Special needs overhaul offers hope for Norfolk parents

PUBLISHED: 14:05 10 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:41 10 March 2011

Kathryn Wiseman with her sons, Sam, 13, left, and Jacob, 12. Picture: Denise Bradley

Kathryn Wiseman with her sons, Sam, 13, left, and Jacob, 12. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant © 2011

Recognising that your child has special educational needs can be both challenging and traumatic.

Children with SEN statements


2006 - 3,570 (3pc)

2007 - 3,740 (3.2pc)

2008 - 3,881 (3.3pc)

2009 - 4,178 (3.6pc)

2010 - 4,540 (3.9pc)


2006 - 3,167 (2.9pc)

2007 - 2,989 (2.8pc)

2008 - 2,845 (2.6pc)

2009 - 2,796 (2.6pc)

2010 - 2,752 (2.6pc)


2006 - 2,763 (3.2pc)

2007 - 2,651 (3.1pc)

2008 - 2,655 (3.1pc)

2009 - 2,725 (3.1pc)

2010 - 2,729 (3.1pc)

But what can be far harder is trying to get the professionals to also recognise it – and then to provide the support they need to help them to thrive in the classroom.

A significant number of parents would say that it is a battle.

And it is not something that affects only a tiny proportion of families.

In Norfolk, there are currently more than 20,000 children identified as having special educational needs. And in January 2010 there were 4,540 children with statements of special educational need – the category for the most challenging cases. That number has been rising for the past few years.

As a proportion of the total number of pupils, the 3.9pc with a statement is the highest in England. The national average is 2.7pc.

When multiplied across 150 English local authorities, the scale of the issue is remarkable.

But, still in the throes of early-term enthusiasm, the government is embarking on a bid to tame the SEN giant and make it work better for children, parents and professionals.

Children’s minister Sarah Teather yesterday published a green paper that proposes to:

■ Give parents a legal right, by 2014, to control funding for the support of their child’s needs

■ Replace the current school action and school action plus categories –affecting the vast majority of SEN youngsters – with a school-based scheme, focused on raising attainment

■ Replace statements of SEN –affecting those with the most profound needs – with a single assessment framework, covering education, health and social care

■ Ensure assessment and plans run through to age 25

■ Improve teacher training and professional development to drive up the achievement of students with special educational needs

■ Give parents a greater choice of school and the power to set up special free schools.

The approach is radical. And, according to Michael Bateman, additional needs strategy and commissioning manager at Norfolk County Council, it has the potential to be positive.

He said: “If it works, children should get support earlier and parents should have the perception, if not the fact, that there will be less of a battle and a more seamless approach.”

While the current system is well-meaning, it is accepted that it is far from perfect.

The sheer complexity of the system encourages confrontation, while many people agree that it is also too bureaucratic, and can choke the resources that it is designed to provide.

And because statements of special needs attract more funding, there is a suggestion that some schools have applied for more in order to get hold of the money.

Mr Bateman said: “We would certainly agree with the view of many parents that it’s an adversarial system. When we hear parents say that it’s a battle, we acknowledge that the system doesn’t help with that.

“From a parent’s point of view, the current system of school action, school action plus, then a statement of special educational needs just looks like procrastination. That has caused some difficulties.

“The big one that we would agree with in the green paper is the bureaucratic nature of the current process. It is done for a good reason, so that the assessments are thorough.

“But that centralised bureaucracy has sometimes delayed support for children and tied up local resources like educational psychologists to feed the SEN machine.”

He added: “I’m really pleased to see the approach of a single assessment across health, education and care. The spirit of the green paper is good news.”

There is another problem that the government is trying to deal with in the green paper, though. That is the feeling in some quarters that many children are wrongly labelled as having special educational needs to either cover up poor teaching, attract extra funding or boost their contextual value added score in the annual performance tables.

Last year Ofsted reported that an estimated 450,000 children were wrongly diagnosed. That angle was not emphasised yesterday by ministers, though, who preferred to focus on the potential benefits to children and parents.

Ms Teather said: “We have heard time and time again that parents are frustrated with endless delays to getting the help their child needs, and by being caught in the middle when local services don’t work together.

“The new single assessment process and plan will tackle this and mean parents don’t feel they have to push to get the services they are entitled to.”

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press