Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Thea Cable (CF 99)

PROPOSED CHILDREN AND FAMILIES BILL 2013

I have prepared this document as a grandmother of a child with a Statement of Special Education Needs, who is currently in mainstream school. I wish the committee to consider my views on this matter. Although I will refer to my grandson’s situation, my comments are intended to be general and not specific to his case.

Having looked at the section of this Bill concerning Special Educational Needs, I am very concerned that, in all of it, I haven’t been able to identify how children who currently have a Statement will be supported and funded when this new Bill comes into force. There seems to be no mention of specific hours of support being awarded to a child, as there is at present. There seems to be no mention of any support given being protected by a legal obligation. The overwhelming feeling I get from reading the proposals is that it proposes a much more complicated system which may not provide the level of support that children currently are entitled to and receive under their Statement of Special Educational Needs. I think it may be unwise to leave schools and institutions to decide how to deliver what a child needs in terms of support and by far the safest method, and one which reassures parents and carers, is a clearly defined system with measurable levels of support, legally enforceable, that is adequately funded.

I would like to make the following specific points:

1. Under the proposals for the new Children and Families Bill, the Statement process disappears and is replaced by an Education, Health and Care Plan. So far it has not been made clear if children who have an EHC will be protected by the same statutory obligations as under the current Statement process. It is also not clear how this support will be defined and whether is it to be a more vague ‘support as needed’ arrangement rather than the very clearly defined hours of support as under the current Statement arrangement.

2. The funding for SEN pupils has already been severely affected by the School Funding Reform which came into place on 1 April 2013. My grandson’s current school has been told that they now have to fund the first £6,000 of his support from their own budget. His school currently has approximately 25 Statemented pupils, so multiplying that number by £6,000 gives you a significant deficit in their annual budget. There are also numerous changes to the funding of SEN pupils in the proposed new Bill. Several proposals have been put forward, all of which seem very unsatisfactory to me and do not adequately replace the current way the support has been funded, i.e. direct from the LEA’s. My local authority has told me that it no longer has a designated SEN budget and the money for support of SEN pupils in schools now comes from a variety of disjointed sources. It would seem from this that the 20 hours support my grandson now receives under the umbrella of his Statement is going to be in jeopardy and it will end up being down to the school deciding how best to support him rather than it being clearly defined by a Statement. Some schools may be very good at identifying need and responding appropriately to it, but others may not be so good and the SEN pupil may not receive the support they need.

3. I am deeply concerned that the combination of the new arrangements for support of SEN pupils set out in the proposed Bill and the new School Funding that came into place on 1 April 2013 will result in children not receiving a designated number of hours support and any support will end up being spread too thinly between too many SEN pupils. The reason I fear this is that the schools, having had their SEN budget taken away and having to now provide the first £6,000 of funding for each SEN pupils, will not have the resources to provide adequate support. Also, without the protection of many of the statutory obligations of the Statement system, it is not at all clear whether these children will receive the right level of support. To me, it all gets very woolly and undefined and parents will find it difficult to monitor if their SEN children are receiving the support they need.

4. It seems to me that the Statement system meant that children were clearly identified, their needs were assessed and appropriate levels of support were set out in black and white in terms of hours. There was an annual review when all these components could be assessed and updated if required. I know my grandson’s parents feel very confident in this system in that they knew exactly what the school was committed to provide and that the arrangements for their son would be kept up to date. They also knew exactly who was funding their son’s support and how this support was calculated and provided. Parents are lay people and systems should be simple to comprehend, equate and calculate and I fear that this Bill, in its present form, is going to prove to be too convoluted and complex for parents to understand.

5. Having spoken to my grandson’s LEA, it is clear that they are struggling to understand the new funding changes and will presumably struggle to understand the considerable complications of the proposed Children’s and Families Bill. The system regarding SEN pupils seems to be about to be complicated to the point that very few parents will be able to understand what is going on and this is a very uncomfortable feeling when you are just trying to ensure that your SEN child gets the best education and support.

6. There is another knock on effect of all these changes to SEN funding and how SEN children are supported. Having spoken to several SENCO’s in local secondary schools, it would seem that they are all beginning to feel that they must cut down on the number of SEN pupils their school admits. They feel that they no longer have the budget to provide the support these children are entitled to. Also, with all the proposed further changes in the new Bill in the way the support is defined and given and further changes in funding, I think it is very likely that we will see schools backing away from taking SEN pupils because of the hassle of dealing with the legislation and funding surrounding them.

7. Some of the SENCO’s I spoke to said that their school was in a better position because they had a higher than average number of children with free school meals, all of whom attract additional funding. Many of these children will not need the extra support that this extra funding is designed to provide, so the feeling was that some of this funding could be used to shore up their depleted SEN budget. I felt very concerned when I heard this as I feel it will distort admissions to schools with SEN children becoming the pariahs and the children entitled to free school meals being welcomed with open arms. Once again, it is a situation which could severely disadvantage pupils with a Statement of Special Educational Needs.

8. I would like the committee to consider seriously how the new Bill proposes to identify and support the needs of SEN children. Currently, the Statement gives clear guidance. Under the new Bill what happens to the children who currently have Statements? Will these be replaced by the new ECH plans and if so, what will these plans say? How will the new plans define exactly how much support a child needs and will it be legally enforceable? The Bill talks about a ‘high need’ band but fails to define exactly which children this affects? I believe that my grandson, with 20 hours support under the current Statement system, does not fall into this band. How will his support be defined?

9. My grandson is about to enter Year 10 and his two year GCSE course. Currently his level of support of 20 hours per week at school has meant that his target levels have risen to above average and he is on course to get really good grades in his exams. However, should his support be affected, disrupted or reduced, he could well fail his GCSE’s and that would be a tragedy given the amount of time and effort that has gone into to helping him get to the level he is as now. There are many parents out there who are not sending any evidence into this committee but who have exactly the same concerns as I have. Multiply my document by a few thousand and you may well get a truer picture of the level of dismay and worry that aspects of this new Bill are causing. It is hard enough having to steer a child with special education needs through the school system without having to deal with reduced funding and radical changes that affect the quality of the support they receive.

In conclusion, one can’t help feeling why these new changes are taking places as the vast majority of parents with children with Statements appear to be satisfied with the process. I, and my grandson’s parents, feel it is a case of ‘if it isn’t broken, then why fix it?’.

 April 2013

Prepared 24th April 2013