Contact a Family – the national charity that supports families with disabled children regardless of their condition or disability – has seen calls to its free Special Educational Needs (SEN) helpline quadruple in the year since the government introduced sweeping changes to the way children and young people with SEN in England are supported in school and college.
Parent carers in saw big changes to the way children with SEN are supported in school when the Children and Families Act was implemented in September 2014. The dramatic increase in calls to charities helpline since then indicates that one year on, parent-carers’ remain confused about the changes. As a result, the charity is urging worried parents to contact its free helpline – 0808 808 3555 – for expert advice about how to navigate the new system.
One of the biggest changes parents have seen includes the replacement of a statement of special educational needs with an education, health and care (ECH) plan – a legal document that explains the extra help that a child or young person will be given and how that help will support them to achieve what they want to in their life. Each plan is drawn up by the local authority after a formal assessment.
Calls to Contact a Family’s SEN helpline since the reforms were introduced reveal that as well as being confused about SEN reforms generally, parents’ top concerns include how to get an EHC plan for their child, what their rights and entitlements are, especially if there is disagreement about the help a child needs and how to appeal decisions. The charity has also seen a significant increase in calls from parents of young people over 16 experiencing difficulty finding out what education or training options are available, and what support their child is entitled to in order to access these.
Jill Davies, Contact a Family’s education advisor says: “Since the SEN reforms were introduced last September, we continue to speak to many families who are still wrestling with the practicalities of transferring statements to Education, Health and Care (ECH) plans. In addition, some local authorities report that they are overwhelmed with the volume of children they are having to transfer from statements to ECH plans and this has resulted in errors, delays and inevitably parents’ frustration.
“The SEN reforms aim to put children and their families at the heart of any discussion about the support they are offered and to help children with SEN achieve the best possible outcomes. We welcome the ongoing commitment shown by the Department for Education to ensure the reforms are implemented at the level of quality we and families expect from the new system. However we regularly speak to families who feel they are not getting enough support to navigate the new system or that their concerns are not being listened to or whose time is being wasted chasing up paperwork.
“The changes are being implemented at a time of huge uncertainty over long term funding to support the reforms. This, coupled with cuts to local budgets such as social care, could affect confidence and momentum. While we are optimistic that the new system is an improvement on the old one – which left too many families battling to get appropriate support for their child – the striking rise in calls to our helpline about SEN changes is a clear indicator to us of how the new system is working on the ground – and what improvements are needed to help families get the most out of it. We would urge any parent worried or confused about changes to the SEN system and the impact on their child to call our free helpline for advice.”
Contact a Family will continue to monitor progress of the implementation of the SEN reforms in England. Parents caring for children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities who need information, support and advice about the SEN changes and the impact on their child can call Contact a Family’s free helpline on 0808 808 3555 or visit www.cafamily.org.uk for more information.