Author of Special Needs Jungle and co-chair of Family Voice Surrey, Tania Tirraoro is closely involved in the SEN reform process. In this guest blog, she tells us where the reforms are up to, what to do if you want to apply for an assessment now and what to expect from the new system...
There are big changes afoot in the world of special needs education. By 2014, there will no longer be statements issued and the plans are for one single category of SEN at a lower level, instead of the current School Action and School Action Plus.
Children will, instead, be issued with an 'Education Health and Care Plan' (EHCP) that will encompass all their special needs from education, social care and health in one document. The approach is intended to join up services. Also set to be introduced is a ‘key worker’ who will guide and support the parent through the process - hopefully meaning that the outcome is better and the child’s needs are best met with less need to end up at Tribunal.
Okay, you may think, that’s not until 2014, I want to apply for a statement now for my child so it won’t affect me. But if you are in one of the pathfinder authorities that are trialling the reforms, you may well be asked if you would like to take part in testing how the plans work in practice. Families are being recruited from now onwards, but there is no compulsion to take part and if you do decide to, then at any stage you can decide not to continue and instead carry on with the existing framework.
In any event, if your child does end up qualifying for an EHCP, until any new proposals are passed by law, a statement will also have to be issued for the education part because this carries statutory protection with it.
The trials are being carried out to see what – from the discussions that have taken place – actually works in practice, and so aspects that simply don’t work can be amended. But don’t think everything is already worked out - it isn’t and making the new reforms into a workable legally-bound policy is going to be a mammoth task. And that doesn’t even include the training programme that will be needed for changing staff attitudes and creating the key worker role, as well as one for the person who will be creating the actual plan.
Even if you decide not to take part – or if you don’t live in a pathfinder authority and your child already has or you are hoping to get a statement before 2014 – you will still be affected going forward. It’s generally thought that children with existing statements will not be automatically switched to a new EHCP. What is more likely to happen is that they will be changed over at a review if the child’s needs have changed and a new document needs to be drawn up to reflect this. The new plan will go from 0-25, so even if your child is coming up to school leaving age now, if they have continuing needs, they will end up with an EHCP.
The Government has its own pathfinder website for more information at http://www.sendpathfinder.co.uk. You can also find there if your area is taking part in the pathfinder.
Until then, the existing framework will continue, however the new system turns out in 2014. You will still need to be prepared and ensure that you have all the reports, medical and educational that your child has, to hand as well as IEPs and school reports that support your application. You will still need to be able to prove that your child needs statutory level help, whether it’s a statement or an EHCP. For more information on how to get prepared, have a look at this article on my Special Needs Jungle Blog.