Thursday, June 21, 2012

MPs report on SEN system for children with autism

An influential group of MPs and peers have published the findings of their investigation into changes to the SEN system.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, chaired by Robert Buckland MP, held its SEN Commission to examine the Government's proposals to reform the SEN system.  The Commission had nearly 1,000 responses to its survey and took evidence from experts in autism and SEN, teachers and school staff, parents and young people on the autism spectrum, as well as Sarah Teather MP, minister for SEN, and shadow minister, Sharon Hodgson MP.

You can read the report here.  It covers five main areas:

1. Training and best practice
84% of respondents to our survey said teachers ere not given enough training to teach and support children with autism effectively. Yet we know that training is essential to understanding this complex disability. The Government should therefore continue to fund the development of successful training programmes. We also believe that where specialist knowledge exists it should be shared: schools should be able to draw easily on expertise from neighbouring schools.

2. Specialist support at school
Children with autism can have a range of complex difficulties and often need specialist support in order to thrive at school. Even with training, teachers cannot be experts on everything. A range
of professionals may need to support a child with autism. Far too often, parents say this expertise is not available. The Government must ensure that all children with autism have access to the support they need, including those without a statement or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Crucially, every school should have a lead teacher for autism.

3. Involvement of parents and young people
In our survey, fewer than half of parents and children with autism (43%) thought they were involved in shaping the support the child receives at school. Autism professionals agreed, as did 30% of teachers. 94% of parents said they should be more involved. The reforms must encourage schools and local authorities to work closely with parents, sharing information and ensuring a consistent approach is taken at school and at home. As the SEN system is extended to 25 years old, young people must also be involved in decisions.

4. Transition – extension of the SEN system up to 25
For too many families living with autism, the struggle for services intensifies as young people reach adulthood. It often feels like “falling off a cliff” as statements of SEN come to an end. The
Government has rightly decided to extend the system to 25 years old which will particularly benefit those in further education. The Government must also ensure many more young people with autism can access the support and opportunities they need to live independent adult lives and enter apprenticeships and employment, for those who are able.

5. Accountability
A vital aspect of the reforms must be greater accountability for parents. Far too many have to fight to access the support their children need. There must be an effective complaints system encompassing all state-funded schools and it must be a priority to ensure that parents have confidence in this system. Clear action plans could make accountability a reality for families of children with autism without statements or EHCPs.

Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the APPGA, said:

“There are too many instances where parents are left feeling that their child’s needs are not being met and far too many instances where teachers are left without the necessary specialist training or resources.

“A transformation of the SEN system is vital if we are to ensure that people with autism have the same life opportunities as everyone else, namely the ability to contribute to society, to enter the workplace and to realise their aspirations. We cannot afford to shirk the challenge.”

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