Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Reforms Will Let Parents Hold the SEN Purse Strings: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Reforms Will Let Parents Hold the SEN Purse Strings: News

Article excerpt

But critics fear those who opt out will receive second-rate services.

A pilot project starting this month that will give parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) control over part of the budget allocated to their child was always going to be controversial.

Children's Minister Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat with responsibility for reforming the SEN system, agreed last week to give families in 31 local authorities the direct payments to spend on the educational support of their choice. She hopes that the as yet undisclosed sum of money will "empower" parents.

Those in receipt of the cash will be able to buy goods and services - for example, equipment or time with specialists such as speech therapists. The scheme's backers say it will have many benefits, including driving up the quality of services.

"We have evidence that a personal budget can give families more flexibility and empower them to make decisions about the support services that they use," Ms Teather told MPs.

However, many who work in the field say it is not that simple. Teachers, for example, have told TES that many families will be overwhelmed by the complex task of managing their child's SEN provision, while opposition politicians have suggested that the initiative, which is optional, would favour middle-class parents, who are more likely to take the cash. They have warned that those who choose not to become involved will be left with "second-rate" services.

The project is part of major changes planned for SEN education, first announced in last year's Green Paper. Other proposed reforms include a single education, health and care plan and replacing SEN statements with a new system of assessment.

But the idea of giving cash directly to parents has proven controversial. For example, Phil Hearne, executive director of Northumberland Church of England Academy, told a recent Westminster Education Forum conference that parents were worried about the "complexities of managing a personal budget, and this will only add to their stress and workload when just caring for their own child already exhausts them".

Instead, he said, parents wanted their budget managed on their behalf, with "greater clarity and transparency over how it is allocated" and accountability for those responsible for spending the money.

"In one example, a single working parent was adamant that she could not afford the time to manage her budget; if she took time off work to have greater involvement, she was clear she would lose her job," Mr Hearne added.

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, shadow education minister, has added her voice to concerns. …

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