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Reforming Special Needs provision
By Steve Besley

18 May 2012


Being incorporated in a Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech means that Special Needs will remain an important issue for schools, local authorities and some colleges this year. The intention is to publish a draft Bill this summer, complete the passage of legislation during this session of Parliament and have agreed changes in place by 2014. This week’s update from the DfE provides us with a progress report on where things are


Much of the last year has been spent consulting and testing out propositions through a Green Paper and a number of local pathfinders. Interim evaluation reports from these are also due out this summer but broadly the model being developed is intended to simplify the current assessment system by introducing a single Special Needs category, bringing the support available into a more unified service and offering parents both some protections and purchasing power. Effectively it’s trying to resolve three problems: the large numbers of pupils, something like 20%, that are categorised as special needs but whose needs might be better met in other ways; the complicated and bureaucratic assessment process that many parents struggle with; and the variability of services and support available

How do things stand at the moment?

Broadly the reforms come under five main headings

  1. Early identification and assessment. A new early years progress check has been produced and a commitment made to extend free early years education to some 260,000 disadvantaged two year olds. Next steps include replacing the current system of statementing with a single ‘Integrated Education, Health and Care Plan’ running from birth to age 25. The aim is to give families greater confidence of an all-through service
  2. Giving parents control. Trials have been set up to test out how this might work with the aim being that any family granted an approved Education, Health and Care Plan will also be entitled to a personal budget to go with it. This could either be managed by them or through local agencies. Parents would also have the right to seek a place at a number of schools including academies and Free Schools
  3. Bringing services together for families. All local authorities would publish details of what support is available through a local prospectus but in addition would work with local commissioning groups to ensure a more integrated offer of services
  4. Improving learning and achievement. Much of the work in this area is ongoing and includes a big push on increasing the quality and training of those working in Special Needs and a new duty on schools and local authorities from this September to ensure that additional support services such as specialised computer programmes are in place
  5. Moving on. A big problem in the past has been what happens at the age of 16 and in some cases 18. Under these proposals, 16+ year olds with an agreed Education, Health and Care Plan will have statutory protection up to the age of 25 meaning that they will continue to be able to access services and support. Work on apprenticeships, internships and work experience will also reflect this extended duty

© Steve Besley, Head of Policy, The Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning 2012.