As one of the most significant reforms to SEN in the past 25 years, the proposals have understandably raised concerns among families living with SEN. Many have questioned whether personal budgets are suitable as a means of providing support to children with special needs, and how this will fit with the existing system. As well as this, many thought that the single assessment might lead to a lack of proper assistance for those who did not meet the criteria. Finally, there are concerns about how the plan for a single assessment and personal budget will fit together with the government’s plans to give more autonomy to academies and free schools.
The Labour Party policy review hoped to do two things, firstly, to help provide the Labour Party with a response to the Green Paper. Debate is critical in any democracy, and we hoped that through conducting a review with the input of experts in the education and disability sectors, as well as the parents and carers of disabled people (and some disabled people themselves), we could provide a robust contribution to the public discussion on SEN. The second aim was to form the basis for the Labour Party’s manifesto for the next General election, meaning that ultimately what we decided, in consultation with others, could become policy and improve the lives of thousands of children with SEN.
My role was to provide some input into the review from the perspective of someone with Asperger syndrome who has been through mainstream education. I can’t claim to speak for the experiences of all people with autism, but my own life experience is something which I tried to bring to bear in my role as a panel member. I felt relatively inexperienced as 22 year old asking questions to people who’ve spent the best part of their professional lives helping disabled children, along with those families who deal with it every day of their lives, but I hope I've done something positive for those with SEN.
There were four sessions of the policy review: an outline of the Green Paper, teacher training and specialist professionals, identification and provision, and accountability and local authorities. Among the many contributors, there seemed to be a general consensus. All schools should have teachers who are trained to identify and support those with an SEN, and this must form a much greater part of teacher training than it does currently.
Being good at SEN must be seen as part of what makes an excellent school, not just an optional extra. Parents should have a legal right to have their children’s needs (as identified in the single assessment) met. Finally, local authorities should be examined to make sure they are meeting the needs of children with SEN, with sanctions for those who are not.
I was able to have the opportunity to participate in the policy review through the help of the NAS. Having worked with them before, I was keen to sign up as an Autism Ambassador to continue working with them to promote the rights of autistic people and their families to live a life free from discrimination and to have the best possible opportunities to things which many people take for granted.
By Andrew Rhodes