use of funding.

We have been on the SEND journey since March 2011 when the Green Paper was launched. We still have a very rocky road to travel and it will take a number of years before we have got it right but if we work together there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and we will have a first-class educational system that supports all children and young people especially those with SEND.

Lorraine Petersen OBE
Educational Consultant

Special Needs Jungle
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  1. Annette Edmondson

    “it will take a number of years before we have got it right” – Yes, the years when my son is being failed miserably because school are more worried about their budget than helping my son. If the funding is not increased behind all this talk of ’empowering parents’ and ‘choice’ then it is not going to work and my son will spend his entire school years being failed.

  2. Debbie

    “The local offer may say we have a number of Autism Specialist teachers but if they are all based in schools in one area of a large local authority that is not helpful to a parent living in another area of that authority.”

    This sort of thing has been happening in my area for a while which has meant that those with SEN in a specific postcode have received support and resources above similarly affected pupils in other parts of town. The result? Those receiving that support have done well; those not accessing that support have either deteriorated and/or dropped out of school (my son became suicidal). Now I’ve heard that this particular postcode is having an additional resource centre for autistic pupils. As for my family, we can’t access this support. Its too far away, my child can’t cope with transport due to anxiety and sensory issues and I have no reliable means of getting there. Now I’m forced into home education.

    So much for equality of opportunity!!!

    1. Tracy Stephenson

      Very interested in Lorraine’s questions re need for quality training & professional development to ensure teachers & early years staff are able to meet the needs of all children with SEND.
      I am working as a Regional Consultant for the National Portage Association & we are currently involved in a DfE contract to deliver Portage training & support to the early years workforce across England to develop Portage practice & ensure that practitioners / teachers have the skills, knowledge & confidence to meet the individual needs of young children & their families.
      Would be very interested to hear what folks feel about access to Portage services in different areas & how the NPA may be able to help offer support, advice & training?

        1. Tracy Stephenson

          Hi Tania – I understand that you met my colleague Kerry Bailey recently & we are really excited that SNJ are interested in a Portage post. We are currently super busy working to develop a new portage hub to add to the NPA website & the project is beginning to gather speed, delivering training & Portage awareness workshops in new areas. We will be in touch re post asap!

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