The Education Select Committee has published a report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft SEN clauses of the Children and Families Bill.
Launching the report, the committee’s chair Graham Stuart MP said, ‘Far too much detail remains unclear until ministers issue draft regulations and the new SEN Code of Practice.
‘The Government does not intend to lay the new Code of Practice before Parliament, but we recommend that the Code remains a statutory document, subject to consultation and laid before the House.’
The MPs say, ‘Our report concludes that the general thrust of the draft clauses is sound, but the legislation lacks detail, without which a thorough evaluation of the likely success of the Government's proposals is impossible. The Government intends to provide this detail in regulations and a revised SEN Code of Practice. It is essential that these documents address the concerns raised in the detailed written submissions to our inquiry and that the revised Code of Practice remains a statutory document, subject to consultation and laid before Parliament.'
The report adds, ‘The SEN pathfinders are at an early stage. We welcome the minister's decision to extend the pathfinders for a further 18 months to inform regulations and the Code of Practice. We do not recommend any delay in introducing the Bill.’
Mr Stuart added, ‘We believe that the draft legislation relies too heavily in its current form on the duty of joint commissioning between health and local authorities to ensure co-operation throughout the system.
‘It will be essential that the forthcoming regulations commit health providers to specific timetables when conducting SEN assessments and that responsibilities for health and local authorities in providing certain therapy services are substantially clarified.
‘We also call for all current protections afforded by a statement of SEN to be maintained in the new legislation and for a more coherent means of appeal/redress for parents dealing with a variety of agencies in health and education.’
The Education Select Committee’s recommendations include:
- Commit health providers to specific timetables when conducting assessments to ensure a more streamlined, holistic process for children, and families
- Clarify responsibility for providing speech and language therapy services
- Set standards for the local offer which will ensure that children with SEN receive the right support, whether or not they are eligible for a Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)
- Strengthen the proposed duty for joint commissioning and planning of services for disabled children and those with SEN
- Include independent special schools and colleges in the list of schools for which parents can express a preference in the EHCP
Current system lacks 'bite'
The children’s communication charity I CAN has backed the committee’s recommendations, but said that it is concerned that joint commissioning and integration between the NHS, local authorities, schools and early years is still not happening in many areas.
The former communication champion Jean Gross found that joint commissioning in health and education was not happening in 70 per cent of local areas.
I CAN said that it was concerned that the current lack of ‘bite’ means that local authorities and the NHS are not obliged to work together and looked forward to further measures in the forthcoming Children and Families Bill to ensure the joint planning and commissioning of services, and help to clarify the responsibility for services, such as speech and language therapy.
Virginia Beardshaw, I CAN’s chief executive, said, ‘We welcome the Education Select Committee’s cogent critique of the draft SEN clauses of the Children and Families Bill, which reflect the areas of concern raised by I CAN in its submission.
‘If implemented, the committee’s recommendations will result in the much needed reforms to the SEN system. I CAN is particularly pleased by the committee’s recognition of the need to strengthen the framework for the local offer, which will be vital for many children with speech, language and communication needs. We are also pleased to see the call for schools from all sectors to be included in the list from which parents can express a preference so that children can access the level of specialist, expert help they need.
‘The current system is adversarial and stressful for families, and the Government has recognised this. But the devil is in the detail, and the changes recommended by the select committee for strengthening co-operation across health and education will be vital if we are to realise the ambitions set out in the Government’s SEN Green Paper for better, more integrated services for children and young people with special educational needs.’
Contact a Family, the charity for families with disabled children, said that the committee's recommendation that an entitlement to integrated support and Education Health and Care Plans should be extended to disabled children, with or without SEN, was key to making the reforms work.
Chief executive Srabani Sen said, 'We share the committee's concerns that there should be a stronger obligation on health agencies to offer support to disabled children and their families. We were disappointed that they stopped short of recommending that health agencies should have the same legal requirements to support disabled children as in education.
'Contact a Family knows that ensuring parents are at the heart of the reforms is another crucial aspect to making them work and welcome the committee's recommendation to involve parents in the design of local offers.'
The Government is expected to respond to the education committee’s report at the end of January.