Sarah Teather MP writes: Seeking your views on Special Educational Needs proposals

Today I published proposals for improving services for disabled children and those with special educational needs.

This doesn’t affect everyone, but if you are a family with a severely disabled child struggling to give 24-hour care, or the parent of a child falling behind at school who doesn’t know where to turn for help, then I hope it will make a significant difference.

As Liberal Democrats in government, we started by listening to parents, families and young people. We had 1800 responses to our “Call for Views”, and each person will be getting an email letting them know we’ve now published our Green Paper, and how to contribute to the consultation.

So our proposals don’t start from an ideology about the way services should be delivered, but focus on tackling the real problems that we’ve found. Our proposals will mean education, health and social care services working more closely together – a single assessment rather than a myriad of forms. They will mean more mediation so families don’t have to have recourse to the SEN Tribunal – solving problems together rather than funding lawyers. They will mean a greater role for the voluntary and community sector in giving support to parents navigating the complexity of the system, and more investment in special needs teaching.

Building on recommendations from Liberal Democrat policy papers, we’ll be ensuring all children can have a progress check between 2 and 2½ years to spot problems earlier and we’ll be giving parents more control through a legal right to a personal budget for their care, with a plan to legislate so this can be in place by 2014.

Finally, we’ll be changing the way that schools classify SEN to give more emphasis on giving every child the support they need to succeed – looking at achievement not labels, and reinforcing the strong strategic role of local authorities in securing the right provision locally.

I hope that members and supporters recognise Liberal Democrat values in what we’ve done so far. I’d be really grateful for your views on our proposals, either via the DfE consultation [email protected], or via the comments thread below.

In particular, I’d like your views on the following two questions:

  1. If you are a teacher, school governor or local councillor, how do you think we can support schools in spreading the good practice in teaching and supporting children? What really works in your area?
  2. If you are a parent with a child with special needs, or know someone who is, how do you react to the idea of a personal budget, and what support do you think would be needed to make the most of it?

I’ll be looking at your replies and come back soon with a further posting. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sarah Teather MP is Minister of State for Children and Families‏.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • I am particularly interested in reading the Green Paper and the proposals for Special Educational Needs as my middle son has a full SEN statement and has since starting full-time education.

    It has been a very hard task through form filling, meetings with Educational Psychologists, teachers, doctors (not just the family GP) to get the support needed for our son. For anyone who thinks getting any form of help for a child with SEN is easy I can assure them it is not. It is an ongoing battle still.

    We have told the same case story to literally dozens of professionals over the years and will tell the same story to dozens more no doubt as our son makes the transition to high school.

    @Charlotte PetersRock

    “The problem is not that the various ‘professional’ groups will not work together, or that there is interminable form filling across the agencies which deal with the child.”

    With the greatest respect Charlotte, as parents, this is exactly part of our problem and we had a case very recently where the breakdown in communication resulted in my wife and I having to take time off work gathering evidence for the class teacher (for extra support) to find , if the school had bothered to actually read his statement, that the evidence the school needed was there all the time. These professionals just do not seem to talk to each other in their departments never mind outside stakeholders. Parents are expected to hold the whole thing together as an information hub even when we are sometimes left out of the loop unintentionally.

    I know nothing about “Stockport” so have no view about the other points you make in a) or b).

    Getting back to our son, my wife and I have never been interested in labels and have always wanted to give our son the chance to achieve the best possible outcome with his education so I welcome the emphasis on achievement called for in the Green Paper.

    I will follow your posts with great interest Sarah with an open mind and that the coalition are going to help parents such as my wife and I and our son. My biggest worry is that the main motivation for the Green Paper is a mask for a cost cutting exercise.

  • I’ll reserve judgement on this, it’s certainly an interesting proposal and one which could work out well. However, with respect to many learning difficulties diagnosis at 2-2.5 is impossible so earlier testing is pointless – how can you tell someone has problems learning to read or write until you realise they are significantly behind the norm for their cohort (as late as 10 – although ideally you want to identify this asap).

    Regardless though, the government have reduced the grants given to employers to ensure that they can cater for some of the needs of disabled staff. There is a sense of giving with one hand and taking with the other.

