Crucial debates on SEN

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All schools must get involved in the process of change as new ways of working and funding structures are introduced for SEN students. Dr Hilary Emery explains.

With major changes planned for provision for children with SEN, I would encourage you all to get involved locally in the change process to try and steer what happens.

Draft provisions for changing the SEN system were published in September. These will form part of the proposed Children and Families Bill (expected to become law in 2014). Twenty pathfinders were set up in September 2011 and are testing proposals set out in the SEN Green Paper.

Proposed Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) will replace statements and to be effective they depend on us all understanding other planned changes in health systems and school funding.

One of the difficulties in making statements work well has been the lack of join-up between education, health and social care.

A feature of the proposed changes is the way education, health and care will be required to work together. The Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum recommended that children’s health be made a higher priority in local commissioning decisions. If implemented, this will be especially powerful in supporting disabled and SEN children who depend on services from more than one agency. New health structures (clinical commissioning groups) commence in April 2013. Schools need to consider the implications of local developments and how they can influence access and provision where relevant.

Another significant change is in the approach to funding arrangements for SEN. The Green Paper proposes a Local Offer setting out what is expected to be available locally from schools, academies, colleges and SEN services. The pathfinders are developing different approaches to this, but the focus is offering provision matched to the needs of children for whom it is not necessary to draw up an EHCP. In effect, this is provision that is made available through schools’ delegated budgets and is currently available without a statement. 

This autumn sees more detailed discussions with Schools Forums about the funding for next year. From next April, the funding for schools will be delegated against a new, and in some cases, simplified formula. The per-pupil funding in schools’ budgets, will be supplemented, as now, by an amount allocated to meet additional educational needs.

The significant difference is that, from next April, schools will be expected to cover the first £6,000 of additional provision, over and above the core per-pupil cost of a place, for pupils with additional needs. Beyond this amount, schools can approach the local authority. The local authority retains a High Needs Block from which it can draw for this purpose.

Clarity about the local offer will be critical to schools, local authorities and parents alike. We know from research that where schools are clear with parents about what they can provide from their delegated budget, this leads to better working relationships.

Therefore this autumn is a crucial time to get engaged in discussion about what all schools can be expected to provide from their delegated budget. If you don’t, the risk is that from next April, the discussion will be about how much money has been spent, rather than how children are learning and what schools and others can do to supplement and complement what is normally done to support learning.

Following significant debates the Education Act 2011 retains the requirement on schools, including academies, to co-operate with the local authority to improve the wellbeing of children in the area. This constant, at a time of so much change, is an important reminder about how we judge outcomes for all.

  • Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk



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