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SEN green paper: Government set to remove rights to inclusion

Parents will have fewer rights to have their disabled children educated in mainstream schools, according to government plans for reforming the special educational needs (SEN) system.

The green paper, Support and Aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability, aims to fulfil the coalition government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education.   

Among the proposals, the green paper says parents of children with SEN statements will not be able to have their preference for a state-funded school – including a mainstream setting – met if it does not meet the needs of the child, is incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or is an inefficient use of resources.

This would reintroduce anti-inclusion laws that were in place until 2001. Currently, parents can only be prevented from choosing a mainstream school if it is “incompatible with the efficient education of other children”.

The green paper also proposes replacing the system of statutory SEN assessments and statements with a single assessment of disabled children’s education, care and health needs.

By 2014, disabled children will have their own education, health and care plan, lasting from birth to the age of 25. The government claimed this would provide “the same statutory protection” to parents as is provided by an SEN statement. Pilot schemes will start this September.

And every family with a single plan or statement will have the right for it to be delivered through a personal budget, giving them control over how they spend the money.

The green paper also wants to reduce the number of children qualifying for extra support through the SEN system, while teacher training will be “overhauled”. In 2010, 2.7 per cent of children had a statement of SEN, while another 18.2 per cent had SEN but no statement.

If parents disagree with their local authority over a child’s support at school, they will have to use mediation before appealing. Parents will also be given more information and support.

The government said the reforms would prevent disabled children from “falling between the gaps in services or having to undergo multiple assessments”.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat children’s minister, said the new single assessment process and plan would “mean that parents don’t feel they have to push to get the services they are entitled to”.

But the Alliance for Inclusive Education said the proposals would create “many more hurdles for parents to overcome in terms of finding a school, getting an assessment of need and funding for support, with less opportunities for challenging the system”.   

A consultation on the green paper will last until the end of June, with detailed plans due