This is the first blog in Bolt Burdon Kemp’s TALKING SENs series.

Six months ago, on Monday 1 September 2014, the biggest education reforms in a generation for children and young people with special educational needs in England became law.

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson described that day, as:

 “a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND and their families. These reforms put children and parents at the heart of the system.”

So, what happened on 1 September 2014 and was it the landmark improvement the Government heralded?

The landmark moment

1 September 2014 was the day when, after a long period of consultation, the Children and Families Act 2014 and the ‘SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25′ came into force.  Part 3 of the Act, together with the Code of Practice, was intended to address the problems that prevent children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) from getting the support and services they need.

According to Government figures, 1 in 5 children in England has SEN or disability, ranging from dyslexia to a physical impairment. The Government recognised that it was very difficult for children and young people identified as having SEND to get the support they need to do well. It could often take too long for families to discover that their child needed extra help. The system of support available to children and young people with SEND was very complex and fragmented, with teachers, health workers and social care workers often working separately to meet the particular needs of a child or young person.

The Government’s stated aim is to make sure children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else and that they receive the necessary support to move smoothly into adulthood. The education reforms are intended to ensure that support fits in with the needs of children and young people, and not the other way round. The aim is that the reforms will result in a simpler and more joined up system that focuses on children achieving their best and will enable them and their parents to have a role in shaping the support they receive.

In short, the Government wants a more effective, transparent and accountable system of support for children and young people with SEND.

What’s new?

 There is a new vision, expressed in The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice 2014, that:

“All children and young people are entitled to an education that enables them to make progress so that they: achieve their best, become confident individuals living fulfilling lives, and make a successful transition into adulthood, whether into employment, further or higher education or training.”

Some of the key changes designed to make this vision a reality include:

  • Replacing the statement of SEN with an Education, Health and Care Plan.
  • Allowing young people with SEN up to the age of 19 to have an Education, Health and Care Plan and, in some cases, up to 25.
  • Giving some parents and young people the option of a Personal Budget to purchase some elements of the SEN support needed.
  • Requiring local authorities to set out a ‘Local Offer’ of what support they expect to be available for children and young people with SEN and disabilities.
  • Changing the SEN Code of Practice. This is guidance which sets out the government’s expectations on what local authorities, schools and other bodies should be doing to support children with SEN and disabilities.
  • New and explicit requirements around the involvement of children, young people and parents in decisions about provision for children and young people with SEN and disabilities.
  • Requiring education, social care and health services to work together to support children with SEN and disabilities through the ‘joint commissioning’ of services.

Support for the reforms has come from television presenter Carrie Grant, who is best known for her work on the television talent contests Fame Academy, Comic Relief Does Fame Academy and Pop Idol, and also happens to be the mother of two daughters who are autistic.

Carrie believes that the reforms will help improve dialogues between schools and the parents of children with SEND.

“We may not know the ins and outs of how that works in a classroom situation but what we do know is we know our child, and we know what they need, and we know how they may respond if their needs are not met properly.

Working together with the teachers hopefully will mean that the relationship that can be built up will ultimately mean that the child is right at the centre – the child is the one that matters. We want the right outcomes for our children.

We want to know that when our children go to school, of course they are taken care of, looked after, kept safe – but we also want to know that they can do everything that they could possibly do to reach their full potential, whatever that potential may ultimately be. That they are thought of not as a burden, but our children are thought of as an asset.

The reforms support that. The reforms actually help the parent to be brought in, understood hopefully by the school, listened to and together – working together – to make sure that that child’s school experience is the best that it can possibly be.”

 Are the reforms working?

Families are now beginning to see the first of the new Education, Health and Care Plans coming through. Only recently, we have learnt that an application our Child Brain Injury Team made on 20 January 2015 for an assessment of the special educational needs of one of our severely injured clients has been successful and we now await the EHCP itself with impatience.

Over the coming months I plan to use this blog to explore the education reforms in more detail and review how they are working in practice.  Are the reforms achieving what they set out to achieve? Are they enabling children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, including our clients, to make progress so that they achieve their best, become confident individuals living fulfilling lives and make a successful transition into adulthood? Do the reforms provide an effective, transparent and accountable system of support for children and young people with SEND, such as our clients?