New report into special educational needs is welcome news for parents

The Department for Children Schools & Familiies today revealed the recommendations of a government-commissioned report into special educational needs in the UK.

The Department For Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) today revealed the recommendations of a government-commissioned report by Brian Lamb, Director of Communications at the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Chair of the Special Educational Needs Consortium, into special education needs (SEN) in the UK.

The report was commissioned in response to the complaints of parents like Michelle Chambers, who has had to go to a shocking 14 tribunals to contest local authority decisions about her three children, who all have special needs.

Recommendations made by the report include the creation of a single portal website, containing all SEN and disability information in each local authority. This should also include Primary Care Trust information.

It should be fully accessible to people with disabilities and SEN, – and include resources for Local Authority staff who work with parents – and all information about SEN published by schools should be published on relevant websites, including this single portal.

The report also suggests that Schools should make available a summary guidance booklet on provision and procedures for SEN and disabled children in their school, which signposts more detailed sources of information. An exemplar of such a booklet should be produced nationally.

Another recommendation made by the report is that local authorities should explore ways of sharing information on provision arrangements for children on the SEN register with parents, and annual reviews of SEN children should include explicit consideration of how the parents’ information needs may have changed and where any new information they need could be obtained.

Finally, the report encourages the DCSF to develop parental access to digests of information on recent developments and best practice in SEN provision, and says that all local authority publications for parents should be written in plain English.

In response to the report, the government has promised to set up a national support helpline for parents of SEN children, and Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society has said:

“A great many parents of children and young people with autism have to fight huge battles to get the education support that should be theirs by right, often at considerable emotional and financial expense.

“We hear terrible stories from parents of local authorities flouting the law by ignoring diagnoses, not meeting statutory timescales, failing to write statements properly, and even saying they ‘don’t do’ statements any more.

“It is hardly surprising then that parents have little confidence in the special educational needs system, and they could be forgiven for thinking that this report will do little to change what for them is an often complicated, intimidating, and sometimes infuriating system.”

It will, unsurprisingly, take the government some time to act on the suggestions of this report. However, disabled people and campaigners for appropriate SEN provision – while being deeply saddened that Michelle Chambers and others are still experiencing such a constant battle with local authorities – can take some comfort from the knowledge that the government took enough notice of their struggles to commission the report at all.

It is now to be hoped that the government keeps the promises it has made in response to the report. Many campaigners will consider the report to have been worthwhile if its recommendations help even one child to get appropriate SEN provision and, as a direct result, an appropriate education.

• You can listen (1:06:08-1:13:44) to report author Brian Lamb talking about the recommendations on this morning’s 5Live Breakfast on the BBC iPlayer.

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