Thousands of children to be struck off special needs register
In the biggest-shake up for 30 years, ministers have announced that rules on the diagnosis of learning and behavioural problems are to be toughened which means that hundreds of thousands of children face being removed from the special needs register.
Currently, one in five children in England (about 1.7million) is given extra help at school, an 80% rise on figures from the 1990s. Many of these children have genuine problems, but ministers also believe that up to 450,000 youngsters have been identified as having special educational needs (SEN) without justification.
It is thought that many children with behavioural and attention problems are being grouped as special needs cases to improve schools’ league table ratings. Many others are having their problems exaggerated to place them on the register while it is simply a “culture of low expectations” and poor teaching standards that is leading to underachievement, and it is this incorrect labelling that ministers are trying to address.
For the first time rigorous screening measures are to be introduced, and the Department for Education has revealed it will tackle the “over-identification” by raising the threshold by which schools can class a child as SEN.
State schools are required by law to support SEN pupils. In most cases, the assessment of the individual child is at the school’s discretion under the ‘school action’ programme or, for those requiring further aid, ‘school action plus’. Only in severe cases will the council make an assessment based on specialist advice. The government plans to overhaul this by introducing a single assessment process, covering education, health and care, and allowing parents to buy in specialist disabled care from 2014.
Currently, it can be very difficult to get the basic support that a child needs, with a complex system that requires multiple assessments over a long period of time. As a result, just one in seven SEN pupils has a legal document confirming their entitlement to specialist care. Under the reforms, parents will be given control of their child’s special needs budget, which will allow them to buy specialist help rather than rely on council support. Additionally, those with the most serious problems will have assistance extended up until age 25.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said “We are working with experts to draw a much tighter definition so children who need the most help get specialist provision.”