Warning of SEN 'exodus' from mainstream education

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More than one million children with special educational needs (SEN) could lose their right to mainstream education under changes within the Children and Families Bill, a charity has warned.

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The Children and Families Bill proposes removing assessment

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which in December lobbied to change the wording of the SEN reforms in the Children and Families Bill, believes that if the reforms are passed millions of children will be offered places at a special rather than mainstream school.

ALLFIE is concerned with proposals in the bill that would allow special academies to admit children without a statutory assessment or a special educational needs plan and take away a right to a review of a placement by an independent tribunal.

At present, any child with SEN who does not have a statement of special educational needs as a result of an assessment needs must be educated in a mainstream school.

Current legislation, introduced in the 1990s, also prevents local authorities from placing children and young people 'inappropriately' into special schools.

However, a clause (39) within the Children and Families Bill, read for a third time last week in the House of Lords, proposes removing these legal protections.

Under clause 39, special academies will be able to admit children or young people without them having had their SEN statutorily assessed.

According to ALLFIE, the loss of these 'important protections' could mean that millions of children and young people with SEN will be inappropriately placed in special schools. This undermines the principle that mainstream settings must be inclusive.

It will also make it easier for mainstream schools to move their SEN children into special schools with local authority support, bypassing the SEN legal framework.

Tara Flood, director of the ALLFIE, said, 'Just before the general election, David Cameron promised that he would never do anything to make it more difficult for children to go to a mainstream school. The Government has now broken that promise. Its promise of choice (a place at a mainstream or special school) is nothing more than hollow rhetoric. There is no choice. SEN children will no longer have a right to mainstream education.

'The change in law will result in a mass exodus of SEN children and young people from mainstream education.'

ALLFIE is due to meet with schools minister Lord Nash for a second time before the bill is passed.

Last week, the Children and Families Bill was read for a last time. The next stage is for the House of Lords to consider any amendments to the bill before it is given Royal Assent.

Nursery World contacted the DfE for a comment, but it was unable to meet our deadline.