Early years key time for new SEN plans, says minister

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Reforms aimed at improving access to services for special needs children have been called the ‘biggest challenge of our generation’ by the minister introducing them.

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Edward Timpson

Speaking less than three months before the new SEN code of practice comes into force, Edward Timpson, secretary of state for children and families, said the early years was ‘the time’ for parents, social care, education and health services to start drawing up the new education, health and care (EHC) plans.

EHC plans for all SEN children and young people will be introduced in September, as part of the reforms in the Children and Families Act. They can be requested by professionals or parents and are meant to be a personalised, comprehensive and legally binding plan for all SEN children from birth to their 25th birthday. They will replace statementing and Learning Difficulty Assessments currently carried out in schools.

Mr Timpson said, ‘The SEN reforms aim to achieve better outcomes for children who are struggling to get help and give them more of a say. It is the biggest challenge of a generation, to improve chances of some of our young children. If it is to have the lasting impact we all want, the change in law must go hand in hand with a change in culture.’

Speaking at the SEND conference organised by Inside Government, he said, ‘The plan is for 0 to 25-year-olds, so it is key not to forget that for some children the [SEN] diagnosis is much earlier [than school age], some will be diagnosed with SEN from birth, some at two years and in pre-school.

‘This is the time that we want these transitions to take place between parents and all these services. We must ensure we are not starting to quash ambitions for where the child can get to.’

The ‘acid test’ of the system’s success, he added, was joint commissioning of services. ‘If we can get this right we will get a better relationships between [all parties]… , better outcomes and save on costs.’ He added, ‘There must be a greater ability for those working in pre-schools to draw health services in.’

There is be a new legal duty on clinical commissioning groups to secure the health services contained in the EHC plans.

According to the draft code of practice, which is still going through Parliament, settings must be consulted by local authorities in preparing the child’s EHC plan, but the local authority should also ‘consider whether the child’s current early years provider can support the child’s SEN, or whether they need to offer additional support through an EHC plan, which may include a placement in an alternative early years setting’.

The draft code of practice can be found here.