In September 2012, following on from the Green Paper, the Government published a draft of its proposed new SEN legislation.

 The Government intends to include reform of the SEN system in its Children and Families Bill which is due to be presented to parliament early in 2013, but there will be no change to the law until after the Bill has been passed, probably in 2014.

In the meantime, the House of Commons Education Select Committee is carrying out a pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed SEN clauses in the Bill. The Select Committee invited individuals and organisations to submit evidence to inform this process. You can read Afasic’s submission here.

The proposals do include some much needed updating of the current system to take account of wider changes within the education system. These include:

  • Extending the proposed new Education, Health and Care Plan (which will replace statements) up to the age of 25 for young people still in education or some forms of training
  • All the duties on schools will apply not only to schools under local authority control but also to academies and free schools

These are important developments given the number of schools that now have academy or free school status and the new law which comes into force in 2015 requiring young people to remain in education or training until their 18th birthday.

Afasic England is, however, concerned that, as the proposals currently stand, families risk losing some important rights. These include:

  • The right for parents to request statutory assessment. This would also probably mean no right of appeal against a refusal to assess.
  • A duty only to set out rather than specify the support children should have. This could mean for example that local authorities might only be required to say something like ‘speech and language therapy (or TA) input’ rather than spelling out ‘one hour speech and language therapy per week’ or ‘10 hours TA support per week to work on therapy targets and help the child generalise his/her new skills into a range of different contexts’.
  • Speech and language therapy might be redefined as a health provision. If so, there would be no duty on health to provide it and if they did not, no obligation on education to arrange it instead. This would mean losing the important rights won under the Lancashire and Harrow judgements, and could mean that many children are no longer able to access the level of therapy they need. Our publication Accessing speech and language therapy for your child: a guide to the law explains the Lancashire and Harrow judgements and other legal rulings relating to speech and language therapy.

These proposals are, however, still at the draft stage, and the process of pre-legislative scrutiny and parliamentary debate will provide plenty of opportunity to review and modify them. So we are currently hopeful that by the time the new Bill is passed, it will have been amended to safeguard the important rights families now have.

The findings of the SEN pathfinders which were set up following the Green Paper will also feed into the discussions. For more information about the SEN Pathfinders, see the Food for Thought web page. If you are involved in any of the Pathfinders, please contact us to let us know your experiences.

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