Special Educational Needs Reforms – sorry, what?

You know us, we talk about the reforms to SEN currently going through parliament. A lot.

It's important stuff and if done properly, will revolutionise the experience of future generations of SEN children. And parents - i.e., you and us, are fully (in some areas) involved with the process.

pushchair[Cue screeching of Mclaren Major and wheelchair tyres...]

We'e sorry, what? What the heck are we talking about? You know, the SEN reforms! You know almost nothing? No way!

Yes way... And how do we know this? Because we ran a survey to find out. And not only was knowledge about the reforms much lower than it should be, but almost three-quarters of people answering were worried that the changes would mean their child would end up worse off, losing provision.

The results are in, and it would appear that the DfE and local authorities need to seriously address the issue of communication.

  • 90% of respondents were parents, the other 10% were either practitioners (7%) or parents who are also practitioners (3%).
  • 66% have a child who currently has a statement and 19% had children on School Action or School Action +
  • Of those who had a statement, 15% had to go to SEND tribunal to either get a statement or to get a statement fit for purpose.
  • 174 people responded to our survey (thank you). Of these respondents, 61% lived in Pathfinder areas. Our highest responses came from SE and NW England.

surveygraphic1One finding that we probably didn't need a survey to find out is that the cost of a Tribunal is high - both emotionally and financially. Especially when LAs often insist on purchasing extremely costly external legal representation. This is one of the reasons why parents welcomed the aspirational Green Paper way back in 2011.

So why, then, do only 10% of our respondents believe the Government is doing the right thing with the proposed changes and 45% of respondents believe this is not the right thing? Some replies:

"The government is working on the incorrect assumption that all schools care about SEN students"

"Rushing the Bill through before the Pathfinders have done their work is wrong"

"The new Bill does absolutely nothing to address the problem of inadequate resources or how to make LAs accountable"

Question: Is the Local Authority you live or work in a Pathfinder?

This was a real eye opener. Almost half - 48% - of all respondents did not know. Even more shocking, 41% of those who were in Pathfinder areas didn't know and 4% said they were not. So within Pathfinder areas, 45% of respondents did not know that their LA was a Pathfinder.

Question: Have you been involved in developing the SEN reforms in your area?

6% of all respondents had been involved extensively (this was slightly higher at 9% in Pathfinder areas). However, 67% of all respondents had received no information from their LA (via any method) about the SEN reforms, this was only slightly lower at 59% for those who lived or worked in Pathfinder areas.

  • 50% of all respondents knew very little or nothing at all about the SEN reforms - and this was the same in Pathfinder areas which is really concerning.
  • 72% are concerned that their child will lose provision under the proposed changes.
  • Only 8% are convinced that children and young people will have the same legal rights
  • Only 31% know where to go to find more information, 41% do not know where to find it within their own LA.

"I am shocked as to the number of teachers and parents who know nothing about this, especially SENCOs"

surveygraphic2The Local Offer

71% of respondents knew nothing, or very little, about the Local Offer - this was only slightly lower in Pathfinder area (66%).

We asked what people thought the Local Offer was and overwhelmingly, parents believed it was either just related to Short Breaks or cash related. Some responses:

"Set amount of money per child with SEN"

"An amount of cash held by the council for people with SEN within their area to be allocated as they see fit"

"This is to do with Short Breaks, like we had under Aiming High - what short breaks are on offer locally"

Only three people responded with any real accuracy: "A web based "mind map" of the journeys families take and how to access help along the line". Several people still presume there will be a resource directory - which was met with ridicule based on past experiences.

  • 71% did not know who would be able to access the Local Offer (67% in Pathfinder areas)
  • 42% were engaged with their local Parent Carer Forum (but many commented that they would now be contacting them to find out more)
  • 53% knew nothing (or very little) about the proposed EHCPs
  • Only 8% think the School-Based Category (to replace School Action/School Action+) is a good idea, but 51% admitted that they did not know enough to make an informed decision
  • 66% knew little or nothing about the offer of Personal Budgets (this was 67% in Pathfinder areas)
  • Over 50% were unsure about whether Personal Budgets were a good or bad idea.

"I think the idea is really good but there MUST be good LOCAL support for families, provided by people who know the area - not a national box-ticking company"


In the Green Paper, there was lots of mentions of Keyworkers for families and families were all delighted. However, once the draft Bill arrived along with the draft Code of Practice, Keyworkers became a good idea but not essential. We asked if families should be given the option of a Keyworker to support them through the process and should this offer be a requirement, rather than a recommendation and 76% said yes. In Pathfinder areas, this rose to 81% - and that speaks for itself.

