The Department for Education are now full steam ahead with the biggest shake up of the special educational needs framework in England for 30 years. It certainly feels like 30 years since they announced their initial proposals but has actually only been less than 2 years. So what will the shake up mean for deaf children? Will it lead to better services and more choice for parents?
Well, despite a recent ‘Next steps’ update from the Department, some of the details are still somewhat hazy and will only become clear when the Department publishes their new laws in draft in September. Lots of the proposals are also still being tested by pilot pathfinders in 30-odd areas across England. The reforms are mega and it’ s impossible to try and summarise everything in one go. But I’ll have a go. Here’s a selection of 3 key questions and areas of uncertainty.
1) Education, Health and Care Plans
The statements are dead. Long live the Education, Health and Care plans. Yes, the statements – the legal entitlements to support that around 25% of deaf children currently have – is going to be broadened out and replaced with Education, Health and Care plans. The stated intention is to better ensure joined up working and prevent parents from having to give professionals the same information over and over again when their child is being assessed.
But will it do the job? Some key issues include:
* Existing legal protections won’t be lost (i.e. for education). But it’s not yet clear whether the plans will introduce any new legal protections (i.e. for health and social care). If it doesn’t, it kind of begs the question as to what the whole point of changing it is.
* Who will get one? When similar reforms have been done in other parts of the UK, the stated intention has been to reduce the number of children with statements. Will the same happen in England?
* Who’s going to do all these assessments? NDCS’s latest Save Services report, Stolen Futures, has found that 1 in 3 councils have cut education services since April 2011. Half of these cuts involve Teachers of the Deaf. Are the Government’s ambitions being thwarted by the cuts taking place on the ground?
* What will the plan look like? Will it have a proper focus on how deaf children should be doing and what support they need to get there? Or will it be a wiffly-waffly smiley face document of general platitudes? Some of the pathfinders seem to be going down the latter route…
2) Personal budgets
Parents who have a statement/plan will now get the chance to take control over the budget for their child’s services and buy in services from whoever they choose. The right to personal budgets will be an option and councils are expected to provide support to parents to help them navigate the system through what are sometimes known as ‘key workers’. Tricky issues here include:
* What will parents be able to buy with a personal budget?
* Choice for parents is great. But if parents chose not to buy from existing services, how much of a problem will that be? Will existing council-run services have to wind down? Will personal budgets in effect end up actually reducing choice for other parents?
* The concept of personal budgets assumes a choice of services for parents. Yet does this really apply to educational services for deaf children? Can a parent pop down to Tesco to get a new Teacher of the Deaf?
3) The local offer
Every council will now have to say what’s available in their area for parents of children with special educational needs via a new ‘local offer’. The idea is that it will improve accountability and help parents get the information they need more readily. But…
* Will information be broken down by type of special educational need? The needs of a child with autism will be very different from that of a deaf child so how will councils produce something which is genuinely useful to all parents without cutting down the Amazon?
* Will there be a set format for a local offer? If not, how easy will parents find it to make comparisons between what’s in their own area and in neighbouring councils?
* Do parents really want a local offer? Or do they want a national offer? To be confident that the same basic services for deaf children will be available everywhere? I suspect the latter, but the Department has effectively already ruled this out.
This is barely scratching the surface and there are loads of other unanswered questions. NDCS’s response to the initial proposals sets out some of these other issues. Suffice to say, it would be a shame if the biggest, and badly needed, shake up of special educational needs reform doesn’t improve things for deaf children. So anyone with an interest in deaf education should start paying very close attention to the developing proposals in the coming months to make they do deliver for deaf children. Watch this space very closely.
If you’ve got any views on what the reforms will mean for deaf children, drop a line below – be good to hear from you.