The Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) Trust Briefing on the Children and Families Bill – Second Reading
Briefing for Parliamentarians
The Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) Trust
The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust or Trust is made up of the British Dyslexia Association(BDA), Dyslexia Action, Helen Arkell, The Professional Association for Teachers of Students with Specific Learning difficulties(Patoss), Springboard for Children, Xtraordinary People and the Driver Youth Trust.
The Trust is established to bring together and provide a combined voice amongst the organisations working to improve outcomes for individuals with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties. It provides reliable, unbiased information to parents, teachers, schools, local and national government and acts as an important communication channel between government and the voluntary and community sector.
Dyslexia and the Children and Families Bill
Approximately 10% of the population is known to be dyslexic and it is estimated that this accounts for about 375,000 pupils in the UK. Whilst this 10% of the school population has some level of dyslexic difficulty only the most severe of these, often with co-occurring difficulties and many years of failure behind them, meet the present criteria for Statements of Special Educational Needs. The vast majority of the others are either unidentified or currently at School Action or School Action Plus within the education system.
The Trust on behalf of our partners in the dyslexia sector welcomes the proposed changes to the special educational provision for children and young people, particularly those with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties.
In particular we welcome:
- That the legislation no longer requires an EHCP to cease when a young person is no longer in education or training while still the age of 25 or younger and that young people on an apprenticeship will be allowed to have a Plan.
- Strengthening of Clause 36 which now enables parents to request an assessment for an EHCP
- The emphasis on closely involving children, young people and their families in all the decisions that affect them (clause19)
We would also like to see the Bill strengthened in the following areas:
- Clarity on what provision will be made for children, currently supported via School Action and School Action Plus and how the regulations in the Code of Practice will stipulate that schools adequately identify, meet the needs, monitor and evaluate the progress of young people with SEN, including SpLD such as dyslexia using a staged approach.
- Clear information and advice to parents in the form of the Local Offer, fully accessible to all including those with additional needs.
- That the Government publishes the regulations setting out the common framework for the local offer before the Bill reaches the House of Lords.
- The responsibility that all dyslexic children are identified.
- The need for Local Authorities to review their Education and Care provision.
- Joint working of Education, Health and Social Care agencies.
Issues we would like to be raised at the Second Reading Stage
- Can the Minister outline how children with dyslexia who currently receive additional support outside mainstream education as part of School Action and School Action Plus will be supported within the new single SEN category?
- How are the changes to the SEN Code of Practice going to affect those with dyslexia?
- How will the Minister ensure that what is published in the local offer is adequate, what the processes for funding and accountability will be and that legislation does not allow that Local Authorities to provide either a minimum or at worst nothing?
- How will those currently being missed by the system be identified to get the support they need?
- Given the crucial role that SENCo’s play in coordinating the support for children with SEN, including specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, will the Minister consider using the legislation to stipulate that the inclusion of dyslexia training be required for a teacher to undertake this role?
Our Position on Key Parts of the Bill
Clause 66-67: Code of Practice and School Action Plus
Parents place great value in the Code of Practice and we believe any change must be built on clear evidence that it will improve outcomes for children and young people. The biggest proposed change is that School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced by a single SEN stage. We have yet to see how the development of a single SEN category will adequately identify, meet the needs, monitor and evaluate the progress of young people with SEN, including SpLD such as dyslexia using a staged approach. Nor is it clear how this will be funded and who will be the named person responsible for providing for the needs of these children, who a parent can then contact. How will parents know what the LA is required to provide for their child’s needs from the Local Offer and how do they access this provision?
At Second Reading State we would like to see a reassurance that the Government has a clear and positive view as to how all those children currently supported through School Action and School Action Plus will be supported in future.
We believe that much of the detail to safeguard this provision for children with mild to moderate difficulties, often known as high incidence and low severity difficulties, will be included in the Code of Practice. We welcome the Government’s agreement that the Code of Practice should be laid before Parliament. However, we believe that Parliament will want the opportunity to discuss the new SEND Code of Practice under the affirmative resolution procedure.
Clause 22: Identifying children and young people with special educational needs
Children with dyslexia need to be diagnosed earlier so they can quickly be given the help they need. Early identification of dyslexia across all educational phases provides the best opportunity to provide effective, cost-efficient interventions for children with dyslexia, in some instances reducing the need for more costly, specialist support. Clause 22 stipulates that local authorities must exercise its functions ‘with a view to securing that it identifies all the children and young people in its area who have or may have SEN’. As this is such a crucial area of the journey for children with dyslexia and their families, we would like to see the wording of this clause to be strengthened so that local authorities ‘must identify all the children and young people in its area who have or may have SEN’ as early as possible.
