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Special Educational Needs

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2010

I am publishing today the Government’s implementation plan in response to the Lamb inquiry on parental confidence in the special educational needs—SEN—system.

The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Brian Lamb, the chair of the Special Educational Consortium, was tasked with investigating a range of ways in which parental confidence in the SEN assessment process might be improved. The inquiry’s final report was published on 16 December 2009.

The inquiry found that, while the SEN framework functions well for the majority of parents, within the same legislative framework there are parents who have been poorly served and have had to battle to get the needs of their child identified and met. This varied picture must be redrawn so that it is common practice to have access to skilled professionals who understand the needs of children and who have high expectations of what children can achieve.

The implementation plan builds on the significant progress that the Government have already made in improving work force skills, and services for children with special educational needs and disabilities—SEND—and their families:

A clear focus on outcomes

The Lamb inquiry report was clear that parental confidence depended on seeing that the needs of their children with SEND were being met by skilled professionals. The Government have already strengthened the status and role of the SEN co-ordinator—SENCO—in schools. All SENCOs are required to be qualified teachers and those new to the role must undertake nationally accredited training and gain a national award. We are investing £10 million per annum to deliver this. We are also investing £12 million over 2008-11 to improve the skills and confidence of trainee and existing teachers, which includes new SEN and disability units in initial teacher training and the inclusion development programme for serving teachers. Our response to Sir Jim Rose’s review into teaching children with dyslexia included funding course places for an additional 4,000 specialist dyslexia teachers. The implementation plan builds on this existing investment with up to £4 million for the Training and Development Agency for Schools, including for starting to deliver on the Lamb inquiry recommendation for advanced-level training around the five main SEN areas—learning difficulties; behavioural, emotional and social difficulties; dyslexia; autism spectrum disorders; and speech, language and communication needs.

In addition to improved achievement for children with SEND, parents want to be assured that children are safe from bullying. The Government’s pupil and parent guarantees make a commitment to all pupils and their parents, including those with SEND, that their schools will have effective policies in place to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying. We have started work with the Anti-Bullying Alliance to review the most effective approaches to anti-bullying.

Strengthening the voice of parents

The implementation plan explains how we will enhance the service offered to parents through parent partnership services with better trained advisors, and launch a dedicated national helpline in April to provide information and advice to parents of children with SEND.

Establishing a local system in tune with children’s needs

The inquiry concluded that the system works best where schools, local authorities and parents operate in a true partnership. We want to build on this good practice through incorporating SEN and disability in the training that leaders of children’s services receive. The plan also details the training for local authority SEN officers in how to work well with parents, which will start in March, and guidance and training for those drawing up statements of SEN will be issued this July.

Building accountability around children’s progress

The inquiry’s final report placed a great deal of emphasis on effective accountability, throughout the system, to ensure parental confidence. We will strengthen training on SEND for school governors, with improved legal resources available for all governors in December and the national training programme for new governors will reflect the conclusions of the inquiry. School improvement partners—SIP—play an increasingly important role in providing high-quality challenge and support to school leaders and, this summer, the national strategies will roll out SEND training to all local authority SIP managers.

My Department has already implemented the inquiry recommendation to route parental complaints to the local government ombudsman. The first-tier tribunal—SEN and Disability— also has already launched enhanced training for tribunal chairs; will issue guidelines on the provision of professional and expert evidence in March and launch revised information for parents, including online materials and a DVD, in May.

A number of recommendations in the inquiry were for Ofsted to take forward and it will be publishing its implementation plan in March. The Children, Schools and Families Bill, currently before Parliament, places an explicit duty on Ofsted to report on how well schools are meeting the needs of children with SEND as part of school inspections.

A responsive national framework

My Department has invited local authorities, working with parents and voluntary organisations, to undertake innovative projects to improve parental confidence. These will be launched in April, one in each region, and will include testing greater independence in assessment.

The inquiry recommended remedying the exclusion of schools from the duty in the Disability Discrimination Act to provide auxiliary aids and services. The Government have already acted on this through an amendment to the Equality Bill, currently before Parliament.

I have asked Brian Lamb to report on progress against the actions in the implementation plan in the summer, rather than in April as originally planned. This will provide him with sufficient time to see the impact of the actions already undertaken and those set out in the plan before reporting.

The implementation plan responds fully to the challenge set in the inquiry report and takes action in those areas that will make a lasting impact on parental confidence: a higher-skilled work force able to respond to children’s needs; more accessible information and advice for parents; training for those in key positions throughout the system, and enhanced accountability and redress mechanisms.

I am placing a copy of the implementation plan in the Libraries of both Houses.