    There are also problems with diagnosing many specific learning difficulties in that a EdPSych costs several hundred pounds and is simply unaffordable for many, so poorer families with these problems are already at a large disadvantage. Given the governments enthusiasm to hack the NHS to pieces access to this resource will become even more costly and scarce. Some joined up thinking would be nice…

  • My daughter received a diagnosis of autism at age 4, and has a Statement that gives her full one-to-one support… so that should be easy, huh?


    I battle every single week with the Local Authority about what should be in the Statement and when they will apply the results of the previous review (it’s March and the last review was in July. The next one is in May…) The school maintains that ‘power’ lies with the parents, but all the professionals now liaise with school, leaving this parent in the dark.

    The ‘system’ certainly needs attention, but whether it needs turning upside down I don’t know. I suspect a lot of money could be saved by simply working to make this one work the way it should. Like bhainart, I am concerned this is wrapping around an exercise in cost-cutting that will have further adverse effects on our vulnerable, gorgeous children.

  • Sarah

    I heard you on the radio this morning and was really surprised at some of the things you said. You talked about a requirement for agencies and schools having to work more closely together, but you are in the process of removing the duty for schools to cooperate with Children’s Trusts which were set up for this very purpose. You spoke about the importance of embedding programmes like Every Child a Reader, yet you have just removed the ring fenced funding for this programme and put it nto the DSG. This means the money has gone into all schools’ budgets, with no requirement to spend it on this type of programme, rather than to the schools which were employing the Reading Recovery teachers on which ECaR is based. As a result these schools are planning to redeploy these teachers or make them redundant. You spoke about the lessons from Achievement for All, a programme developed by the National Strategies; yet the National Strategies contract ends in three weeks time and all of this expertise will be lost.

    There seems to be an element of contradiction and even confusion in education policy. All of this is compounded by the relentless attack on Local Authorities by certain Conservative cabinet ministers at the very time when schools and others are relying on LAs to help them make sense of some of these changes.


  • toryboysnevergrowup 10th Mar '11 - 12:50pm

    People do not want personal budgets, they want education that is adapted to their children’s needs. And they want some respect for their views as to what their children’s needs and capabilities actually are – respect is an attitude of mind and not something which can be purchased with a personal budget.

    Most people understand that there are budgetary and other constraints as to what can be offerred to help their children, and they are prepared to take advice from those who have expertise in the problems (providing such advice is given with respect for those receiving it rather than with a dose of arrogance as is often the case) .

    Sarah although you may have gone local with your Tory friends (as witnessed by your failure to keep your promises on Sure Start) please do not swallow their garbage about markets being the answer to all solutions.

  • Jane Brophy 10th Mar '11 - 1:54pm

    Also posted on Facebook

    I have a 17 year with a full SEN statement since the age of 4 for high functioning autism (Asperger syndrome). A lot of time & expense is wasted in the statementing process battling with the LA & unnecessary legal tribunals. There is a them & us approach. The debates are about resources rather than the child’s needs or parents wishes. There is a lot of duplication, inflexibility & poor communication during the statementing process. Parents who are educated, well financed & articulate are better placed to get their child’s needs addressed – so I worry for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. My son, in addition to Asperger syndrome, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a mental breakdown due to stress at school when he was 16. He is receiving help for this. Due to our determination as parents we are hopeful that he will achieve his dream, get the A level grades needed and attend University next year to study Maths.
    I am happy to share more about my experience if this is useful.

  • Jane Brophy 10th Mar '11 - 2:09pm

    I like the idea of a personal budget if parents are skilled enough to know what to do with the funding, as much support will be needed to help families and parents use the budget effectively.
    After a tribunal in our area the LA delegated a budget to us as parents to run an ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) programme for a son so he could be integrated into mainstream school (it was cheaper than a special school place). Without the ABA programme for nine years it is doubtful that he would have made it to mainstream secondary school and reached the stage he is now and be applying for University. Unfortunately this funding was withdrawn in year 10 as our son progressed too much and it was thought he was getting more support than he needed. A couple of years after the intense behavioural support was withdrawn he suffered a mental breakdown. At least now he is recognised as having mental health problems so that he can access support in the 18 -25 years bracket as I believe there can be a gap in service for high funcitioning young people with SEN during these years. Many with SEN, especially ASD, suffer unnecessary mental health problems in young adult life due to lack of recognised suppport, in the long term costing the state more.

  • Phil Adcroft 10th Mar '11 - 2:26pm

    It would have been more helpful to protect respite care and then seek ideas, rather than overseeing the absolute decimation of respite facilities through your cuts programme and then ask ‘right, what can we do to help?’

