Is this really the right time to push ahead with special educational needs reform?

Sad parliamentary geeks of the world, rejoice! The long-expected Children and Families Bill has now been published, setting out, amongst other, wide-ranging proposals for reform to the special educational needs framework. This is likely to result in significant changes to how deaf children and their families are supported and educated. If you’re unfamiliar with what the reforms mean, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) have produced a FAQ for parents of deaf children.

For much of this year, I’m going to be working on the Bill and briefing politicians what it might mean for deaf children and which bits of the Bill they should support, question, clarify or violently throw their Committee chairs against the wall and revolt against. Who knows, I might end up accidentally changing the law again.

In short, it’s going to be a big deal. So before we get into all of that, it’s worth asking a fairly fundamental question: is it sensible to go ahead with these proposals now?

The reason I ask is that the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign has already found that in the two years running up to April 2013, 1 in 3 councils have cut vital services for deaf children. So who is going to be left to implement these reforms?

The reforms are not cost-neutral. That much is clear from the ‘pathfinders’ who have been testing out the reforms. One Teacher of the Deaf working in one of the pathfinder areas told me that the work she had been doing on creating new ‘Education, Health and Care Plans’ involved lengthy meetings with parents and lots of work to co-ordinate with other professionals. This is not to say that the reforms are a bad idea. But it is to question whether they are sustainable in the long-run, without extra investment. However, the Department for Education have been clear that there is no new money on the table.

The big fear is that this reform actually causes so much upheaval that services get worse and deaf children’s education suffers. Parents of deaf children are already a little anxious about what this all means. In a NDCS survey, just 6% of parents of deaf children thought the proposals would mean that deaf children would get better support. 80% of parents who were familiar the reforms said they thought the real aim was to reduce spending. The Department clearly has some work to do to reassure parents.

As the Bill goes through Parliament, NDCS is going to be reinforcing this point: that unless the Department for Education ‘step up’ and intervene where local authorities are making cuts to services, their SEN reforms risk making a bad situation worse.

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