Don’t use ‘tougher diagnosis’ as excuse to cut SEN support, warns NAHT

Wheelchair in shadesThe NAHT has welcomed government proposals to link together all agencies of child support – education, health and care – to make it easier for parents to access targeted help for their child more quickly. But the association said it feared that announcements today (15 May) of attempts by the government to tighten up on how special needs are diagnosed could be seen as a bid to slash the numbers of children eligible for financial support. It could also prove to be a dangerous and false economy in the long term.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Statements of special education needs are used to secure resources and attention for children who need it most. Reducing the number of children with statements will reduce the number of children receiving such support. Parents should be worried about this and the government should think twice before reducing schools’ ability to differentiate their provision. Once again, we see evidence of lack of trust.

“The system of statements can be over used – although we should ask why we have a system that pushes professionals to such lengths – but the fact is there are indeed more children with special needs. More children are surviving to school age with serious conditions than before; and we increasingly recognise some behaviour patterns as being treatable conditions that would have been dismissed or ignored in previous eras. This is progress.

“Other aspects of the proposals are less worrying. We welcome the call for a unified approach which spans education, health and social care. We think parents should be given a greater say in how their children are supported. Control of budgets would help – we sound one note of caution however. Schools often need to invest in new equipment or specialist skills. Commitments to a provider should be under parental control, but they should be for the long term – not subject to frequent change.

“There are genuine traumas – such as the death of a parent or family difficulties – which do not qualify as identified conditions or disabilities but which still mean that children require intensive specialist support. Special needs are not a simple either/or but a continuum; a too simplistic approach will let some children slip through the net. Failing to support children when they need it most could also have dangerous consequences later on.  Surely it is more cost-effective and socially responsible to intervene early than have to pick up some expensive pieces when it’s way too late?

“The danger is that schools which operate a highly inclusive policy, making extra efforts to welcome children with challenging needs – schools we should admire and celebrate – will not have the resources they require and that we will see fewer of them.”

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