  • “I like the idea of a personal budget if parents are skilled enough to know what to do with the funding, as much support will be needed to help families and parents use the budget effectively.”

    skilled – and have the time and/or inclination.

    Casting my mind back ten years or so when my son was first diagnosed, requiring 24 hour care, sleeping no more than 2 hours in a go – the very last thing I would have needed was to take on the responsibility for arranging the things my son and our family needed.

    Ten years later and I still don’t think I need that hassle (though we already do have the budget for arranging things like respite/out of school activities).

    And as for skills …. me and my wife are both white collar professionals, she is a qualified accountant.

    Speak to the CAB or similar support group and ask them how much time they spend trying to help people to complete the horrendous DLA forms. Even Cameron complained about that himself.

    And you want to increase the administrative burden to families like mine under the guise of empowerment ? It’s ok thanks – we have more than enough on our plate.

  • David Rawnsley 10th Mar '11 - 3:52pm

    I am a father of a profoundly disabled 5 year old girl. I also have an 18 month old son.

    Myself and my wife work full time.

    We get home at 6pm, get the kids into the bath, then get their supper, a bit of a play and a cuddle and they are in bed around 7.30pm

    We get to have our tea, a bit of a sit down, watch some TV maybe and then it’s off to bed, we don’t tend to get many nights that aren’t punctuated by one or both of the kids waking. My daughter can be very restless in the night and often wakes up crying in pain so we get to bed as early as possible to compensate.

    We spend lets of time attending clinics, consultations and meetings with health professionals,officials from the local authority, teacher and social workers etc, thankfully we have good employers who allow us time to do that, but it is time we are expected top make up at some point.

    We are in receipt of Direct Payments, which are very usefull but which means we that we are effectively turned into into employers and have to keep meticulous records and fill in the resulting paperwork.

    That’s my own personal background.

    Now, when we do get some free time, do you think for one second that we want to use it planning, organising and reviewing a personal budget and then filling in its associated paperwork.

    It’s a crazy idea and one I will have nothing to do with.

    You must live in dreamworld where everyone has assistants and secretaries and researchers and all the spare time they need.

    Unfortunately, working parents of disabled children do not live in that world with you.

  • Neena Agnihotri 10th Mar '11 - 4:15pm

    They need to inform parents/carers of all the resources that are available in their local area at the assessment, because at the moment, as soon as a child is diagnosed, parents are basically left to their own devices. The child psychologists and therapists are not even aware of half the stuff that’s out there and they don’t tell parents/carers what they are entitled to. For, e.g. parents are not told that a Specialist dentist is available for all special needs children, or that there is a ballet club/football club for special kids in their local area. You are not even told that there is a non-means tested holiday fund that you can apply for. Parents/carers have to research all of this on their own or they have to have to rely on the knowledge of other parents.

  • JACKIE CAMERON 10th Mar '11 - 4:27pm

    before i comment i’m unsure how the personal budget would work, for what would it be used for and how it’s decided what the budget amount would be for a family – will it be like filling out a dla form? other than what was mentioned about it above could someone direct me to a link with more information. thanking you in advance 🙂

  • chris gwynne 10th Mar '11 - 7:29pm

    i have a son of 17 who has aspergers syndrome and learning difficulties. i have read through quickly, this document. all i see is that schools are being discouraged to diagnose special needs kids as having special needs. the “perverse” overdiagnosis is how its worded, i see nothing here but cuts in disguise. if kids who have problems in school need help from a senco they should get it and not have to worry about half baked idea’s from politicians trying to make their cuts look like helping people. we aren’t stupid, some of us can even read.

  • Care Worker 10th Mar '11 - 9:45pm

    As a care worker in a specialist ASD school for young people I see every day the struggles that families have to go through to get basic information about funding/education and support. There are fortunately many people who work in this area with integrity and a real passion for what they do and there are others who seem more intent on squeezing as much money as they possibly can from the confusing and inefficient systems currently in place.

    Care and education for people with additional needs is BIG business and the fact that schools, councils and private companies are able to manipulate funding etc to suit their own needs shocks me. For example parents will be informed that their child will have a staffing ratio of 1:1 which in reality means that although the child is funded for this the staff are stretched between a whole class of young people in order to maintain profit and generally “look good” in the accounts. The government needs to be regulating this as it is bad practice and in the end money that is specifically meant for these vulnerable young people ends up in other people’s pockets. I know people will say well that is what Ofsted is for but I believe that they are part of the problem.

