This briefing examines the Government’s draft legislation to reform the law and frameworks that are currently in place for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities.

Background need for reform

In May 2012, the Government published ‘Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability – Progress and next steps’, to report on progress following the 2011 Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Green Paper. That report provided proposals to reform provision for children and young people with SEN.

Now the Government has published draft legislation to provide the statutory framework for the proposals that came out of the consultation process to provide a single system of care that ensures children and young people with SEN receive the correct support they require.

An Integrated Approach

The primary message from the Government is that the proposed reforms will ensure that education, heath and social care services unite and work together to provide a comprehensive package of care and support for children with SEN or disabilities seamlessly from birth through to adulthood. The fundamental aim of the consultation process that was undertaken prior to the publication of the Government’s draft legislation was to “provide families with confidence in, and greater control over, the services that they use and receive”.

A key theme to the draft legislation is co-operation between Local Authorities, Schools and Public Health Care Providers. The Government aims to encourage more integration between schools, health and social care services to ensure families receive the support they need.

The Concept of Partnership

Local Authorities have been tasked with coordinating the integrated approach and to work in partnership with local health care professionals to secure appropriate provision for children and young people with SEN.

The partnership between Local authorities and health care providers will require the parties to agree the special educational, health and social care provision required locally, and to determine what provision is to be secured and by whom, in order to meet an individual child’s particular needs. A child’s needs will be set out in an Education, Heath and Care Plans (“EHCP”).

It is intended that these partnership arrangements will improve children and young people’s access to appropriate complex special educational, health and social care services.

Keeping Parents and Young People Informed

Local Authorities will have a duty to publish information about the services available for children and young people with SEN in their local area. The information will be called the “Local Offer”.

The Local Offer must include information about the services available in a local area for children and young people with SEN. However, parents and young people must also be informed about the services available in other local authority areas for the children and young people for whom it is responsible, regardless of whether or not they have an EHCP. It is envisaged that information about services outside the Local Authority’s area could include, for example, specialist health services located in a neighbouring authority which is available to children and young people in its area. Therefore, public health care providers must be prepared to work with their local authority and other healthcare bodies in other areas to assist with the publication of information about the services that are available.

Personal Budgets

One major change that is proposed to be introduced is the notion of parents and young people being put in charge of their own personal budgets, which the Government hopes will enable parents to manage and facilitate their child’s SEN provision in a way that best suits the child. This seeks to empower parents and allow them to use the resources allocated for their child to seek specialist educational services for their child which they consider appropriate, in conjunction with the relevant professionals.

Local Authorities will be required to prepare personal budgets for children and young people by working through their needs as set out under their EHCP. Personal budgets will take the form of direct payments, notional budgets, or a combination of both. A direct payment is a direct sum of money paid to the family, which they will manage themselves. Whereas, a notional budget will involve working with the Local Authority and calculating what the Local Authority should spend on the family’s behalf under the EHCP.

Conclusions

Although local authorities have been tasked with spearheading the majority of the changes, the new responsibilities placed upon local authorities will inevitably affect public health providers within the local area.

The knowledge and expertise of local health authorities will be vital to the implementation of ECHPs and local authorities will require support from local health care providers. SEN reforms are just one aspect of the wider reforms the public health care system is undergoing and therefore it remains to be seen just how NHS bodies will be required to implement the Government’s proposed SEN reforms.

What happens next?

The draft legislation will now be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The process can take several months and it is usual for a draft bill to undergo several amendments whilst it is being debated. We will continue to issue briefings as the Government announces further details of the legislative framework.