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Special Needs and Disabilities

Volume 525: debated on Monday 21 March 2011

5. What plans he has for single assessments and education, health and care plans for children with special educational needs and disabilities. (47461)

6. What support statemented children will receive under his proposals for the assessment of children with special educational needs; and if he will make a statement. (47462)

The Green Paper announced that by 2014 we will replace special educational needs statements with a single assessment process and an education, health and care plan. The new plans will keep the same legal entitlements to provision as SEN statements and will build on statements with a commitment from all parties, including health and social care, to provide their services. We will be running pathfinders testing out the single assessment and plans from September.

Families will welcome the progress towards a simpler, single assessment system. Will my hon. Friend reassure families and parents that their protection under the current statementing system will continue under a single process?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that that is indeed the case, but I hope that we will have an improved process, because all parties will come together to do the assessment, and then agree a plan and how to pay for it. I hope that that will improve the situation for families who have to move between one service and another to try to persuade someone to pay for something, such as speech and language therapy, which happens all too often.

The Green Paper promotes a more sparing use of statementing, which is broadly and widely welcomed, but does the Minister appreciate that a statement is sometimes the only clout a parent has in ensuring that their child’s needs are met? In the future, how will we ensure that parents still have that clout?

Nothing in the Green Paper discourages local authorities from statementing. For example, we have tried to make it clearer that local authorities ought to be providing the same protection for under-fives. However, many children and young people will have a need below the level that we would expect to be provided for by a statement. Schools still have a requirement to do their best to serve those children, and I hope that our work on teacher training will improve that support. There is also the work listed in the Green Paper through which we want to provide a local offer, so that it is much clearer for families what should normally be available, and so that the process is less combative for parents trying to get help. I hope that that will support families who have a child with a special educational need or disability, regardless of whether it reaches the level of a statement.

Does the Minister recall that a review of these issues just a few years ago identified the issue of transition and concluded that we should address the problem of people leaving school and the educational system? That can be a traumatic experience. Is it still a focus?

Indeed. There is a whole section in the Green Paper on transition. As I said, the whole reason for changing to the education, health and care plan that runs up to the age of 25 is to focus much more on outcomes and to begin that planning process at an earlier stage. To make things better for young people, we need all Departments to work together. This is not just a matter of providing better educational opportunities. However, there is a lot in the Green Paper about what we want to do to improve the quality of provision, including, for example, in the further education sector and the quality of skills training there. This requires a whole-Government response. That is what we want, and the Green Paper is the first step towards it, but transition is an essential part of planning and one of the things that frightens parents the most about having a child with a special educational need.

About 18 months ago, I had discussions and introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on this very issue. Will the Minister say what happens beyond the statements she expects to be made in September?

I am most terribly sorry, but I could not catch the hon. Gentleman’s question. Would it be in order for him to ask it again?

Without going back over it all, will the Minister tell me what happens beyond the statements expected to be made in September from schools about what they are going to do about the medical situation of children?

I am most terribly sorry, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could write to me. I did not follow his question. If he writes to me, I will respond straight away.

Saxmundham primary school in my constituency has made remarkable adaptations in order to include the education of a child called Finlay. It might be useful for other schools to learn from that experience. I am particularly interested in his transition to secondary school.

While drawing up the Green Paper, we met people from schools with fantastic examples of good practice in working to help support young people moving from one stage to the next. We are grateful for all examples of good practice, and we want to encourage other schools to raise the bar. Some brilliant work has been done. For example, some schools have encouraged young people to set up their own enterprises and companies and in doing so given them real employment opportunities. I would be interested to hear more detail about the school in the hon. Lady’s constituency.