    Personal budgets would be a great idea but there are a great deal of parents of SEN children who themselves are unable to fully engage due to their own SEN. These individuals not only will not be able to be involved in any discussion like this but may also struggle to manage a budget and sadly in many cases I’ve seen will squander any money/budget meant for the young person.

    In terms of mainstream schools “keeping” young people with SEN I agree that it’s a good idea in theory but again a mainstream school may state that they have staff trained in physical intervention methods needed in extreme cases of aggression from some SEN children but the reality is 1 member of staff is trained and in order to use the techniques safely for everyone involved at least 3 people are required! Resources need to be extended and if funding is granted for a young person then I think parents should have the right to study where and how this money is being spent with a right to whistle blow if they feel the money is not being spent correctly.

    Ultimately I would be looking for legislation that promotes open and honest accounts of where and how the funding for a young person is being spent because this will save the tax payer in the long term. Early intervention as often as possible and earlier social worker involvement for those families already struggling with SEN. I also strongly believe that this discussion needs to be taken to those families as it is them who will miss out if this is passed without these families taken into consideration.

  • JACKIE CAMERON 10th Mar '11 - 10:03pm

    Sarah, i was very pleased to read the green paper. i understand only to well how difficult it is when a statement needs to be put in place for a child. it took us about a year to put one together, not because there was doubt if our son was entitled to extra help but just because all the professionals that are involved in our sons care didn’t always liase with each other and it was groundhog day for us going over the same conversations time and time again. it has been a huge learning curve for us trying to work out who you approach to access other areas that would benefit our son and i’m certain we’ve still only scratched the surface of what’s out there.
    i also have 2 other children who are dyslexic, as i am. my youngest son in particular was diagnosed when he was about 7. recommendations were made then followed very loosely in primary, at secondary being dyslexic can be difficult and if the support is there then there really is no reason for that child not to succeed. unfortunately for my son after the ed psy. left it really was a different story. i had so many meetings with teachers who were not aware of my sons dyslexia, with no consistent support given my son fell further and further behind. the teachers would say they had so many sen reports on the children they didn’t have time to read them all! so many children had dyslexia, family problems, behavior problems etc. and every teacher i spoke to apologized and admitted they were failing our son. after a final chat with the headteacher it was clear that he could talk the talk but not walk the walk. after lengthy discussions with the council our son moved to a different school, within a year his grades went from a ‘u’ to ‘c’ . throughout our time at my sons old school we were painfully aware of how our sons self esteem had lowered from being constantly behind and being label as having’ special needs’ it’s so strange now that at his new school this label has been dropped, they address weaknesses then went for it. they too have their share of children with dyslexia, family problems etc but the school is lead my a head who inspires and motivates the staff, it has been ofsted inspected as an outstanding school which goes to show that for a lot of children, being a ‘sen’ child does nothing more than lower their self esteem. two schools, two different results, making the schools more accountable to the parents, ofsted and ed psyc. really is the way forward. if the ‘outstanding’ schools can be more involved in leading and managing other schools then even better.
    with regards to the personal budget, i’m unsure how this will work exactly and would appreciate more information on this.

  • Helen Duffett 11th Mar '11 - 9:36am

    In response to Jackie Cameron’s query, the full Green Paper can be downloaded from

    Pages 47 – 50 cover the personal budget proposals, including plans for piloting and consultation questions.

  • ” However, with respect to many learning difficulties diagnosis at 2-2.5 is impossible so earlier testing is pointless” ,
    g, please remember that many children with SEN have severe physical disability but cognitively are fully able, and therefore can easily be assessed at the age of 2. And so they should, to give schools and LA enough time to secure funding for adaptations, equipment and additional staffing. My daughter with SMA can’t access Early Years Education because 1) LA said that funding a hoist would be unreasonable use of resources, 2) LA said that for a child with no mobility, 1.8 m is a “walking distance” so they won’t provide transport. And even if the school decides to pay for adaptations, they won’t be ready for the new school year.
    We asked for assessment when our daughter was 2 years old, and were told that it was too early. She’s 3.5 now, and she still hasn’t got the Statement.

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