Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper

Parts of the Special Educational Needs green paper have been hailed by the right wing press - but some of the measures proposed today should be greeted with cautious optimism by progressives.

By Laurence Turner

The government’s much anticipated Special Educational Needs (SEN) green paper was finally published today. The paper, which was originally due to be published last autumn, has been dogged by a series of delays, as detailed previously by Left Foot Forward. Its arrival helps to fill an important gap in the coalition’s overall education policy.

The paper’s plan to cut spending through tackling the perceived (and controversial) ‘problem of over-identification’ (p 67) has been hailed by the right wing press, but some of the measures proposed today should be greeted with cautious optimism by progressives.

Moves towards better teacher training, a less confrontational assessment system and a greater emphasis on early intervention would represent essential reforms to a ‘post-code lottery’ service in urgent need of overhaul.

Unfortunately, the paper is short on detail in several important areas. The headline pledge to replace the current statementing system with a new assessment and an ‘education, health and care plan’ is underdeveloped, despite plans to run pilots as early as September.

Furthermore, the green paper does not provide detailed service quality guarantees for external providers – a potentially serious issue if, as planned, optional personalised budgets are introduced.

Crucially, there are still questions over the future of funding for SEN services.

Left Foot Forward first raised this issue back in December. There would appear to be cause for some small cheer from the green paper: it pledges that funding for educational psychologist and special educational needs coordinator training will be maintained through 2011/12 (pp 63, 105), and that schools adopting academy status will not deprive local authorities of specialist service funding until the end of 2012 (p 102).

Until then, the question of special needs funding will be addressed in a broader schools’ funding consultation due to commence this spring. If the immediate prospects of specialist services have been bolstered by today’s announcements, their long-term future remains uncertain.

Unfortunately, SEN services are already facing cutbacks. The paper implies that ‘Sure Start Children’s Centres [will] play a key role’ (p 33) in its commendable emphasis on early intervention – but, as Left Foot Forward has shown, Sure Start Centres across the country are facing closure as a result of local government cuts.

In the field of SEN provision, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has warned:

“…psychologists and speech and language therapists are being made redundant as local authorities cut their funding following budget cuts from government.”

The charitable sector, which is expected to assume additional provision and training responsibilities, is also facing substantial cuts. Kevin Williams, chief executive of disability charity Kids, recently said:

“At the end of the day, there is no point in having funding for disabled children and young people if all the mainstream services we want them to access have disappeared.”

As services contract, the best aspects of these proposals risk being undermined by the Treasury’s cuts agenda. In the coming months, more details will emerge regarding the future of these services’ funding. Progressives in both education and politics should do their utmost to ensure a sustainable funding model can be found, and populist proposals to cut the number of children diagnosed with SEN will not transform a culture of support into a climate of scepticism.

It is a truism to say a green paper puts forward more questions than answers. These proposals have not yet taken their final form, and we must hope to influence the final outcome through both Parliament and the consultation process.

While the paper poses a challenge to established practices regarding Special Needs, it also represents an opportunity to build a public service that is both fairer and more efficient than what has gone before.

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18 Responses to “Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper”

  1. Left Foot Forward Post On SEN Green Paper « Same Difference

    […] to Left Foot Forward for publishing this post by Laurence Turner. It looks at the SEN Green Paper, which was published […]

  2. Laurence Turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper: reports @Larry_Turner

  3. larry turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper: reports @Larry_Turner

  4. Joe Jordan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper: reports @Larry_Turner

  5. Laurence Turner

    My (cautiously) optimistic response to the #SENGP on @leftfootfwd #edbill

  6. Lara Jakob

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper: reports @Larry_Turner

  7. michael burke

    SEN provision is already rationed by resources, not allocated by need. The issue of ‘over-identification’ is a red herring, in my London borough the system has a predetermined limit for statements for only 5% of all applications, regardless of need. The cuts to provision will only exacerbate the shortage of service, and kids with real unmet needs.

    Its incomprehensible how cutting the service could make it fairer or more efficient, unless fair or efficient are defined as no money spent and no-one gets the assistance they are entitled to.

  8. Larry Turner

    Hi Michael,

    My point was that we should acknowledge the positive proposals in today’s Paper. PGCE students do not cover enough ground on SEN during their course. Getting a statement under the current system can depend on where you live, as LAs have differing practices. Moves to address these problems should be welcomed.

    The cuts to public services are another matter entirely.

  9. daniel Mayhew

    Lincolnshire have never allocated proper money for special needs leading to me never having a proper assignment in-till uni, know the funding has totally gone meaning my parents had to spend over £400 for the test in the private sector.

  10. Stephen W

    This is a good and fair article. Thank you for approaching this in an even-handed manner.

    A welcome relief from the grubby, partisan bilge on the EU in the article below.

  11. Sean Whetstone

    Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper says Laurence Turner #SENGP

  12. Gill Smith

    1) I would like to say that from a primary mainstream point of view giving parents power is a dangerous thing. In my LEA it is very difficult to get a Statement of Needs for pupils but if parents persist and tribunals are called for the parents win hands down and a Statement is awarded when neither the school nor the LEA think this is the right thing to do. In these cases parents and their ability to pay for outside assessments are in control and the wider picture is not taken into account by tribunals, i.e what is the LEA criteria for a statement is, that despite the difficulties a child has they are achieving above National Expectations. Time and cost of going to a tribunal are immense on a school. Tribunals should not be allowed if the child is reaching expectations and some sort of criteria should be made for tribunals to take place. An investigation into the expenditure it costs for these tribunals should be analysed. They cost thousands. A big saving could be made here and money put where it is needed.
    2) The other extreme is parents who do not care about their pupils education, do not turn up for appointments, do not take their children to outside agency appointments, keep their children away from school etc. (EWO’s work loads are overwhelming and nothing seems to get done about absences). Parents should be fined. Reporting them seems to Social Services does not come to anything. Their workload is also overwhelming. The health authority discharges pupils when they do not attend appointments but schools have to bear the blame.
    3) Should a mainstream school have a pupil with severe needs who can not perform independently (i.e. a pupil with severe autistic needs) the school is expected to fund 25 hours support which (I agree is needed) cripples our budget and what happens if we get two/three of these pupils in different year groups? There is no extra funding and the cost of supporting the pupils is at the defecit of other pupils where additional support may result in making a difference. What we give to one we take from another. As a Pathways school this happens to us.
    From a frustrated Inclusion Manager

  13. Mr. Sensible

    The first thing to ask is why the Green Paper was delayed so long?

    Other than that, as you say Laurence there are some interesting ideas in here, but it lacks detail.

  14. Neil Cameron

    RT @schoolgoverning: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper says Laurence Turner #SENGP

  15. Robert Buckland MP

    RT @schoolgoverning: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper says Laurence Turner #SENGP

  16. Claire Sarcone

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper

  17. Jenny Ford

    RT @Clairelouise82: RT @leftfootfwd: Cautious optimism over the Special Educational Needs green paper

  18. New concerns over special educational needs policy | Left Foot Forward

    […] Needs (SEN) green paper. When the green paper was finally released, several policy proposals were cautiously welcomed, but it was made clear that serious doubts over the funding of SEN specialist support services […]

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