The government is to push ahead with special educational needs (SEN) reform, but has yet to say if it will follow through on threats to reduce disabled children’s rights to be educated in mainstream schools.
The coalition announced in this week’s Queen’s speech – which marks the beginning of a new parliamentary session – that it intended to introduce a new children and families bill.
The bill, expected early in 2013, will introduce a “single, simpler assessment process” and new education, health and care plans for disabled children and young people and those with SEN up to the age of 25.
Every individual or family with an education, health and care plan will have the right for it to be delivered through a personal budget, giving them control over how they spend the money.
If parents disagree with their local authority over a child’s support at school, they will have to use mediation before appealing, while the government says it will also trial a new right to appeal for children unhappy with their support.
But there was no mention of the coalition’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education, a promise which has sparked anger and protests by disabled activists.
The government published its SEN green paper last year, with a public consultation ending in June. Its much-delayed response to that consultation – which will include a detailed timetable for its reforms to the SEN system in England – is expected next week.
Some green paper measures were welcomed last year, but disabled activists warned that plans to reduce parents’ rights to have their disabled children educated in mainstream schools – and remove the so-called “bias towards inclusion” – would set the fight for inclusive education back 20 years.
Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said they were “very concerned” about the government’s plans to roll back progress on inclusive education.
She said the government’s failure to mention any such measures in the Queen’s speech or a subsequent briefing document could mean they had responded positively to concerns raised during the consultation, or that they were just not being “explicit” about their plans.
Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat children’s minister, said the SEN reforms would give parents “real choice” and would join up health, education and social care services.
She said it was “unacceptable” that parents were forced to “spend so much time going from pillar to post just to get the basic support their children need”.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) warned last autumn that proposals in the green paper would create “many more hurdles” for parents to overcome in finding a school and securing an assessment of their children’s needs and funding for support, and would provide fewer opportunities for challenging the system.
ALLFIE also warned that introducing a single education, health and care plan to replace a statement of SEN could expose disabled children to the same restrictions on eligibility that are faced by disabled adults trying to secure council-funded care and support.
With many local authorities restricting care services to those with “critical” needs, it said last year, support for disabled learners could become “even more of a postcode lottery”.
10 May 2012