The draft SEN reform bill – some reactions

One to watch. And we are, oh yes we are.

So fare thee well, Miss Teather, just as the draft bill is published, you get the boot from your job. Hardly seems fair, really, when you've done so much of the legwork and now Mr Laws gets to step in to steer the ship home. This is Mr Laws, a man with a vast amount of experience with special needs children (actually, I have no idea - I'm just guessing they wouldn't put another person who hasn't had any actual children, let alone any with special needs, in charge of SEN reform. Sorry, what did you say? Oh. Well. They did. *shakes head ruefully*) I've seen him described as 'formidable'. What, compared to parents of SEN/D kids? Don't fancy his chances much, do you? *UPDATE NOTE: Neither did the government, because roles have since been shuffled and Edward Timpson MP will be in charge of the SEN bill, see this post for more**

Now, I'm not saying in order to do a good job steering any kind of reform you have to have had personal experience of whatever it is you're reforming, but when you're talking about something as sensitive as vulnerable children with disabilities and their families, if you have no direct experience, you can only ever sympathise rather than empathise, which is quite, quite different. See, we don't want your pity, we want you to feel our pain. Just a little bit, because, trust me - you won't forget it.

Same goes, I am quite sure, for adults with disabiltites who'd quite like the government to stop picking on them and cutting off their only viable means of financial support or taking away their Motability allowances, without which they couldn't even get to any job that would have them. Oi, you lot in the wheelchairs, why can't you propel yourselves around the Paralympic stadium as fast as David Weir? You wouldn't need Motability allowance then, would you?

As someone whose day job is for an international disability organisation, as well as having children with special needs, I really find the whole disability-bashing climate extremely offensive, disturbing and quite frightening particularly when it seems to have been started by our own government, unwittingly or not. I'm also not entirely sure the Paralympics has done a lot for the image of people with impairments who aren't quite as nimble as Oscar Pistorius. It just seems to have made certain sections of the public think, well if they can do it - why can't you? (Answer: because they're elite athletes, you muppets.)

But anyway, now I've made that clear, onto the draft bill. I promised my thoughts, but, again because of said job, I must apologise for I have let you down. I am currently preparing a two-hour social media workshop to help patient groups with limb differences make their voices heard online,  and so normal SNJ service isn't quite up to snuff. But, kind readers, I have managed to seek out the opinions of those who haven't been quite as distracted and I present them for you in a mini round up, here.

The very excellent Jane McConnell of IPSEA said,

“Now is the time to consider the system of support these draft provision are looking to create and assess whether they will improve and enhance those that are already in place for children, young people and their families across education, social care and health. It is time to be clear and transparent about what can and cannot be expected to be provided by any system. This needs to be a system that works for all children and young people – not just those that have parents to “police” and enforce it. We look forward to working closely with the Government to make the most of this opportunity.”

NASEN's Lorraine Peterson meanwhile said,

"We need to ensure that all the work that is currently taking place especially within the Pathfinders and the voluntary and community sector is not wasted and will support the final legislation as it passes through Parliament. We have a real opportunity to make sure that this legislation secures a better future for all children and young people."

I quite agree with this - there is a lot of work being done by many people at the grass roots level, not to mention much money being spent on it. It is to be hoped that (and this will be a mammoth task in itself) when all the pathfinders present all their results, that only the best ideas that work for children will make it into the final bill.

The NAS said,

"The draft legislation sets out provisions for statements to be replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP), which will extend statutory protections for children with SEN up to the age of 25 for those in further education.We believe that this will help improve transition for young people with autism. However, we are also working on the draft social care legislation to help improve transition into non-educational support."

They highlighted various points from the bill some of which are below:

  • Legal definition of special educational needs remains the same [My note: Not sure how this could be changed, anyway]
  • Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups must make arrangements for jointly commissioning services for children with SEN in their area [My note: Well, from what I've seen so far within the pathfinders - good luck with this, there is a LONG LONG way to go]
  • Local authorities must produce their ‘local offer’ of available education, health and care services
  • Education, Health and Care Plans (0 – 25) replace statements of SEN [My note: It is quite likely however that there will need to be several versions of an EHCP format, depending on the child/young person's age
  • All of the provisions of the Bill will apply to all schools including Academies and Free Schools [My note: And quite right too]
  • Local authorities must prepare personal budget in relation to an EHC plan where a request has been made by the parent or young person [My note: But no parents will be compelled to have one for their child]
  • Compulsory requirement for a parent or young person to participate in mediation before they can appeal to the Tribunal [My note: This can only benefit a parent who will then get a right to point out parts of their child's application that may have been conveniently overlooked or just plain ignored - however, many parents, if not all would most likely want or need a representative and/or their key worker to help them prepare and attend with them.
  • There will be a revised Code of Practice [My note: Well, duh, not just a revised CoP but a completely rewritten one, from start to finish. And who's going to do that? And when? Before the bill goes through parliament? At the same time? After?]

