Guest post from Megan Cleaver who is the Parliamentary Officer at Scope.
The Children and Families Bill, which sets out the biggest changes to support for children with special educational needs (SEN), has reached a critical stage and is currently being debated by a committee of MPs in the House of Commons where they have the opportunity to put down amendments in order to improve the Bill.
In the Committee, MPs from both the Labour and Conservative Parties have supported a number of Scope’s key asks as part of our Keep Us Close campaignto improve the support available for families with disabled children and children with SEN and stop the battles they face in accessing this support.
The Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon Hodgson, herself a mother of a disabled child, spoke passionately about the challenges that families face and made explicit reference to Scope’s ‘Keep Us Close’ report detailing the lack support available to families in their local area. Sharon sought changes to the Bill which would ensure that positive family relationships and the participation of children and young people and their families in local community activities are actively promoted; and that services are located nearer to where families live. This would send a strong message to local authorities that improving the quality of life for families is, and should be, a priority and ensure that support for children with SEN is available in their local community.
While the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson praised Sharon for her ‘insightful and excellent analysis’ of the weaknesses of the current SEN system, unfortunately the Government did not accept this amendment.
In order to ensure parents get the support they need in their local area, Scope is also calling for systems to be put in place so that families are able to hold local authorities to account if they cannot get the support they need. This is supported by Conservative MPs Caroline Nokes and Robert Buckland who both spoke powerfully about the importance of this change given the battles families face to get even the most basic support- leading them to feel powerless and overwhelmed by the need to wrestle their way through seemingly endless bureaucratic hurdles.
The ‘Local Offer’
Scope’s amendment would ensure that if a ‘Local Offer’ (which sets out the support available in each area) is deemed not good enough; a local authority has a duty to revise it until it meets the needs of local families and young people.
This would create a situation where local authorities are working together with families, school governors, children’s centres, nurseries- all with the common aim of making support the best it can be.
So far the Government have been unwilling to introduce this mechanism to strengthen the hand of parents; we feel this is of such importance for parents with disabled children and children with SEN that we will continue to work with MPs so that much needed accountability is introduced into the system.
These are the biggest reforms to SEN provision in 30 years and Scope, with your help as part of our Keep Us Close campaign, we will keep on fighting to make them the best they can be and ensure that disabled children are given the support they deserve.