Thirteen young adults from all over England were the toast of Westminster yesterday (25 September 2014) when a government minister thanked them for helping to mould the biggest special educational needs reforms in a generation.
The attendees, all aged between 15 and 25, were Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson’s guests of honour at the reception in Lancaster House to mark the landmark reforms, which are part of the Children and Families Act.
Those invited included members of Council for Disabled Children’s ‘EPIC’ group - which stands for Equality, Participation, Influencing and Change - and ‘Young Champions’. Both groups helped to advise the Department for Education on changes to the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system.
Children’s Minister Edward Timpson said:
I’m delighted and humbled by the determination and hard work of everyone involved in shaping these reforms.
Everyone who came to this event helped us to deliver reforms that will help millions of children who have special educational needs.
This is the beginning of a journey, but we’ve got off to a great start and for that we’re all thankful to everyone for their help.
The reforms, which came into practice on 1 September 2014, give families greater choice in decisions and ensure needs are properly met. They create a system that extends rights and protection to young people by introducing a new education, health and care plan.
In England, 1-in-5 children has SEND, ranging from dyslexia to physical impairment. These reforms will enable them and their parents to have a role in shaping the support they receive.
Eleven of the EPIC group’s members and 2 ‘Young Champions’ were able to attend the reception yesterday as a way of saying thank you for their role in the landmark reforms.
One of the members of the ‘Young Champions’ who attended was Zoe North (17), who has cerebral palsy and goes to school in Kingston.
I feel honoured to have been involved in these reforms. Being a champion who is actively involved in the SEND reforms has been a great personal experience for me, as it has allowed me to feel that my views and opinions count and that I am valued.
I hope this way of planning things for all young people can continue as our voices are really important. After all, we know what we need - we just need adults to listen.
An attendee from the EPIC group was Oldham Sixth-Form College pupil Elin Franklin (17), who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
The whole thing has been quite surreal - to have done something that will affect the lives of many disabled people. Coming from the Greater Manchester area I never thought I’d be on an essential government group to influence legislation.
The legislation that’s been made is for young people, so I think they should be in the centre of the decision making.
Parents were also listened to when the reforms were being put together, and 15 members of the local Parent Carer Forums also attended the reception.
Also at the event was television personality Carrie Grant, who has children with SEND and is an advocate of parents’ voices being heard on discussions over disability rights in the classroom.
Carrie Grant said:
It is great that these reforms have brought parents into discussions. Parents need to be talking and we need to be listened to. Hopefully the input of parents’ experiences will help make all children’s school experience as positive and successful as possible.
Further quotes from attendees
Corey Scott (17, Helmshore, Lancashire) said:
I just feel overwhelmed at what I have managed to achieve. I’m really proud to be involved. I have a real passion for politics and I have to pinch myself when ministers are talking about the documents that I have an impact on.
I hope the reforms will provide a universal platform for dignity and fairness to all through community cohesion and equal opportunity.
Hannah Morgan (17, Pedmire, Stourbridge, West Midlands) said:
I think hearing from young people with special educational needs or disabilities is important. I think it helps the government because they need to know what it is like from people who have experienced it themselves.
On a personal level, I think being involved has made me much more confident in myself and what I can achieve.
Alice Harmer (15, Brighton) said:
The reforms will help children with special educational needs in 10 or 20 years time. I worked with government officials on discussing how we could help improve school education. It is good that they listened to us because we are experienced with it and I think it helped them.
Emma Riley (17, Lancashire) said:
I feel proud and honoured to be part of the SEND reforms. It’s so special to inspire young people, to say that if you have a statement - yes, you can do whatever you want. These reforms are going to help young people with SEND get further on in their lives and onto their own pathway.
Katy Evans (24, Birmingham) said:
I feel it’s important to be involved as a young disabled person. I’ve experienced what MPs and decision makers haven’t necessarily experienced and I can give my own opinion of things. I also have a big network of disabled friends and I can get their opinion across as well. To me it’s been a great honour to have that responsibility and trust put on me.
Cathryn Stocker (18, Lymington, Hampshire) said:
I think it’s really important for young people to be involved, both for making sure the reforms are implemented correctly to benefit us, but also it’s been really helpful to turn our disabilities into strengths. I wouldn’t have thought my disability could take me somewhere like this today, but through EPIC I’ve had amazing opportunities which have turned my disability into a strength, which is what I think these reforms are about.
Kiatipat Tongyotha (24, St John’s Wood, London) said:
I feel, as an individual on the EPIC group, I have made a real difference for young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Making sure young people with disabilities are involved in their own education and health and care plans, as well as professionals involved, is most important.
Tiernan Kelly (16, Weston-Super-Mare) said:
I joined the EPIC group so I can improve the quality of life for young people with disabilities. It’s important the government listens to young people when they are making laws that concern them. If they don’t know what the young person wants, or in this case needs, how are they supposed to make the right judgement?