Launching the report of their pre-legislative scrutiny, Education Committee Chair, Graham Stuart MP said,
"We believe that the draft legislation relies too heavily in its current form on the duty of joint commissioning between Health and local authorities to ensure co-operation throughout the system.
It will be essential that the forthcoming regulations commit Health providers to specific timetables when conducting SEN assessments and that responsibilities for Health and local authorities in providing certain therapy services are substantially clarified.
We also call for all current protections afforded by a Statement of SEN to be maintained in the new legislation and for a more coherent means of appeal/redress for parents dealing with a variety of agencies in Health and education."
The Committee warns that the draft legislation lacks significant detail, without which it is impossible to assess the likely impact of the proposals:
"Far too much vital detail remains unclear until Ministers issue draft regulations and the new SEN Code of Practice.
The Government does not intend to lay the new Code of Practice before Parliament but we recommend that the Code remains a statutory document, subject to consultation and laid before the House,"
adds Graham Stuart.
The Committee notes how the 'pathfinder projects' set up to test the approaches described in the 2011 Green Paper on SEN have not had time to report back in order to advise on the development of the legislation.
MPs welcome the Minister's decision to extend the Pathfinders for a further 18 months, but point to several aspects of the new legislation where learning from the Pathfinders will be particularly important, not least how to ensure the 'Local Offer' put in place is sufficient to ensure the needs of young people with SEN, as identified in an Education Health and Care Plan, can be met.
"It will be crucial to ensure the new regulations set minimum standards and a national framework for Local Offers, along with improved accountability mechanisms",
adds Graham Stuart.
The Committee also calls for
- parents and young people to play a stronger role in the design of Local Offers
- forthcoming regulations to stipulate the provision of a key worker/lead professional to co-ordinate the assessment process and the necessary skills for individuals undertaking these assessments
- closer working with post-16 education providers in the SEN pathfinder projects and calls for greater clarity of the rights and protections for 19-25 year olds within the new legislation
- entitlement to integrated provision and Education Health and Care Plans to be extended to disabled children, with or without SEN, and to young people undertaking apprenticeships or not in education, employment or training (NEETs)
- inclusion of independent special schools and colleges in the list of schools for which parents can express a preference in an EHCP