We asked people to give general comments throughout the survey and I have chosen my particular favourite.

"What needed to change was LA/LEA/School accountability to parents and children so they delivered what they were supposed to deliver. The law in itself was good - it was just the power to enforce pre-tribunal that was weak"

It wasn't a huge survey but still, there is much to be taken from it regarding the views and level of awareness of parents. Some of the changes were needed (e.g. education to 25, not having to wait 26 weeks for a statement) but the biggest change needed is culture change and the proposed Bill does nothing to address this (even if Mr Timpson has spoken of its importance). If it ain't in the Bill, it means nothing.

So we would like to ask HOW will the DfE and Local Authorities ensure that parents, children and young people are involved and informed? This Bill is travelling fast so time is limited; they need to take action now.

Congratulations to the 5 winners of the e-book version of Tania's "Special Educational Needs, Getting Started with Statements." Emails with single use codes to download your book from Smashwords ebook hub will be landing in your inbox in the next few days.

Pie Charts: Marco Tirraoro (Financial Modeller & Business Partner Extraordinaire)

Debs Aspland
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  1. Very interesting results – thank you for sharing and putting the info together in the first place… just wish we all knew more as we all have enough to deal with in protecting our children and fighting for their futures!

  2. hilary

    this is frightening! So many are going to lose so much and they do not know this is going to happen and quickly. The bill is going to be LAW even before the pathfinders have finished their pilots so it tells you the government are going to do what they want anyway.

  3. Thanks for this. Fascinating. Shocking. But not surprising. It is what we have suspected, South Yorkshire not being a Pathfinder area. Which is why Paces – a parent-founded charity – is holding 2 seminars in Sheffield in September (http://bit.ly/124vEk0), the first, on 18th, especially for parents. We are really looking forward to welcoming you as a KeyNote speaker, Debs.

  4. Not sure you can really draw conclusions based on 174 responses to a survey. Although I do think that more needs to be done to engage and inform people through various avenues to ensure everyone is aware. This should include workshops for health visitors, GP’s, midwives, teachers, teaching assistants, paediatricians etc and then these practitioners should be sign posting parents and young people to relevant material.

    After all these are changes to the Law and ultimately I think it will mean an increase in tribunals because of better awareness of what support LA’s and the NHS should be giving to SEN and disabled children.

    I think that the SEN Code of Practice and the legislation that supports it should put your mind at rest. Are you involved with your Local Parent Forum? Do you feed back on the SEN Code of Practice?

    1. Hi Pierre, it’s always nice to have new readers. If you were a regular follower, you would realise that both Tania and I are co-chairs of two parent carer forums and very involved in pathfinder work. We also have also provided parent-friendly analysis on the COP and legislation – neither of which, unfortunately do much to reassure parents (or many practitioners).

      However, the post was never about our knowledge or our participation, it was to ascertain the knowledge of parents generally. The results merely show what our regular readers had been telling us.

      If you have any suggestions as to how parents become more informed and involved, that would be great as half of our respondents didn’t even know that PCFs existed – so we all need to do more about that too.

  5. Lex

    In response to Pierre on the Law, the changes actually make it harder to ‘enforce’ the child’s provision because of the reduction of the legal obligation and the change in legislation does not presently equate to that provided by correctly (fairly) written statements which give detailed outlines of what the child needs and will get or face judicial review.

    In my view one of many aims is to reduce tribunal cases; Google IPSEA on SEN changes. I live in a pathfinder area, the reforms were already being set up long before any pathfinder feedback and barely implementation (last summer in our area they were discussing it and they’d only just begun setting up pathfinder ‘piloting’) Rushing through the changes ignores the need to properly analyse and reflect upon how best to meet CYP’s needs.

    If that’s what it’s supposedly about ..

    There are two training talks / events in London, one locally by Brian Lamb the other by IPSEA, I hope helpful if you live in SE.

  6. Benedicte Symcox

    What’s far more worrying to me than parents not knowing about the reforms is that I know very very few professionals in the SEN world who know ANYTHING at all about them… that includes LEA staff (case officers and higher), ed psychs, behaviour support teachers, mainstream staff including Sencos have no clue, and even special school staff are woefully under informed.

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