A radical shake-up of the way children with special educational needs are supported has been proposed. Education correspondent GARETH McPHERSON asks parents what the changes might mean for them.
MANAGING a budget for a child’s special teaching needs could put more pressure on families already being stretched by parenting demands, an education expert has warned.
Janet O’Keefe, a special educational needs expert from Little Downham, near Ely, welcomed the Government’s attempts to give parents more control over the support their child receives.
But the speech and language therapist is worried the amount of money put into the personal budgets will not be enough and that trying to make sense of finances will eat into parenting time.
She said: “Living with a child with special educational needs (SEN) takes an awful lot of time.
“At the moment many parents have direct payments in order to pay for respite, but have to prepare accounts, which takes a lot of time, and local authorities get very upset if you don’t provide them with quarterly accounts.
“If you pay for someone else to do your accounts that money has to come out of your child’s respite.
“So it is really difficult for parents who haven’t got the time or these skills to take on board yet another job when all they want to do is be a parent to their child.”
A statement for SEN outlines a plan for action to help children who have learning difficulties or disabilities get a better education.
Yesterday, the Government announced the biggest shake-up of the system for 30 years, which ministers say will mark the end of a complex system that often left parents facing uphill battles to get the proper educational support for their children.
Chloe Wilson, a parent at Upwood Primary School in Huntingdon, has two children with dyslexia and says she has been involved in a six-year fight to get statements for them. Her battle is still ongoing.
She said the system for trying to get a statement was “ludicrous”.
Eight-year-old Kieran, who also has suspected attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has the reading and writing level of a child in reception and his sister Jessica, 10, is two years behind as she prepares to go into the last year of primary school next year.
Chloe said: “I was told that Kieran can count up to 100 with adult support. Well that means he cannot count to 100. I think teachers are too scared, they do not want to go to the headteacher and admit failure by saying they have problems with a child.
“Maybe they are worried about being belittled or that it will not look good on their record.”
She said she had to resort to expensive private tuition and her children’s education was suffering because they were not getting the support they needed.
The Blenheim Road mum said she welcomed anything that would give power back to the parents and make the process easier.
A couple from Cambridge, who had to go up against the council’s top lawyers and expert witnesses in a tribunal to get a statement for their autistic son, said there were elements of the proposals that could do good – such as mediation and full care plans from birth to the age of 25.
But the mother said it would not alter the fact that parents had to “fight tooth and nail” for statements that are often not worth “the paper they are written on”.
Her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with autism and seven years later is being educated at great expense at an independent school – because despite having a statement she says he would not get proper support in the state system.
She said: “Our struggle against the local authority to enable our son to achieve his potential has eclipsed all other challenges in our lives put together.”
She said the “David versus Goliath” tribunal process was “a most intimidating and overwhelming experience”.
The couple were also angry that the Government was suggesting that the number of people with statements was too high.
In Cambridgeshire, there are 861 primary, 899 secondary and 808 special needs schoolchildren with statements. About £14 million was allocated to meet the needs of the county’s statemented pupils in 2011/12.
firstname.lastname@example.org first published on 17th May 2012