(2) what steps the Government has taken to widen opportunities in education for children with learning difficulties since 1997.
[holding answer 19 November 2007]: In 1997 the Government published their Green Paper “Excellence for all children: Meeting Special Educational Needs” which set out policies for working with parents and improving provision to meet children’s special educational needs (SEN). In 1998 the Government set out a programme of action to implement the policies in the Green Paper over the following three years and in 2001 passed the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act and published a revised SEN Code of Practice. The Act strengthened the right of parents of children with SEN to have their children educated in mainstream schools if that is what they wanted; it laid duties on schools and local authorities not to discriminate against children with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, to make reasonable adjustments to prevent such discrimination, and to plan to increase access to schools and the curriculum; and the Act obliged each local authority to have a parent partnership service for the parents of children with SEN in order to offer factual and unbiased advice on SEN provision and procedures.
Since 2004, through a range of initiatives, the Government have been implementing their SEN strategy “Removing Barriers to Achievement” which promoted earlier intervention, improvements to mainstream SEN provision so that a wider group of children can have their needs met effectively in mainstream schools, an enhanced role for special schools providing for children with severe and complex needs and working with mainstream schools to help other children with SEN reach their potential, improved SEN training for prospective and qualified teachers and improved partnership working between agencies to meet children’s needs. In the past eight years, spending by local authorities on provision for children with SEN has risen from £2.8 billion in 2000-01 (the first year in which this figure was collected separately) to £4.9 billion in 2007-08.
Complementing the initiatives under these programmes and strategies, others have focused on disabled, including learning disabled, children and their parents. For example, the Early Support programme has promoted joint agency approaches to earlier identification and key workers to work with families to negotiate access to services and offer support. Early Support has also produced a range of support resources for parents. The programme is now being rolled out nationally.
Finally, “Aiming High for Disabled Children” (May 2007) announced £340 million of investment, including £280 million to improve the provision of short breaks for the families of disabled children, £5 million to encourage parents’ participation in influencing the design and delivery of services and £19 million for a Transition Support Programme to help young people realise their ambitions in their transition to adult life.