Ministers have backed the broad direction of proposed changes to legislation affecting the provision for children with special educational needs (SEN). However, they have highlighted the importance of ensuring that responsibilities are clearly defined between local authorities (LAs) and health providers, as well as making suggestions relating to specific aspects of the proposals. EHCPs
According to the Education Committee's pre-legislative scrutiny report on the government's draft Children and Families Bill, it will also be important that parents and young people are involved in the process by which local authorities will publish a local offer of the support available to disabled children and their families.
The main aim of the changes is to make it clearer to parents and local services who is responsible for different aspects of SEN care, while also giving more control to the people it affects the most.
To this end, one of the main thrusts of the reforms, which were announced by the Department for Education earlier this year, involves giving parents the power to control personal budgets for their children, meaning that they will be able to choose the expert support that is most suited to their individual needs, rather than the LA overseeing this provision.
To this end, SEN statements and separate learning difficulty assessments for older children will be placed by a single Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) overseeing provision for individuals from birth to the age of 25, with these set to come into effect from 2014.
In its report, the committee called for the inclusion of independent special schools and colleges in the list of establishments that parents can choose as a preference when setting out the terms of an EHCP for their child. Linked up care
On top of this, LAs and health services will be required to work closely together to ensure linked up services for disabled children and young people and MP Graham Stewart, committee chair, underlined the importance of ensuring that health providers are adequately involved in this process.
"We believe that the draft legislation relies too heavily in its current form on the duty of joint commissioning between Health and local authorities to ensure co-operation throughout the system," he said.
"It will be essential that the forthcoming regulations commit health providers to specific timetables when conducting SEN assessments and that responsibilities for health and local authorities in providing certain therapy services are substantially clarified." A wider number of available schools
The government's planned reforms will also see children and their parents given a legal right to seek placements at state academies and free schools, opening up the current limitation which sees their choices limited to mainstream and special schools.
As a result, there could be significant opportunities for SEN teacher jobs at a wider variety of institutions, particularly if there is strong demand among children and their parents for places at specific schools. LAs would be required to name the parent's choice of school so long as it was suitable for the child in question.
This proposal, together with the committee's calls for independent schools to be included on the list, could also provide children with a much higher number of options when it comes to addressing their educational needs.
At the time they were announced, Children's minister Sarah Tether addressed the struggle that children and their parents currently face finding suitable provision for SEN, as well as the need for change.
"The current system is outdated and not fit for purpose," she said. "Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need. It is unacceptable they are forced to go from pillar to post, facing agonizing delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment."
According to Mr Stuart, the success of the new system will depend somewhat on the presence of appropriate mechanisms for accountability.