Children's Minister Sarah Teather has announced changes to provision for children with special needs. Despite her claim that this will create 'a more integrated and less bureaucratic system', the plans amount to a significant attack on support for the most needy kids, perhaps a new low even for this government's austerity drive.
Government plans include giving parents a 'personal budget' for their children. Rather than being able to expect the support and services that our kids need, parents will need to 'shop around' for services, putting cost rather than need at the centre of decision-making.
Currently, if a school identifies a pupil as having special needs, it applies 'School Action' and 'School Action Plus' to help, and if the child still needs extra help, a Statement of Special Educational Needs may be awarded, which may bring extra resources to the school for that child. Around one in five children are in this process, with 2.7% having a Statement.
The government thinks that 'too many' kids are getting this individual attention. An Ofsted report in 2010 claimed that the category 'special needs' was being 'used too widely', and right-wing cheerleaders are now claiming that schools and parents are 'abusing' the system to get resources for children.
If 'too many' kids are being labelled as having special needs, that suggests to me that our underfunded, fragmented school system is failing to meet children's needs, leaving more and more of them with unmet needs which require special attention. The government should tackle this problem rather than penalising our kids.
Some of the increase in 'special needs' provision is because progress over the last few decades has recognised and addressed conditions such as dyslexia and autism. Kids today get support for conditions that were overlooked when I was at school - yet this government seems to think this is a bad thing.
Teather's changes include replacing the current system with a 'single assessment process'. But while the current system is far from perfect, parents of special needs kids will fear loss of essential support if it is scrapped. My ten year-old son Joe has Asperger Syndrome, and his Statement gives him one-to-one support from a Teaching Assistant, speech and language therapy, a personal workstation in class, and more. It was a difficult, uphill struggle to get the Statement for him, and without it, he would be unable to engage with his classes, his talents left undeveloped, getting nothing from school but distress.
Parents, students, school workers and unions, disability campaigners and others need to unite to stop this attack and win decent provision which meets the needs of every child.