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.

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