Last September, the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force, heralding big changes to how children with special educational needs (SEN) will be supported in education. The Department for Education made a big promise that no child would lose out of support as a result of these changes. One would therefore expect that the number of children getting legal statements of SEN or Education, Health and Care plans to have remained fairly stable over 2014. Instead though, new figures suggest a 6.8% drop in the number being issued over 2014. 20 local authorities have seen reductions of 30% or more.
Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are replacing statements of special educational needs (SEN). They’re both legally binding documents which set out the support that a child with SEN may need to achieve their potential. EHC plans are intended to be an improvement on statements by ensuring more joined-up support. EHC plans are also available for children and young people up to the age of 25. All statements must be converted to EHC plans by April 2018.
The Department for Education suggest that the decline is partly due to ‘non-statutory’ EHC plans being introduced by pathfinders. These pathfinders are local authorities which volunteered to try out the changes in advance and were able to issue non-legal plans to see how they worked. We took a closer look at the stats to see if this was a potential explanation. But actually, when we stripped out the 31 local authority pathfinders, we found that there was still a 6.3% decline across all other local authorities.
One of NDCS’s biggest concerns from the start was that, whilst many of the changes might be sensible, it was a bad idea to introduce these changes at a time of widespread spending cuts and before a proper system had been introduced to hold local authorities to account for not following the law around SEN.
An NDCS survey of parents of deaf children published in 2013 showed widespread concern about the reforms, with only 6% believing that the changes would lead to better support and 72% thinking the real aim was to reduce spending.
Sadly, it now appears those concerns may be justified and, unless swift action is taken, promises to ensure no negative impact from these changes are at risk of being broken.
If you’re a parent of a deaf child looking for more information about the changes, the NDCS website has a range of factsheets and resources. There is also information for deaf young people on the NDCS Buzz website. For further support, parents can contact the National Deaf Children’s Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 (voice and text), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat online at www.ndcs.org.uk/livechat