Guidance issued for SEN and disability reforms in autumn

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The Government has issued guidance on special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities reforms that will come into force from September.

edwardtimpsonsen

Children and Families minister Edward Timpson

Local authorities are also set to receive an extra £45m to help them prepare for the changes, which are part of the Children and Families Act.

This will see special educational needs and disability (SEND) statements and learning disability assessments replaced with a new birth-to-25 education, health and care plans, setting out all the support families will receive. Families will be able to use a personal budget so they can buy in the support they need.

Local authorities will also be required to publish a local offer on their websites showing the support available for SEN and disabilities in their areas.

The new guidance set out in the Code of Practice (see box) also differentiates between the private and voluntary and maintained sectors.

Maintained nursery schools must designate a qualified teacher to be the SEN co-ordinator (SENCO); other early years providers are required to have arrangements in place for meeting children's SEN. Group providers 'are expected to identify a person to act as a SENCO', childminders are 'encouraged to identify a person to act as a SENCO' and those in an agency or network 'may wish to share the role between them'.

Children and families minister Edward Timpson said, 'It's more important than ever that councils put the pedal to the floor and redouble efforts to make sure all families can benefit from this comprehensive support from September. More than 2,000 families have been testing our reforms, with many saying that the new rules are already giving them a greater say and more control over how and where they access support.

'The additional £45m we're giving councils will help ensure a smooth transition for everyone.'

The new funding is not ring-fenced but is part of the education budget allocated to local authorities.

Early years consultant and trainer Dr Kay Mathieson, who works with a number of local authorities, said a lot would depend on where the money is targeted. She said it was good to see that parents, children and young people were increasingly central to decision-making, in line with effective early years practice, but added, 'I would have liked to see specific training and support for early years SENCOs, as their job is increasingly onerous and support in local authorities varies enormously.'

Early years SENCOs face particular challenges, she said, as they are often the first to identify a child's needs and have the early conversations with parents and carers about accessing further help and support. They are also practitioners or managers as well as SENCOs. 'We're asking them to be very skilled professionals, working with parents and linking up with other professionals. It would be lovely to see some of the money going towards a range of training and support for SENCOs. This could encompass identifying lead SENCOs in localities, opportunities for peer support, problem solving and moderation of decisions and judgements,' she said.

'If we have high-quality early years practice in settings, then we have early identification and intervention. The local offer will be crucial in supporting SENCOs as well as parents to know about access routes and availability of local provision for children with SEN. If you are in a setting that doesn't regularly have children with special needs it's hard to know who to contact and this could lead to parents/carers getting inconsistent messages.'

There are also implications for the two-year-old check, which Dr Mathieson said had the potential to be 'the epitome of joint working between education, health and care'. But she said there was currently 'a very mixed picture' about the extent to which health visitors and practitioners were able to co-ordinate the education and health aspects of reviewing a child's progress.

'Anecdotally, it seems that few parents are currently aware of any connections between the two year check in early years settings and the health review. In terms of early identification of SEN, these two perspectives on a child's development can be an important early warning signal, especially if the details are brought together to consider with parents and carers through the child's health record (often known as the Red Book), as seemed to be suggested in the development of the integrated two year progress check originally.'

The Pre-school Learning Alliance welcomed the clearer distinction between the duties of maintained and PVI providers, but said the funding arrangements were confusing.

Chief executive Neil Leitch said, 'Simply stating that local authorities should ensure that funding arrangements "reflect the need to provide suitable support" for children with SEN is insufficient. The Government must provide detailed, comprehensive guidance for both local authorities and early years providers to ensure that there is absolute clarity on what SEN funding support should be available to providers, and how this can be accessed.

'Early years providers do not receive a notional SEN budget and are expected to meet the additional needs of most children with SEN using their core budget, at a time when overall early years funding remains inadequate. Additionally, there remains a lack of clarity about the circumstances under which providers would not need to use this budget and what top-up funding they would be able to apply for.'

THE CODE OF PRACTICE

The new statutory guidance - the Code of Practice - applies to early education providers, school staff, headteachers, governing bodies, SEN co-ordinators, health and social services staff and local authorities.

It replaces the 2001 document and includes for the first time a dedicated chapter for early years providers explaining what they must do to meet their duties to identify and support all children with SEN, whether or not they have an EHC plan.

The code is subject to parliamentary approval.

  • 4Children, the Government's lead strategic partner for childcare and early years, is hosting a series of resources about the reforms, including a podcast with Ann Gross, director for special needs and children's services at the DfE, in an interview on the upcoming special educational needs reforms and their impact on early years, which can be viewed at www.foundationyears.org.uk/send