An inquiry has called for urgent and major reform of the special educational needs (SEN) system, and an end to the “culture of low expectations” for disabled children and those with SEN.
The plea came in the final report of an inquiry set up by the government to improve confidence in England’s SEN system which heard from thousands of parents and children over 21 months.
SEN expert Brian Lamb, who led the inquiry, said a “radical overhaul” should “ruthlessly” refocus the system to provide stronger rights for children with SEN, and a “culture change” in how schools and local authorities work with those children and their parents.
The inquiry’s clear message was that “parents need to be listened to more and the system needs to be more ambitious for their children”, said Lamb.
He added: “We need to act urgently to ensure we do not let a generation of children leave school ill-equipped to lead an independent life and make a contribution to society.”
Lamb said the inquiry found “many examples where disabled children and children with SEN were sidelined rather than challenged to be the best that they could possibly be”.
About one in five children in England have SEN, while just under three per cent – 222,000 – have a statement of SEN, which sets out the support the child should receive.
Lamb said children with SEN were eight times more likely to be excluded than their peers, and called for more support and new guidance to tackle the problem.
And he called for “good, honest and open communication” with parents, who should have access to independent advice through a national helpline – one of 51 wide-ranging recommendations in the report.
Lamb said many parents found assessments “stressful and difficult”, and often faced poor information and support and negative attitudes.
The report says school governors and Ofsted inspectors should focus more on SEN, while the government should do more to use the available evidence to hold local authorities to account when they fail on SEN.
It also says parents are frequently unaware of the protection offered by the Disability Discrimination Act, while public bodies often fail to comply with their duties under the act.
The report concludes: “In many places and for many parents [the SEN system] can and does work well, but for too many parents it represents an unwarranted and unnecessary struggle.”
But Lamb says in the report that there is “nothing I am recommending that is not being done by the best teachers, schools and local authorities across the country already”.
16 December 2009