The government needs to radically change the law if local authorities are to implement the agenda set out in its Green Paper on children with special education needs and disabilities, according to the Local Government Association.
“We really support what the government wants to do, but are concerned that we can’t get there without some real structural change,” said Donald Rae, policy adviser at the LGA. “These changes aren’t just down to local authorities, health and schools.
“Local authorities want to work better with parents and other agencies, but sometimes legislation gets in the way of that and that doesn’t really come out in the Green Paper. We need to have a radical look at legislation on a national level before these local changes can be made.”
Rae used the example of the difference in policies about disabled children within schools and those within colleges. If parents want to complain about local authority services while their child is in school, they go through a tribunal process. If they have the same complaint when their child is in college, they need to go to an ombudsman.
“That’s just one of many examples where it will be very difficult to create a single, coherent system around disabled children and young people while there is that kind of inconsistency,” he said. “We totally agree about having a single plan, but there are some funding issues and legislative issues that are the government’s responsibility that can get in the way.”
Others, however, have said the government’s lack of involvement is a positive move for the sector.
“It’s better that the government isn’t prescribing something and is letting the pathfinders take the lead – I would be concerned if it was the other way around,” said Graham Jowett, education consultant for the Treloar Trust, which runs a school and college for disabled young people in Hampshire.
“It’s a good approach so long as the government shows they are receptive to looking at new ways of working.”
Jowett said the government’s hands-off approach would enable the voluntary sector to take a more dominant role, moving away from the emphasis on local authorities.
“We’re very taken with the comments involving the voluntary and community sector because we do feel we have a lot of expertise to share,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see local authorities dominating the pathfinders – in the current climate, the involvement of the voluntary sector is key.”
The Green Paper, published today, said a single assessment process for children with disabilities and special educational needs will replace the current statementing system.
The single assessments are expected to be piloted in 25 local authorities from September this year and will see children given a single care plan including health, social care and education support.
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