Education, health and care plans, which are an integral part of our reform of the special educational needs system, are being tested through 20 pathfinders across 31 local authorities. Independent evaluation suggests that they are making good progress in designing single assessment and planning processes. The pathfinders expect to have completed more than 300 plans by the end of December. They will continue to inform the development of our draft legislation.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Our proposed reforms maintain current protections for families, but they will go further in strengthening accountability by placing a duty on local authorities and health services to plan and commission services jointly, as well as to extend the current right of appeal to young people between 16 and 25 in further education and training.
Does my hon. Friend agree that unless joint commissioning works practically on the ground, with health and education working together, education, health and care plans risk not being as effective as we would like in the legislation?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we must make progress to integrate education, health and social care as closely as possible, from the formulation of a plan through to any dispute there may be between, parents, young people, local authorities and health services. That is why I am still engaged in discussions with the Department of Health, which continue to be extremely constructive.
I am glad that the Minister mentioned integration with social care. He will recall the recent debate I secured on the funding gap for those between the ages of 16 and 18. Further education colleges in the New Forest feel that they cannot offer support for more than three days a week instead of five days, and that has taken place progressively since 2008. I know the Minister intends to write to me in more detail, but is he concentrating on that important gap which places an extra burden on parents?
My hon. Friend’s debate highlighted an important area that we must get right. I will be writing to him in great detail about how we will ensure that, where appropriate, five days’ support for children with special educational needs and disabilities will be available through their education. I will be happy to discuss that matter with him as we proceed with the legislation.