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Support and aspiration for all disabled children
The government published Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability: Progress and next steps earlier this month. This long-awaited document outlines how children and young people who are disabled or have special educational needs are going to be supported.
The paper proposes some positive developments. The system of support for children and young people with a statement of special educational needs is going to be simplified. These young people will be able to benefit from an assessment done jointly by health, education and social care services, resulting in a single plan that explains how these services should work together to help a child – and later a young person – achieve the best of their potential and become an independent adult.
In addition, families in which a child receives a single plan can opt for a personal budget and take control of how money is spent on services they need.
While this is likely to make the process of identifying support easier for parents, we are concerned that unless the agencies involved have a statutory duty to deliver on the plan then there will be little improvement in accessing support.
We are also concerned that many children with significant needs will not be able to benefit from the new system.
How many children have special educational needs?
Currently around 230,000 children have a statement of special educational needs and these children would be eligible for a single assessment and plan. But the number of children who would not benefit from this new system is much higher.
Around 770,000 children in England are disabled. While some of them have a statement of special educational needs, many more only have health and social care needs. These young people will not be provided an integrated assessment and a single plan explaining what services they need to do well in life.
The number of children who have special educational needs (SEN) but no statement is even higher - around 1,450,000.
The government is planning to reduce the two categories of school action and school action plus to one single category. It is currently unclear how eligibility for this new single category will be defined.
Most likely, those on school action will not be labelled as having SEN. Campaigners fear that this could mean a reduction in support, with children falling through the net.
Children who are over 16 but not in school or some form of further education will also be denied a plan. This in particular is a missed opportunity in terms of improving transition arrangements for this group of children and enabling them to take the first steps into the world of work.
Children without a single plan face uncertain support
Children who do not receive a single plan will have to rely on the generosity of the local offer in which each area will have to explain what services families can expect from a range of agencies and make clear what provision is normally available.
They will also have to rely on the accuracy of the joint health and well-being strategic needs assessment that will inform the commissioning of services for this group of children. As austerity measures and cuts to local services take effect, we are concerned that these children may experience a postcode lottery in terms of accessibility, availability and quality of services they need.
Children and young people we work with tell us how important it is for them to have adults in their lives who are ambitious for them and who would listen to what they have to say.
We urge the government to be ambitious for all disabled children and children who have SEN – with or without a statement. Doing so will help make sure that they all can develop to the best of their potential and become successful adults and authors of their own successful life stories.