Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research
Last Thursday was a big day – Her Majesty decided to give her “royal assent” to the Children and Families Bill, thus turning it into the ‘Children’s and Families Act’.
This Act sets out a whole new range of laws on special educational needs (SEN). A National Deaf Children’s Society FAQ for parents has more information but it’s been described as the biggest shake up of the SEN system in 30 years and will have big implications for how deaf children are supported. So no pressure on us here at the National Deaf Children’s Society…
We’ve been working to influence these reforms right from the very start. It’s been a long hard slog. There have been many meetings, countless consultations and plenty of parliamentary debates – all to make sure that the needs of deaf children were considered.
Before all of that though, we needed to find out what parents of deaf children thought. We ran a series of focus groups and surveys and then wrote up what parents thought of the proposals. Politicians and civil servants were then reminded repeatedly about what our members want. It really helped bring our arguments to life.
So what’s been achieved along the way? Some key achievements include:
- A review is now taking place into whether Ofsted should have a greater role in inspecting local SEN provision.
- It will be harder for local authorities to end support to a young person just because they’ve turned 19. Now local authorities must consider if they’ve achieved the outcomes set for them and not just “have regard to age”.
- At one point, parents would be required to undergo mediation with the local authority if they wanted to take any issues to a Tribunal. Now they must consider mediation, but now have the option to say no.
- Not every disabled child has ‘SEN’ but many will still need support. This created a risk that some children would fall through the net. The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) and Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) pushed hard for more strategic support from local authorities for both disabled and SEN children.
- Recognition of the essential role of Teachers of the Deaf has been kept – for example, the Act requires that Teachers of the Deaf be involved in any statutory assessments of deaf children.
Key to our success has been the way the sector has worked together. The National Deaf Children’s Society has worked closely with our counterparts at RNIB and Sense to raise common issues in relation to children with sensory impairment, as well as with EDCM and SEC.
Not everything has gone our way. Some of the above changes have been hard fought right to the end. Other times, it’s felt like we’ve been banging our heads against brick walls…
And there’s still plenty of work to be done. Whilst the Act provides the overall framework, a lot of the practical requirements will be set out in guidance, called the SEN Code of Practice. We’re expecting this to be published this spring and Westminster will again get the chance to debate this. Also, it’s great that Ofsted are reviewing the SEN inspection framework but we will need to monitor it closely to make sure they take action after this review.
And, of course, all of these changes have to be implemented. Our biggest concern remains that these changes are going to be made in a context of massive spending cuts, as we know from the Stolen Futures campaign. There is the potential for massive upheaval for services for deaf children. The National Deaf Children’s Society’s team of Regional Directors will now be working to influence implementation in each of the 152 local authorities in England and to challenge any cuts where they arise.
Overall, the Bill becoming an Act is a big milestone. It feels like a good moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come… and then start to get ready for the next phase of this big SEN shake up.