Today is the first anniversary of the Children and Families Act 2014. This made lots of big changes to the education system with the Government promising that the changes would result in children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities getting better support.
But you may want to hold on before getting any birthday candles out…. when we asked parents of deaf children recently if they had noticed any improvements to the support that their child receives over the past year, we were pretty shocked that only 6% said they had.
This is one of many worrying stats in a new campaign report called One year on, being published today by the National Deaf Children’s Society. The report includes the results from our survey of parents of deaf children, as well as views from deaf young people and our analysis of the quality of information that local authorities are providing through their ‘Local Offers’ (one of the big changes made last year).
Some other shocking stats from the report include:
- Only one in ten parents of deaf children were confident that their local authority is successfully implementing the changes.
- Only 16% of families had seen the Local Offer for where they live.
- Of those that had seen their Local Offer, 24% said it was easy to find the information they were looking for and 28% reported that the Local Offer gave them information about support for deaf children in their area.
- Only 7% of parents said their child had been afforded a direct opportunity to help develop the Local Offer and give their views on it.
- When we looked the information provided within Local Offers, we found that in 41 Local Offers, it was hard to find information about special schools and resource provisions in the area. 93 local authorities didn’t provide information about specialist provision outside of their own area.
- Where deaf children were undergoing an assessment for an Education, Health and Care plan (which are replacing statements of SEN), 29% did not feel that the local authority took steps to minimise disruption to their family during the assessment process and 58% had to repeat the same information about their child to different people – both things that families were told would change under the new system.
Overall, our analysis suggests that many local authorities are not doing a great job in implementing these changes and that some may in fact be acting unlawfully. For example, by law, the Local Offer must include information on special schools in the area and nearby, yet our analysis suggests that many are failing to do so.
You could argue that these are just teething troubles and that more time is needed for these changes to bed in. But it’s worth remembering that many of the above changes were piloted for over 2 years in advance of September 2014. Press releases from the Department for Education at the time trumpeted how many local authorities reported being ready for the changes. And the Department for Education has funded a wide range of bodies (including the National Deaf Children’s Society) to support local authorities in implementing these changes.
The National Deaf Children’s Society report makes a number of recommendations to help the Department for Education and local authorities keep their promises to parents of deaf children. At the top of the list is making sure that Ofsted hold local authorities to account. We’ve been long-promised a new inspection framework. But, one year on, there hasn’t yet been a consultation document on how this will work. And early indications suggest that any inspections will be fairly general and won’t have any specific focus on the specialist education services that deaf children rely and which are key to making sure these reforms work for deaf children.
You can support our campaign work in this area by emailing your MP and asking them to raise our concerns with the Government. And if you want to find out more yourself about these changes and your rights under the new system, take a look at the factsheets on our website.
The Government made a range of promises that children with special educational needs and disabilities would get better support. One year on, it’s time to hold the Government to these promises.