The coalition has received some backing from disabled people’s and disability organisations for its proposed special educational needs (SEN) reforms, but has been warned that key concerns remain over its funding for segregated schools.
Support for the reforms, which will be included in a new children and families bill early next year, came at this week’s meeting of the all party parliamentary group for children.
Edward Timpson, the new Conservative education minister, who now has responsibility for SEN reform, told the meeting that he wanted to move away from the current “fragmented and fractured” SEN system.
Among the plans laid out in draft legislation last month, SEN statements will be replaced with a single assessment process that will lead – from 2014 – to a new education, health and social care plan for disabled children from birth to 25.
Timpson, who was making one of his first appearances as minister responsible for SEN, said he was “very much committed to seeing through the reforms” started by his predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather.
He added: “I want to move the focus away from the bureaucracy and the tick-boxing of assessment into very much ensuring the right outcomes for children with SEN.”
Timpson left soon after his speech, but Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, told the meeting – including Department for Education civil servants – that ALLFIE welcomed the government’s decision to take a more positive approach to inclusive education than in last year’s SEN green paper.
But she said this contrasted with the increasing amounts of government funding for segregated education.
She told Disability News Service after the meeting: “Government policy is all about funding and supporting segregated education. What are they doing to support the capacity of mainstream schools and colleges?”
John Dickinson-Lilley, parliamentary vice-chair of the Special Educational Consortium (SEC), whose members include ALLFIE, Sense and RNIB, said SEC “broadly welcomes” the “principles” and the “general direction of travel” of the government’s reforms.
But he said the consortium was concerned about the 25 per cent of disabled young people who may not have SEN – including children with long-term health conditions such as epilepsy – and who were not “explicitly” included in the government’s plans.
Two Mencap “young ambassadors”, both involved with the Redbridge branch of the charity’s Changemakers programme, told the all party group that they wanted the government to provide more support for young people with learning difficulties like them with the transition from school and college into work and adult life.
Glen, a teenager who has interviewed other young people involved with Changemakers – which helps young people with learning difficulties make an impact within their local communities – said: “Everyone thought they couldn’t manage if the support was taken away. About half of the young people thought they would do better if they had more help.”
He said he wanted to work, to have his own money, and “one day live on my own with my friends or a girlfriend”.
Scott Mills, who is also involved with Changemakers, told the meeting: “I believe colleges and schools should support people with job skills and help people to be more independent and they should focus on how to get a job and also warn people about the stereotypes that people with learning disabilities may face.”
17 October 2012