Afasic’s concerns about the implications of the Children and Families Bill for speech and language therapy are shared by a number of other organisations, including The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, The Communication Trust and IPSEA. Over the summer, we collectively obtained a legal opinion on the issue from David Wolfe QC, an expert in SEN law. He looked in particular at:
- Whether the wording about speech and language therapy in EHC Plans (the replacements for statements) would ensure that it would continue to be regarded as special educational provision , and
- Whether the requirement for local authorities and health services to make arrangements for joint commissioning of speech and language therapy would, in fact, ensure that adequate levels would be provided.
In both cases, David judged that the wording fell short and he suggested some amendments to clause 21(5) – speech and language therapy as an educational provision – and clause 26 on joint commissioning. These amendments have been tabled by Lord Ramsbotham, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, and will be discussed during the Bill’s Committee Stage in the House of Lords, which is due to start on 9 October 2013.
This is traditionally the stage when important safeguards for children with SEN have been introduced into previous legislation and we are hopeful that the same will happen this time. Over 100 amendments in total have been tabled on the Children and Families Bill, meaning that the Committee Stage may take some time. Discussions on part 3 of the Bill (the section on SEN) are not even due to start until 16 October.
On a related point, we have recently been contacted by a number of concerned parents living in Bromley, one of the Pathfinder authorities trialling the SEN reforms. At a recent meeting, a local authority officer stated that fewer than half the children who currently have a statement would qualify for an EHC Plan. This is particularly worrying as Ministers have continued to insist that children with a statement would be given a plan. See for example the assurances of the then Minister, Sarah Teather, to the Council for Disabled Children nearly two years ago and paragraph 108 of the annex to the letter sent by Lord Nash, the Minister representing the Department for Education in the Lords, to members of the House of Lords after their second reading of the Bill in July:.
We would urge all parents concerned about this, or similar reports elsewhere, to contact your MP and let us know what response you get.