Education & Family

Special needs pupils in 'fragmented' system

boy Image copyright alexx60
Image caption A new code for special educational needs and disability came into effect last year

A series of changes has left pupils in England with special educational needs and disability (Send) in a "fragmented" system, a charity has said.

The Driver Youth Trust report says the changes have caused confusion and a greater variation in the quality of help offered.

The charity calls for a review of support for children with Send.

The Department for Education (DfE) said many families had reported finding the new system more straightforward.

The Driver Youth Trust outlines a number of changes since 2010 that have affected children with Send and their families.

It highlights the Academies Act 2010, which enabled more schools in England to become academies, free from local authority control, as well as changes in 2012 aimed at ending disparities in school funding.

Also, in September 2014, a new special educational needs (SEN) code of practice came into force in England, with the stated aim of putting pupils at the centre of their education planning.

Changes under the new Send code of practice include:

  • covering young people from birth to the age of 25 - previously it was from the age of two to 19
  • parents and children are supposed to have a greater say in decisions that affect them
  • local authorities have to publish a "local offer" for Send - details of what support services they have available
  • SEN statements and learning difficulty assessments (LDAs) have been replaced with education, health and care (EHC) plans taking children and young people through to the age of 25
  • a new system for categorising pupils' needs, so that support can be more graduated
  • young people and parents of pupils with an EHC plan can ask for personal budgets, which give them more say in how money for their provision is spent
Image copyright DenKuvaiev
Image caption The charity says some schools are struggling to provide high-quality teaching and support

The Driver Youth Trust says these changes have contributed to a fragmentation that means "navigating the system has become incredibly challenging for students, parents, schools and sector organisations".

And with school increasingly expected to meet children's needs in the classroom rather than through specialist provision, teachers "more than ever need training and accurate information about their pupils".

"The dominant rhetoric behind reform has been that of 'autonomy'," the report, Joining the Dots, says.

"Yet an autonomous environment is also a risky one. In relation to Send, we find that while some schools have thrived, other are struggling to provide high-quality teaching and additional support for their learners."

The outcomes for Send pupils are increasingly dependent on a school's leadership, it says.

The charity is calling for school leaders to regard Send pupils' achievement as a whole-school priority, not just that of specialist staff.

It calls on the government to reform school admissions so that all schools are part of the same process and subject to independent appeals - whether or not they are an academy.

And it urges councils to engage parents and young children in the development of their local offers.

Image copyright MariaDubova
Image caption The government says many Send families have seen improvements

The DfE said it had received positive feedback about the changes from many families.

A spokeswoman said: "A year ago we introduced the biggest reforms to the Send system in a generation.

"These are ensuring that support is focused on needs and aspirations - and we know that when parents and young people are properly involved with the development of that support, their experiences improve.

"We are already seeing a real difference, with parents telling us the process is much more straightforward - but we want these experiences to continue improving.

"That's why we are providing more than £1.5m between 2013 and 2016 to the Driver Youth Trust and the Dyslexia Specific Learning Difficulties Trust to provide expert advice and training to schools, ensuring that good practice is shared and the best support possible is available in the classroom."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites