Edward Timpson, the Minister with responsibility for special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. I'd have gone without the offer of a cuppa to be honest (and it's not often I say that).
We will be 'chatting' about the changes being proposed in the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through parliament. More specifically, we will be focusing on what those changes mean to children with Special Needs, and giving our opinions on how the law needs to be changed.
If you have a spare few minutes (ha!), the Bill can be found here and SEN is in part 3: Children and Families Bill.
I will have to admit that despite considering myself to have been fairly well educated, I struggle with any kind of political and legal jargon. I guess they have to produce it, but I sure don't have the time to try and fathom out what it all means. Luckily, there are some other great websites around which do a great job of simplifying the information.
IPSEA is a national charity providing free legally based advice to families who have children with special educational needs. All their advice is given by trained volunteers, and they do a great job. You can read their thoughts on the SEN changes here: IPSEA Key messages
They are also writing a blog with answers to frequently asked questions on the proposed changes - see http://ipsea.blogspot.co.uk/.
According to the NAS (National Autistic Society), the changes, which are being introduced as part of the Children and Families Bill, include:
- replacement of Statements with new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP)
- new duties on local authorities and NHS bodies to work together to commission services
- extension of the system to cover young people in further education up to the age of 25.
My first impressions are that the new paperwork is much more user friendly, but we need to be able to ensure that actions on it are followed through, and for that we need the words in this Bill to be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time scaled.
Currently the words in the Bill mean that only the education part of the plan will be enforced. There is no legal requirement for Health and Social Care to be involved so there are limits to what can be achieved. It is noticeable that Social care have offered us nothing and Health has given us minimal support - assuming SALT falls under health, but I am never quite sure. In any case, I'm not actually sure I could testify that SALT have given us much support anyhow.
There is also a glaring omission with regards to fixing timescales - timing is so key for parents who need to know that 'something' will happen by a certain date, rather than being left in limbo and going round in circles trying to gain help for their child.
Our SEN diagnosis is autism, but there are many other SEN children with a different diagnosis who are also affected by this bill. I wonder how many of them have heard of Early Support - a great government initiative which only seems to have been taken on board and used properly in certain counties (certainly not ours). In their words 'Early Support is the central Government mechanism for achieving better coordinated, family focused services for disabled children, young people and their families across England.'
To me it does seem as if there is a fair amount of thinking going on (albeit sometimes directed by and for professionals, rather than for the families involved), but very little of it is joined up and actually going anywhere - does that describe Government as a whole though?!
I'll admit to liking the sound of Edward Timpson's original words on this matter:
The Bill will…give children and young people with special educational needs and their families better co-ordinated support, and more choice and control over how that support is provided.His heart may be in the right place.... his words are easy to say, but are they easy to put into practise? Can he back them up by adding the right words into this Bill? I'll be asking him that, and how he is really gong to make a difference, and I'd love to take along any of my readers' comments. I think it's incredibly important that these politicians listen to real life issues, and not just work on where they perceive the problems to be. So please leave me any questions you have for Mr Timpson and I'll do my very best to get you an answer.
Every measure in the Bill is driven by one simple objective: our determination to improve the outcomes for all children and families in our society, whatever their start in life and whoever they may be.