One question on many lips in the reform to the special educational needs system is, with the inclusion of health in an EHCP, where will speech and language provision end up?
As it stands at the moment, the Health part of an EHCP is not going to come attached to a statutory duty to provide and so if it ends up in the health part of a plan and isn't delivered, how will you appeal?
However, my friend and SEN barrister, Gulshanah Choudhuri, this week attended the Education Law Association's specialist SEN group meeting and asked this very question of Phil Snell, policy advisor for the DfE. Mr Snell was giving a presentation addressed to the members of ELA, followed by a question and answer session.
Gulshanah asked about her own daughter, who has Down's syndrome, and whether her speech therapy would go under the new health provision or remain under education. Mr Snell, in front of an audience of around fifty lawyers besides Gulshanah, assured her it would remain under education.
The pathfinders have now been extended until September 2014 - the same month it's planned to introduce the changes after the bill gets Royal Assent at Easter 2014. This has raised concerns that the legislation will be introduced before the trials on the reforms are complete.
The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is calling for the bill's introduction to be delayed, so that the pilots have more time to test the reforms. The charity is particularly concerned about how the new system will fully involve health professionals.
Quoted in Children and Young People Now, Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at NDCS, said: “We have been looking closely at the pilots and speaking to families with deaf children. The evidence we are getting back is that professionals in health are not getting involved.
“Some parents are telling us that at the joint plan meetings health professionals are simply not showing up. If these reforms are supposed to be radical then the legislation will need to be strengthened to place a legal duty on health agencies to get involved. Currently that is not there.”
NDCS is also worried that local cuts to education provision will mean less services and staff are available to support children with SEN as the reforms progress.
Mr Campion said: “The cuts are affecting professionals who are working with families in the pilot areas who are under threat of losing their jobs. How will the government be able to test these reforms if there’s no-one left to work with families?”
Contact a Family’s head of policy Una Summerson agreed that the government should take time to consider the evidence from the pilot areas before introducing changes to the law.
“This is an enormous change to the system that needs to be tested properly so we are pleased about the extension,” she said. “But we are concerned that the legislation will be introduced early next year before the government has been able to collect the evidence.”
There are also fears that children with speech and language difficulties could miss out on specialist support under the new system.
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) warned that the majority of children with speech, language and communication needs do not currently have a statement of SEN, and therefore may not be eligible for new single education, health and care plans.
But Christine Lenehan, director at the Council for Disabled Children, said the government is right to extend the pilot scheme due to the complexity of the reforms – despite other concerns about the changes.
“It is encouraging to see the government taking the pathfinder work seriously and giving them additional time to test out what works best in these complex areas,” she said.
Mr Timpson meanwhile said, “We want the best for children and young people who have special educational needs or who are disabled,” he said. “Our reforms will help children get support swiftly, make progress in school and then go on to live independently later in life.”
Source for the second half of this article is Children & Young People Now