The fundamentals of how the government is going to manage the implementation of the changes to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) System are now clear, and all present in much of the coverage in today’s media. As expected the government’s media strategy has begun by representing the changes as reform and an improvement to a system 'that is not fit for purpose'. In truth it is not so much the system they are concerned with but the level of funding it consumes and their ability to control that spending. In the current system the Statement of SEN requires resources to be made available according to a child's needs, irrespective of budgets that local authorities may or may not have available. Currently that entitlement is being made available to approximately 3% of all children and in a government where managing budgets comes first the removal of that entitlement is unsurprisingly, a high priority.
The second thing they have done is to divide the children and their families into two categories: those deserving of additional support and those who are not. This paralells the strategy used in many of their other reforms. The more severely disabled child and their family will be entitled to the support they deserve: a combined assessment and a personal budget. In contrast to this a child with the lowest level of special need will supposedly have their additional needs met through improved teaching methods and better training for teachers. This group of children are likely to include amongst others; childrenwith high functioning autistic spectrum disorders, children without a diagnosis and particularly those with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties whose difficulties are (often erroneously) attributed to poor parenting skills.
The third element of the strategy implicit in much of the coverage, is to vilify teachers. Along with parents, teachers are seen as the principal abusers of the current system. The treatment of teachers in the Graeme Paton’s Telegraph article is particularly blunt and they are blamed for using the SEN system to manipulate league tables and hide poor teaching and as ever Ofsted is used to support the argument and make what is essentially a political case. What makes this vilification of teachers all the more pointless is that the proposals outlined in the Green Paper Support and Aspiration are almost impossible to achieve without the full support and commitment of a child's school.
So over the coming months, we can expect more examples of deserving disabled children and how effective the combined assessment is at meeting their needs. We can expect examples of the charities that are supporting these proposals, most of which now have significant government contracts. We can expect reports on how inclined teachers and parents are to abuse the current system to get additional funding and how a culture of low expectations deprives these children of their futures. What we won’t get is honesty about the real objective of these changes – the removal of the Statement of Special Educational Needs – as a legal guarantee of a child's statutory entitlement to additional support according to need.