Councils should not carry out SEN assessments, MPs say

MPs have renewed pressure on the government to end local authorities’ role in assessing children’s special educational needs.

Councils’ dual responsibility of assessing and funding SEN leads to a “conflict of interest” and remains a “serious problem,” a report by the House of Commons education select committee said yesterday.

The committee made the same recommendation in 2006 and yesterday’s report said it was “not good enough” that the government had failed to change the system.

The committee called for local authorities or children’s trusts to commission the assessments, which could be delegated to schools. Local authorities could retain responsibility for funding.

It also recommended making educational psychology services more independent so they could make “unfettered professional judgement” in each case. The report said this would require “clear guidance” from the Department for Children, Schools and Families or for the DSCF to fund the services directly.

The committee emphasised that it was not “questioning the integrity” of professionals involved in local authority SEN assessments, adding that “tensions in the system can give rise to mistrust, unfounded as it may be, which helps no one.”

The committee also called on the government to look at developing the Common Assessment Framework as a means of assessing SEN, create a national framework and require local authorities to publish provision maps for each area.

It said funding was a “vital” issue and urged the government to state how the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review would include SEN provision.

The Children’s Services Development Group (CSDG), a policy group of six independent providers of specialist education and care services, backed the committee’s call to separate local authority’s responsibilities of assessment and funding SEN.

Brian Jones, chief executive of SENAD Group, which provides services for children with SEN, said: “The most practical solution is that local authorities, children’s trust or schools be empowered to commission assessments from independent professionals. Empowering educational psychologists is one such model. Truly child-focussed assessments will lead to appropriate placement and funding solutions for all children.”

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