Friday, July 20, 2012

Initial SEN pathfinder findings published

Initial findings from the team evaluating the SEND pathfinders have been published. The report examined 10 pathfinder case studies in March. It found:
  • Strategic engagement so far has been good
  • There is a lack of capacity
  • Most families involved are coming via an education route
  • The single assessment process is largely being taken forward following assessments by summarising assessments in a single document, which may assist with planning, and co-ordinated through key workers
  • Changes are likely to be costly to implement
 You can read more in the Powerpoint presentation or in the full 60 page report.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

“The Right Start”: The All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism launches recommendations for reform of Special Educational Needs

On the 11th July, members of the policy and campaigns team at the NAS met with MPs, Peers and experts in autism at The House of Commons to celebrate the publication of "The Right Start", the APPGA report into autism in schools. The report recommends better special educational needs training for teachers, designating a lead teacher for autism in every school and involving young people with autism and their parents more in the development of their educational support. It also states that children with or without statements should be assured of access to the new Education, Health and Care Plan, and that SEN provision should extend up to the age of 25 in order to facilitate the transition from school into training, further education and employment. The APPGA’s full findings and recommendations are available here.

Children and Families Minister Sarah Teather spoke about plans to train teachers in SEN through online materials and scholarship programmes. She highlighted the role of the Pathfinder pilot scheme in testing personalised support for students, and the Achievement for All programme in helping teachers to better engage with parents when planning a child’s educational needs. Ms Teather said that involving young people and their parents was “the whole spirit” of the reforms to SEN, and emphasised that the replacement of statements with the ECHP was “intended to involve families much better right from the beginning to ensure that support is in place right from the earliest point”. Speaking of the educational reforms as a whole, she said “we are very serious about getting the detail right.”

The Minister’s address was followed by speeches from Ambitious about Autism’s youth patron Josie Ryan, and The National Autistic Society’s young campaigner Jacob Denness. Speaking from her own experiences, Josie strongly endorsed more input by parents and young people into their educational support: “I know what it feels like to be the invisible one in a mainstream school surrounded by teachers who have no idea. I also know what it’s like to have a teacher who points out everything I can do and am good at, not what I can’t do.” Jacob called on MPs “to be pushy for people with autism in your constituency. We have taken the first steps to helping every autistic child or autistic person and it is up to you to push for those steps to continue.” Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the APPGA, made closing remarks in which he thanked the Minister and the speakers for their contributions, and expressed a hope that the reforms would “empower and enable young people with autism and related conditions to thrive in the school and college environment.”

We hope that the Government will continue to commit to getting the detail of SEN reform right, and will adopt the report’s recommendations in the forthcoming Children and Families Bill to help create a more efficient, more effective and more supportive educational experience for children and young people with autism.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sarah Teather gives evidence to SEN select committee

On 20th June, the Education Committee held a one-off special evidence session about the government’s upcoming legislation on Special Educational Needs. The government’s current proposals could lead to the biggest reforms in education and health support for children with SEN and disabilities for over 30 years. The government had initially intended to publish the draft clauses forfor its reforms in July, but they will now aim to publish them in September.

Regarding the government’s proposal of personal budgets for families with children with SEN, Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead asked if personal budgets are suitable for all families, as many may find managing the budget stressful. However, Sarah Teather MP, the Minister of State for Children and Families, affirmed that the government had no intention of making personal budgets compulsory, commenting that this is “partly because families will want to do different things at different stages.”

The minister also recognised the different provisions for children with SEN in mainstream and specialist schools, and stated that there is a range of practices that are extremely useful and that government intended to encourage the two sectors to share their different types of expertise between them.

On the topic of exclusions, the minister accepted that while exclusion is a signal for a reassessment of a child’s needs, it may still be necessary for schools to exclude even after they have gone through a local multi-agency assessment that included social care.

One of the main topics of conversation was the consultation surrounding the Green Paper that the government published in March 2011. Craig Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley, pointed out that out of the 2,378 replies to the government’s consultation, only six came from children, and that the voice of children and young people in future reforms needs to be sharpened up significantly. Sarah Teather replied that it is not necessarily realistic for children to respond to a Green Paper but that her department have been doing some great work with young ambassadors from the Council for Disabled Children.

The minister also noted that from this autumn supported internships are being trialed at 14 colleges around England for young people aged between 16 and 25 who have complex learning difficulties or disabilities. The trials will test a study programme for supported internships that could be adopted by all further education colleges from September 2013. The trial is intended to enable young people to get some experience of work, to begin with independent living, and to support them during that process.

On the subject of the “patchwork quilt” of different services available in different areas of the country, Sarah Teather claimed that it is inevitable, and in some ways desirable, that different Local Authorities offer different services. However, the minister stated that the government will not impose minimum standards in order to allow local authorities to be better in different areas, claiming that “minimum standards just drive everything to the bottom rather than driving things upward.”

In concluding, the minister stated that “Money is not being well spent in the current system.” She added that for some children, their needs are so extraordinarily complex that inevitably they are going to be at a high level of need, and that too much money is being spent on fighting families and on bureaucracy rather than actually providing services right from the beginning.