25 October 2007

MPs urge rethink on special needs

I was reading an article today about the Education and Skills Committee's repeated call for the government to rethink its refusal to separate the assessment and funding of special educational needs, to increase parents' confidence in the operation of the system in England.

Local councils are responsible for assessing what extra help children may need in schools, as well as funding it. In 2006 around 1.5 million children, or 19% of all pupils in England's schools, were recorded as having some sort of special educational need (SEN) and around 3% have an SEN statement, which sets out the extra help to which they are entitled and follows the formal assessment in question. It is the process of getting this extra help that proves troublesome for many parents, with some taking their cases to special tribunals.

The report said it did not matter how diligent a local authority was in assessing how much help a child might need, dissatisfied families would "conclude the assessment was tainted by the need to restrict costs".

The committee first called on the government to take the responsibility for assessing the needs out of the hands of the local authorities that fund them in a report published in July 2006. But the government refused, saying this would inevitably result in a new agency to carry out assessments having to be created. However, in its latest report, the committee suggests a range of options, including assessments being commissioned by local authorities or delegating the responsibility to schools.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "We were very disappointed in the government's response to our original report on SEN, which seemed to demonstrate an unwillingness to consider alternative ways of addressing vital issues on assessment of need and service provision." He added that children with special educational needs and their families deserved better. Evidence to this follow-up inquiry showed that assessment of need could be made more independent without introducing a whole new bureaucratic structure. The report also calls for much greater transparency in how money for children with special needs is spent and it asks the government for an explicit commitment to provide a national framework for special educational needs.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said improving the chances for children with special educational needs was one of its priorities, which was why funding had been boosted. He said "We agree with the report that ensuring parents have confidence in the SEN system is important." He outlined a commitment to undertake research to look at the experience of parents through the process (with the tribunals service) and identify how schools, local authorities and the SEN and disability tribunal can increase parental confidence - this research should be published next summer. In the shorter term, he said that careful consideration of the ideas that the committee has put forward for increasing parents' trust in the system.

The general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, Chris Keates, said changes to the assessment process would be unwise stating that the MPs' recommendations were based on anecdote and perceptions about alleged conflict of interest rather than hard evidence.

I think it's interesting that the NASUWT seem to agree that the current system is adequate when nearly all parents I know have had to fight to get their child the services that they believe they need - there definitely needs to be more research to assess whether it is anecdotal or whether it is factual.

What do you think? Did you have to fight for services / the education your child deserved? Let me know!

No comments: