Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The National Autistic Society campaigns to ensure that every child and young person with autism has access to the right support to enable them to learn and realise their ambitions, in the same way as their peers, through our Great Expectations campaign, through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, and as a member of the Special Educational Consortium.

Too many children with autism are being let down by special educational needs (SEN) provision in England and are struggling to access the support they need.

The Government has committed to reforming the current system for children and young people with the aim of providing a more coherent, joined up approach to meeting children’s needs and ending the battle parents so often face.

The draft legislation, published at the beginning of September, marks the biggest change to the SEN system in over thirty years, so the NAS wants to ensure that these proposals work for all children and young people with autism in education.

Positive aspects of the reforms include: 

  • Assurances that the new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) will offer the same protections as statements of special educational needs 
  • Extend SEN law to cover academies and free schools  
  • Extend the system to cover young people in further education up to the age of 25

However, we believe these reforms must lead to significant improvements on the current situation for all children with autism, so that they get the support they need and parents no longer have to fight to get it.

The Education Select Committee is now examining the draft legislation in detail.  At this point in time, the legislation is only in draft and it will take over a year for the changes to become law. You can read what it says here:

You can write to the Education Select Committee to tell them your views on the draft legislation.  They have various questions they want views on, including:

  • Does the draft Bill meet the Government’s policy objective to improve provision for children with SEN and/or disabilities?   
  •  Will the Bill succeed in cutting red tape and delays in giving early specialist support for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities?   
  •  Do the provisions achieve the aim of integrated planning and assessment across agencies? 
  • Do the provisions set out for 19 to 25 year olds provide a suitable balance between rights, protection, and flexibility? 
  •  Is there anything missing from the draft Bill?

The Education Committee has asked for evidence to be submitted by noon on 11 October 2012 at the latest and earlier if possible.

The NAS believes that the legislation can be strengthened in a number of ways to ensure that the new system will work better.  Some things you might like to mention in your response include:

  • Changes to the SEN system must ensure that all children with autism have access to the specialist support that they need at school, even without an EHCP. In a survey carried out for this year’s Great Expectations campaign, the NAS found that only 65% of parents surveyed said their child with autism had a statement
  •  There need to continue to be clear rights for parents set out in the legislation so they can get the support their child needs  
  • Before the final SEN Code of Practice is published, the Government must consult on it and Parliament must have the opportunity to examine it. 
  •  The draft legislation creates a “local offer” where Local Authorities will set out what support they expect to be available for children with SEN. This must be clear enough that parents know they can get the support and services their child needs.  This should include being able to use it in tribunals 
  • The draft provisions suggest that EHCPs could cease where educational outcomes are achieved. This could create the incentive to set low targets, which could limit children and young people’s ability to realise their aspirations 
  • Parents of children with EHCPs can express a preference for any state-funded school, however it needs to be made clear that this extends to independent special schools, which often provide the most specialist support
  •  The Bill should also ensure that a young person with autism who leaves education to enter employment, or some other reason, can once again access support if they decide to return to education.

Submissions should be sent by email to with the subject “Pre-legislative scrutiny: SEN.”

You can find more guidance about how to respond to the Committee on their website:

Many thanks for your help!

Monday, September 3, 2012

New draft SEN legislation published

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has welcomed the publication of draft legislation on reforms to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in England.

The draft legislation sets out provisions for statements to be replaced by Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP), which will extend statutory protections for children with SEN up to the age of 25 for those in further education.

The NAS believes that this will help improve transition for young people with autism. However, we are also working on the draft social care legislation to help improve transition into non-educational support.

In addition, the legislation will put new duties on local authorities and local health bodies to jointly commission services for children with SEN locally. The NAS has long been calling for these duties and we believe that this will help services to be more joined up at a local level.

However, we have ongoing concerns about whether the reforms will help improve support for those children who do not have a statement or EHCP.

The proposed new duty on councils to produce a “local offer”, setting out the support available locally for children with SEN will help increase transparency for parents. More detail is needed about how parents will be able challenge the availability of services and ensure that there are services that meet their child’s needs.

The NAS has also long been campaigning to ensure that the same duties around SEN apply to academy schools as to other schools. The draft legislation suggests that the Government has listened to our concerns, as the provisions will apply to all academies.

The legislation is only in draft and the changes will take quite a long time to become law.

The draft will be debated by the Education Select Committee between now and Christmas, with a Bill expected to be published in the new year. We expect the Bill to take a full year to pass through Parliament and into law. Even once this has happened it will take a while before the changes are implemented.

The NAS will continue its updates on the new legislation throughout this time to let and offer opportunities for you to let us know what you think of the changes, as well as letting you know when the changes are expected to come in.

The full details of the draft legislation can be found here:

Please let us know what you think of the changes by commenting below.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email

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.

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.”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Select committee to look at home education

The parliamentary Education Select Committee has announced a short inquiry to look at the support available for those who home educate their children.  Among other things they will look at what progress has been made since the Department for Children, Schools and Families (as was) looked into this a few years ago.  The Committee will not look at wider issues, such as safeguarding or curriculum.

The Committee is chaired by Graham Stuart MP, who is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education.

Many parents of children with autism find themselves in the position of home educating their children, after finding that schools are unable or unwilling to support their child effectively, or bullying does not get addressed.

You can read more about the inquiry here:  If you want to make a written submission, you must do so by noon on Monday 9th July 2012.