1. ITV Report

New plans for children with special educational needs

Changes in the way children with special needs (SEN) are identified and catered for will see parents given new rights to buy help for children and fewer children labelled as having SEN in the biggest change to the system for 30 years.

Under the plans, families will be given legal powers to control budgets for children and young people who need support.

Ministers are pressing ahead with the proposals in a bid to make it easier for parents to get their child help, without being passed between agencies..

The reforms will also see education, health and social services forced by law to work together to support children with special educational needs.

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.

– Children's minister Sarah Teather

Among other reforms, SEN children will also have the right to seek a place at academies and free schools.

And there will be a new single category of SEN, replacing the current systems which have been deemed too complicated.

There will also be tighter rules on which children can be identified as having SEN.

This is likely to cut the numbers of youngsters considered to have SEN, and comes after Ofsted warned that many children were being wrongly identified as having SEN because of poor teaching.

In an Ofsted report published in autumn 2010, it was found that as many as half of all pupils identified for School Action, the lowest SEN statement category, would not be identified as having these needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all with individual goals for improvement.

Official figures suggest that around one in five schoolchildren - roughly 1.7 million - are classed as having special needs.

However these changes are causing concern that it is simply a way of cutting the number of children who need help in order to save money.

I am most worried about those children with mild learning disabilities or behavioural problems who may in future slip through the net.

Tightening the criteria for being identified as having a special need must not be a cost-cutting exercise. At the moment, children identified as having lower levels of special need receive targeted funding and support which they wouldn't have access to otherwise.

Whether or not they are identified with special needs, these pupils will still need additional support as well as excellent teaching, and teachers will need access to high-quality specialist SEN training.

– Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

There are also concerns from teaching unions that even if access to services is improved, the services themselves are not being protected from cuts.

Whilst it is true that the current statement arrangements can be bureaucratic at times, it is not at all clear that the proposed changes to the system will address the issues of concern.

It is all too apparent that the coalition Government's proposed reforms will do nothing to address the real concern of parents that sufficient resources are made available to meet their children's needs.

In circumstances where education funding is declining in real terms, the ability of the system to ensure that pupils with high levels of need get the care and support they require is only likely to become increasingly constrained.

– Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union

In an attempt to provide more holistic support ministers confirmed that SEN statements (which set out a child's needs and requirements) and learning difficulty statements (which are usually for older children) will be axed and replaced with a birth to 25 assessment and care plan.

With the Government pledging to change how it identifies SEN, there is a danger that more children with autism will fall through the gaps in the education system and miss out on an effective preparation for adult life and employment.

– Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society

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