Question: I need to get up to speed very quickly on the SEN bill. I've read all the info on IPSEA's site but that was written before Edward Timpson spoke to the Select Committee. Does what he said change things?
IPSEA’s answer: The information on the IPSEA website is still up to date and very relevant – even after the new minister, Edward Timpson, appeared at the Select Committee. His views do not change the position as far as the draft SEN provisions are concern.
There are four main issues:
- While he gave some assurance that existing legal protections for our kids will stay in place he gave no details, preferring to say he will revisit the drafting. As currently drafted, there are real omissions to the system proposed. The IPSEA key message document outlines major concerns, the first of which he appeared to give a specific assurance on, that parents would have the right to request assessment. However, if you read his words carefully, you will see that this ‘right’ will not necessarily come with a matching duty on the local authority to respond, and to respond within a time limit (currently six weeks). Anybody can ask the local authority to do anything, of course. What makes it a right for parents is the duty on local authorities to respond within six weeks with a decision which, if a refusal, is appealable to the Tribunal. He refused to offer an assurance that there would be any time limits at all in the legislation. He also continues to support the introduction of compulsory mediation before a parent can register an appeal re their child's EHC plan to the SEND Tribunal, and refused to change his position on the lack of public and Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed new Code of Practice. Parents who remember the tussle over the wording in the 2001 Code on specifying provision will know how necessary such scrutiny is.
- In the SEN Green Paper the Government committed to a radical change which would result in a joined up system across education, health and social care. This is not what the draft provisions give us. What is being presented is still an education only system. Something we have already. There are no enhanced legal duties on social care or health to make provision for our children. We in fact fear that some existing provisions – speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy – will be put in the health section of the plan. Anything in that section is not enforceable – health services could simply refuse to provide it because of resource constraints.
- The development of the new system is supposed to be based on evidence of what works and what does not gathered from the Pathfinder Pilots running in 31 local authorities. These are tasked with testing elements of the proposed new system. Ed Timpson announced an extension of these pilots whilst at the Select Committee and they will now report in September 2014. The issue is that the Bill bringing the new system into place is due to be introduced to Parliament in January (possibly March) 2013, becoming an Act of Parliament in Spring 2014 and implemented by LAs from September 2014. The timing does not make sense. This is not evidence-based legislation. The additional issue is that we do not know any detail of what the Pathfinder pilots are testing, with who and how, nor will we be able to judge long-term outcomes for the children involved.
- No one seems to have addressed the issue of cost. To implement a whole new system will cost central government, local government, schools and anyone involved in the process a lot of money. The Pathfinders are receiving funds to implement the pilots, but there will be no new money for the real thing, something the minister confirmed in his evidence to the select committee. He spoke about "spreading the jam thinner". One of the reasons that everyone wants statements/Plans extended to further education is because FE provision is poor at the moment, but the minister said that there will be no new FE money. So anything extra going into FE and anything spent in implementing a new system will be at the expense of school-age children. Do we want to do that for a system that does not give us real change?