And this sparks another thought: Not only will there need to be a new Code of Practice, but every local authority will have to rewrite its graduated response documents and all its other SEN literature. There will, naturally, be a cost associated with this, and it will also take time - they can't write it before they know what the new laws are. Then there is the cost of retraining all those LA staff who think parents are money-grubbing, sharp-elbowed harpies who are trying to bleed them dry.

I'm hoping to bring some parents' views of the draft soon. if you'd like yours included, please do send them to me.

In my few months working with the LAs and colleagues on the pathfinders so far, I have to say I have met some incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and caring people. A few are just plain wonderful. It's going to take time for the rest to be whipped into shape and, as I said in my last post, they're not exactly making an early start on changing attitudes at the lower levels.

But you know what? I'm optimistic. You have to be, in such a root and branch overhaul like this. While you cannot ignore the many areas of concern, without putting forward a positive attitude and a will to work for change, it cannot succeed. Let's just hope that those people working so hard for it don't drop from the pressure of tight timescales and overwork before then.

And Mr Laws? I'll extend the same invitation to you as I did to Miss Teather - we're having a pathfinder event in November, a joint parent and LA organised one in Surrey. Do come. You have, I am sure, a lot to catch up on and this will be a great place to do it.

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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17 Comments

  1. You wrote:

    ‘Legal definition of special educational needs remains the same [My note: Not sure how this could be changed, anyway]’

    Surely be the same means as the present one was fixed, by including a new definition in the draft of new legislation and watching Parliament vote it through.

    Or is your question more fundamental…?

  2. Do you mean to say that the future of ‘special educational needs’ in this country is destined,therefore,to lie in the hands of those who are not in their right minds…? Certainly decades of historical experience would support your view but is that really how it has to be in the future.

    And do other countries necessarily follow this tendency?

      1. ‘…a can of worms no-one in their right minds would want to get into’.

        I know many parents like your Jack, across the English-speaking world, and they would go with him on this. Outside this cocoon, however, though, most societies appear to have problems in creating services for children and families that are expetienced as wholly satisfactory, there are developed economies societies where greater degrees of rationality can be met in how these are construed, constructed and run.

        If such a gross generaisation has any validity, then what is it with the Anglo-Saxon societies that makes this so hard?

        1. Special Needs Mum

          Sorry Andrew, I’m not sure what you’re saying or how it relates to SEN reform. Are you familiar with the SEN reform process?
          My points are not broad, they’re quite specific and targeted and come from experience and knowledge of the system.
          This is a blog about special needs and disability, not the world as a whole.

  3. Phin Silberrad

    I read that parents will have to go through mediation before being able to appeal to tribunal. It is vital that tight rules and timescales are set to avoid lengthy delays.

    I understood the point of this review was to make the process of obtaining support for their children easier, smoother and timely. There is a real risk here that families will be worse off.

    I spotted gleeful looks on some faces at a recent pathfinder meeting!

  4. Great post, Tania. I know what you mean about the concern about the powers-that-be thinking that if Paralympians can do all this, why can’t our SEN kids? However, I think the lesson is more that with the right levels of INVESTMENT in time, understanding of the individual, relevant expertise and therapies and a good dose of ambition and motivation, people can achieve a surprising amount – whether it’s a new World Record or just unrolling from that ball in the corner to join in an activity at school, or (in the case of my clever son), getting a yellow belt in Karate.

  5. Lee Morgan

    Hi there as a mum to a son with mild ASD but very severe autism if the government want to save money why did they put my son in a school 50 minutes away that costs about £37000 plus travel costs instead of paying for a teaching assistant all day in his Junior school?

  6. Hi – there are changes at the top but it is Edward Timpson MP will be the Minister for special educational needs and disability within the Department.

    Mr Timpson takes up the brief from Sarah Teather MP following the recent reshuffle.

    Mr Timpson will therefore be leading in the Department on the draft SEN and Disability provisions within the Children and Families Bill.

    The Minister’s responsibilities also include:

    Adoption, fostering, and residential care home reform
    Child protection
    Family law and justice
    Children’s and young people’s services
    School sport
    CAFCASS, Office of Children’s Commissioner
    from DfE website

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