Government accused of failing disabled people and SEN children

By staff writers
9 Mar 2011

The government has been strongly criticised for failing disabled people and SEN children with cuts, piecemeal reforms and a "regressive" Green Paper.

The comments from NGOs and disability campaigners followi the publication on 9 March 2011 of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Green Paper (the consultative stage of the legislation) and the House of Commons' second reading of the controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

On the latter, the Disability Alliance (DA) (http://www.disabilityalliance.org/) said today: "We welcome some aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill, but overall Government plans will mean huge cuts in provision. For example, over 400,000 disabled people lose all out-of-work support as a result of time-limiting contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance."

The Alliance, a national registered charity which works to relieve the poverty and improve the living standards of disabled people, also points out that more than 800,000 disabled people are to be cut from further help by the proposals to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replace it with a Personal Independence Payment - which will provide no low rate care equivalent support and has a budget reduction of over £2.1 billion.

A further 80,000 disabled care home residents will lose DLA mobility support from March 2013, despite no Government alternative solution being provided. This potentially leaves some families unable to visit/care for disabled children.

Another aspect of the Welfare Reform Bill is the provision to end support for people when they reach 65 years of age or retire, whichever is higher. This proposal has sparked fear amongst disabled people that they will experience further cuts to support just as needs increase with age, says the DA.

Regarding the Special Educational Needs and Disability Green Paper, Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of the disability charity Scope, commented: “The Green Paper has some interesting ideas and we welcome the focus on creating a joined-up approach to assessing children’s support needs and giving parents greater control over how their child is supported at school.

“While plans to allocate personal budgets to children with SEN is a move that we have long supported, this needs to go hand-in-hand with ensuring that suitable and affordable services and support are available, and that parents have a genuine choice of school for their child. Given that the government’s plans to devolve decision-making and funding down from councils to individual schools, we worry about schools’ ability to commission services for children with low-incidence, but complex support needs effectively or at a reasonable cost," said Hawkes.

He added: “We are also concerned at proposals to abolish statements and other support schemes for children with less complex needs and devolve this responsibility to individual schools, especially in the current financial climate. This could lead to many children with lower levels of SEN no longer receiving the early intervention or ongoing support they need.”

Contact a Family said: “The introduction of a simplified assessment process has the potential to make lives less stressful for families. However the Green Paper is not clear about where responsibility lies to ensure that a joined up package of support is delivered for disabled children and their families, and that those carrying out assessments have the right skills and knowledge.

The charity added: “Professionals must be made accountable if they do not deliver and there is no clear indication of how this would work in the Green Paper. Our own research 'What Makes My Family Stronger' found that 60 per cent of families have a poor or unsatisfactory experience of being listened to by the professionals involved in their child’s care."

Other NGOs and campaign groups have offered a more radical and thoroughgoing critique, however.

Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, who also has a profile as a campaigner on disability and SEN issues, told Channel 4 television news this evening that the Special Educational Needs and Disability Green Paper was "regressive" overall, reflecting the government's "ideological opposition" against giving disabled children right to mainstream education, as in other European countries.

"The Green Paper locates 'barriers' firmly with the disabled child's 'problems' rather than with the disabling social environment and the need to move from exclusion to inclusion within the education system," he declared.

"This document offers an illusion of choice rather than genuine choices for disabled people and their families," said Bartley. "It offers no right to inclusive education, and in many ways it will make it more difficult to push for inclusion. It is based on a 'medicalised' approach to disability rather than a vision of justice and community."

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (http://www.csie.org.uk/) said: "We welcome the commitment to parental choice, but we are concerned that no clear plans for affording a real choice to all parents are being put forward. If the full spectrum of provision is to become available to all parents to choose from, the capacity of mainstream schools to respond to the full diversity of learners has to increase."

The Centre's statement, issued today, continued: "In the process of presenting a commitment to parental choice, the Green Paper repeatedly states that the government intends to 'remove the bias towards inclusion'. Many parents have told us of the many obstacles they have encountered in seeking a mainstream place for the child, so it is hard to justify the claim that such a bias exists.

"Furthermore, to speak of inclusion as though it only refers to school placement for some children, overlooks significant changes of the last decade and the fact that inclusive education nowadays is widely understood to relate to every child’s experience in school. It is as relevant to disability equality as it is to gender and ethnicity equality.

"By implying that inclusion is not a priority for the government, significant damage may be done as this could be seen as undermining the work of CSIE and other organisations that strive to support inclusive school development for the benefit of all children.

"Alarmingly, the Green Paper takes us further back in time and seeks to re-introduce aspects of the Education Act 1996 that were repealed by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001. The Green Paper states that parents will be able to express a preference for any state-funded school and have their preference met, unless it would not meet the needs of the child, be incompatible with the efficient education of other children, or be an inefficient use of resources. Two of these three provisos had been repealed by SENDA 2001; all three seem entirely out of place in 21st century schools.

"With a strong emphasis on personalised learning, there is no need for tailor-made provision to take place in separate settings. The efficient education of all children is a matter of school organisation and in other parts of the world systems have been developed so that all children are well educated in ordinary local schools.

"The 2007 Audit Commission report 'Out of Authority Placements for Special Educational Needs' clearly states that without accounting for transport costs, which typically come out of a different budget and are not combined with other expenditure, it is not possible to make informed judgements about the most cost-effective placement for any particular child," concluded CSIE.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) says it is "shocked that despite Government rhetoric about parental choice, the SEN Green paper published today will limit, already narrow, choices for parents of disabled children and those children with Special Educational Needs. This is because the Government is planning to scrap the existing SEN legal framework which will not only cut the numbers of children who can be identified as needing support for learning, but will also remove the legal right to support that the current framework (however flawed) provides."

"The proposals in the Green paper will make it significantly worse for parents who want their disabled children to be supported in mainstream school, because there will be many more hurdles for parents overcome in terms of finding a school, getting an assessment of need and funding for support, with less opportunities for challenging the system," says ALLFIE (www.allfie.org.uk ).

The Alliance adds: "The SEN Green paper does nothing more than cement the Government’s misguided plan to remove the bias towards inclusive education – a bias that ALLFIE and our networks of families, teachers and disabled learners know, to their cost, does not exist."

Tara Flood, the director of ALLFIE, commented: "The proposals in the Green paper will not makes things easier for parents, in fact, things will be made a great deal worse as the fundamental framework of support for disabled children and those with SEN is dismantled with no workable alternative – these proposals are ill thought out and will take education back 20 years for disabled children and children with SEN.”

[Ekk/3]

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