Press release

Special educational needs support: families to be given personal budgets

Parents will have a new right to buy in specialist special educational needs (SEN) and disabled care for children from 2014, the biggest change to SEN for 30 years.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Health, education and care services legally required to work together

Parents are to get a new legal right to buy in specialist special educational needs (SEN) and disabled care for their children, under plans set out today by Children’s Minister Sarah Teather.

For the first time ever, parents will be given the power to control personal budgets for their children with severe, profound or multiple health and learning - meaning they can choose the expert support that is right for their child, instead of local authorities (LAs) being the sole provider.

The biggest reform of SEN for 30 years will also force education, health and social care services to plan services together by law - so when their children are assessed, parents will be assured they will get full provision to address their children’s needs.

Often it is not clear to parents, and to local services, who is responsible for delivering on the statement of special needs. Services such as speech and language therapy may appear in the statement but are funded and commissioned by local health services.

Sarah Teather said that would stop the ‘agonising’ battle many parents fight to get the support for their families, as they are forced to go from ‘pillar to post’ between different authorities and agencies.

She said it would end the delays children face by undergoing multiple check-ups over many months, sweeping away the current outdated, slow and complex system.

The reforms are set out in the Government’s formal response to the public consultation on its green paper, Support and Aspiration published today.

The main elements are:

  • Replacing SEN statements and separate learning difficulty assessments (for older children) with a single, simpler birth to 25 years assessment process and education, health and care plan from 2014. Parents with the plans would have the right to a personal budget for their support.
  • Providing statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN to up to 25-years-old in further education - instead of there being a ‘cliff edge’ when it is cut off at 16, to help young people into employment and independent living.
  • LAs and health services will be required to link up services for disabled children and young people - so they are jointly planned and commissioned.
  • Requiring LAs to publish a local offer showing the support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, and their families.
  • Introducing mediation for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.
  • Children would have a new legal right to seek a place at state academies and Free Schools - currently it is limited to maintained mainstream and special schools. LAs would have to name the parent’s preferred school so long it was suitable for the child.

The consultation had a huge response - with around 2,400 formal responses giving broad support for the reforms. The changes are already being piloted in 20 local pathfinders. The interim evaluation reports are due in summer and late autumn this year with a final report in 2013.

The Children and Families Bill announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech will now put legislation in place for the reforms.

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said:

The current system is outdated and not fit for purpose. Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need. It is unacceptable they are forced to go from pillar to post, facing agonising delays and bureaucracy to get support, therapy and equipment.

These reforms will put parents in charge. We trust parents to do the right thing for their own child because they know what is best. The right to a personal budget will give them real choice and control of care, instead of councils and health services dictating how they get support.

It is a huge step forward to require health, education and care services work together. The reforms will give parents better information and a comprehensive package of support that meets their needs.

Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children, the Government’s strategic partner on its SEN reforms, said:

We are delighted that the Government continues to support disabled children and those with special educational needs. Tackling the battleground for families by ensuring joined-up local services and clear local information is to be warmly welcomed.

The green paper response also confirms a £3 million supported internships trial will be launched in 15 further education colleges this autumn, for 16- to 25-year-olds with the most complex learning difficulties or disabilities; and the possibility for all colleges to offer supported internships from September 2013.

The programme will provide structured study, based at an employer, which is tailored to the individual needs of the young person and will equip them with the skills they need for the workplace. This will include on-the-job training, backed by expert ‘job coaches’ to support interns and employers, and the chance to study for relevant qualifications - where appropriate.

Notes to editors

  1. Today’s response and next steps document to the Support and Aspiration green paper is published
    • The green paper was published and consulted in March 2011.
    • The Government is piloting the reforms in 20 pathfinders, covering 31 LAs. It announced the details in September 2011.
    • The interim evaluation will be published in autumn 2012 and final evaluation in 2013. The work of the pathfinders will continue to inform the changes we make to legislation through the Bill.
    • The Children and Families Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech set out legislation to transform the SEN system.
    • The Bill’s SEN provisions will apply to England.
  2. The key measures set out in today’s next steps document are:
    • Education, health and care plans: SEN statements (for under 16s) and learning difficulty assessments (for over 16s) will be replaced with a single, integrated education, health and care plan from 2014 from birth to 25 years. This means that children, young people and families will have a single assessment process, covering education, health and care, and ensuring that families have confidence that all of the different local agencies - across education, health and social care are working to together to meet their needs. This will stop parents having to have to undergo repeated assessments with different agencies. It will end the dramatic ‘cliff edge’ young people face when they leave school at 16 or 18, losing statutory rights when SEN statements stop and triggering a completely new reassessment which carries far less protection.
    • Personal budgets: all families with an approved education, health and care plan will have a legal right to request a personal budget, if they choose. Parents can directly buy in the support identified in the plan - currently they rely on LAs and other services to pay for services. Parents will be given a choice of whether to take control of the personal budget by agencies managing the funds on their behalf or, where appropriate, by receiving direct payments, if they are suitable, to purchase and manage the provision themselves.
    • Joint commissioning: LAs and clinical commissioning groups would have to put arrangements in place to ensure that services for disabled children and young people, and those with SEN are planned and commissioned jointly. This would help ensure that agencies work together to agree the best package of support as well as avoiding lengthy disputes over who should pay for services. The Department of Health will, subject to consultation, use the mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board to ensure that the NHS commissioning system and, in particular, clinical commissioning groups, are focused on improved outcomes for disabled children and those with SEN.
    • School choice: parents whose children have an education, health and care plan would have the legal right to seek a place at any state-funded school of their choice - whether maintained, academy, Free School or special. LAs would have to name the parent’s preferred school so long it was suitable for the child, did not prejudice the education of other children or did not mean an inefficient use of funds.
    • Local offer: all LAs would publish a ‘local offer’ of support, so parents would know exactly what is available instead of having to fight for basic information. It is envisaged that all parents would be given details of: early years, school and colleges provision and transport to and from it; social care services available, including short breaks; health services, including speech and language therapy; how to access specialist support; and special and specialist school provision available - including training providers and apprenticeships.
    • Mediation and the tribunal and children’s right to appeal to a tribunal: introducing mediation before Tribunal for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.
  3. Ofsted reported in September 2010 that many children, particularly those in the school action category, were wrongly identified as having SEN when their needs were capable of being met from good teaching and pastoral support.

We propose to introduce a new single category of SEN to make sure the right support to raise attainment is given to the right children - replace the existing complicated school action and school action plus systems and we will provide tighter guidance on which children should be identified as having SEN.

To support schools we have made the highly successful Achievement for All model available to any school that wants it. 780 schools are involved in the programme and a Quality Mark has been developed and awarded to 164 schools, to recognise excellence in schools that improve outcomes for pupils who have SEN or are disabled.

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Published 15 May 2012