Clause 30: Local offer for children and young people with special educational needs
We support the plans for a Local Offer which we hope will provide a greater clarity for parents, children and young people about what is available locally. The Local Offer is, of course, not in itself a mechanism as a process for delivery of identification or provision for SEN. Therefore we believe there needs to be clear accountability for parents and schools providing strong expectation that schools will make available high quality services through their Local Offer. We also feel that the structure of this information should be standardised to avoid the omission of key information.
Following the pre-legislative scrutiny the Clauses regarding the Local Offer (30-32) have changed little and still state that local authorities will only have to list what they ‘expect’ to be available, which remains a concern should expectations not be reflected in practice. However, we do recognise that the terms of how transparent a Local Offer is required to be has been strengthened, so that local authorities must publish the feedback they have received on their Offers from parents and young people. This will make it is clear how well Offers have been developed in partnership with parents, as the reforms have always intended.
Our experience from talking to the Pathfinders, parents and local authorities and sharing our ideas and advice on the Local Offer suggests that work on the Local Offer is in the early stages, which is unlikely to be completed by the time the reformed school funding comes in to play later this year. The concern here is that the process and mechanism by which schools access their school budget for additional services for children with high incidence, low severity needs such as dyslexia and specific learning difficulties will not be tested or secured.
Currently a local authority will only have to set out the provision ‘it expects’ to be available in their local offer. This wording is not strong enough to provide redress for parents or young people if those services are simply not there. We believe that there needs to be a legal duty to provide what is set out in the local offer. This will allow parents and young people and young people to challenge local authorities if the local offer is not delivered.
Considering that the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP, in his response to the Education Select Committee’s report, confirmed that a common framework for the local offer will be included in the regulations, we urge the Government to publish these regulations before the Bill reaches the House of Lords. The regulations will provide the detail on what services are mandated to be available in local areas, the importance of which cannot be understated, therefore they need to be published before the Bill passes into the Lords so they may have ample time to be scrutinised.
Clause 36 Assessment of education, health and care needs
We are pleased that Clause 36 of the Bill now enables parents to request an assessment for an EHCP rather than the local authority led process put forward in the draft clauses. However, we would also like to make the point that if additional services are required for children with SEN not holding an Education, Health and Care plan outside mainstream settings there should be a mechanism for parents to request this and schools to deliver from their school budget. According to the latest government statistics, in 2011 there were some 1.5 million pupils with SEN without statements representing nearly 20% of pupils across all schools; this group of children represent the majority of our learners with high incidence low severity needs such as dyslexia and SpLD. We know that of those identified many of our children currently receive support through school action plus. There needs to be a mechanism, as part of the reforms, to ensure that families with children and young people with mild to moderate learning difficulties such as dyslexia and SpLD continue to get this support and that there is an expectation that schools offer it. In 2009 the Rose Report clearly laid out what provision should be made available in mainstream education to identify early, support and monitor progress of those children and young people with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
We are pleased that the Minister has made the commitment that the regulations will stipulate that a SENCo should remain a qualified teacher. However, we still feel that the legislation should stipulate that dyslexia should be included in this training that a SENCo is required to have. If a child is notably struggling with literacy acquisition, all schools should have a SENCo suitably trained to undertake the necessary assessment and make alternative provision. All schools should be required to be knowledgeable on alternative provisions available; this fundamental message is a key outcome of government commissioned reviews reflected in the Bercow Report (2008) the Lamb Inquiry (2009) and The Rose Report (2009).
We feel the legislation needs to contain a support mechanism and guidance for those parents unable to readily communicate their needs in relation to their child’s special educational provision to request additional services, assessments and personal budgets for their children. Whilst we welcome the new powers for parents and carers to request a personal budget the draft clauses suggest that this might only happen “if asked to do so by the child’s parent or the young person.” Many of our parents of children and young people with dyslexia or SpLD may also have literacy or communication difficulties themselves. We urge that there is a mechanism by which these children are not missed purely by not having parents with the skills to ask for help.
Clauses 25-29 Joint Commissioning
These clauses require local services to cooperate, to jointly review services, and to put in place arrangements for joint commissioning. This has the potential to improve the way services for children and young people with SEND are commissioned. While we welcome the Government’s intention that services work better together we have some specific concerns which we hope the Government will address:
These clauses only require services to put in place joint arrangements for children with special educational needs. This means disabled children who do not have SEN will not be included in the joint planning and commissioning. We believe this is a major and unnecessary omission.
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