Biggest reform to SEN in thirty years….

“Parents will have a new right to buy in specialist special educational needs (SEN) and disabled care for children from 2014, the biggest change to SEN for 30 years,” according to the the Dept for Education.

The reforms will come in September 2014 and are set out in the Children & Families Bill which receives Royal Assent today . 

But how should parents decide what to spend their budgets on ? Rob Webster, Research Associate at the Institute of Education , comments on what some of the evidence says:

“The government’s proposal to give parents of children and young people with an Education, Health and Care Plan the option of a personal budget is consistent with the positive aim of amplifying the voice of families in the SEN system.

There is likely to be less controversy where personal budgets are spent on specialist equipment, respite care or transport. However, tensions could arise where parents express a desire to spend their budget on resources and interventions for which there is little or no evidence of positive impact on the child’s learning or development.

A good example is one-to-one support from a teaching assistant. On the face of it, more individual adult support seems a commonsense idea, but the research evidence shows a high level of TA support leads to pupils with SEN experiencing a high degree of separation from the classroom and their teachers and peers. In turn, this arrangement – quite unintentionally – impedes the child’s educational and social development.

Successful implementation of the budgets, and the SEN reforms more broadly, will depend on professionals helping parents to understand the evidence on impact, and working together on developing arrangements that focus on the quality of support, rather than the quantity. ”


Comment from Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, Research Director at the Centre for Market Reform of Education and Affiliated Researcher with the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Sweden:

“The decision to give parents of SEN children personal budgets receives some support from a pilot scheme that appears to have been largely successful. On average, parents participating in the pilot reported improved access to social care and greater satisfaction with the services they received – which in turn appear to have improved their perceptions of child and family well-being. While the pilot was not a randomised comparison with non-participants, which would have allowed for stronger causal inferences, this is at least suggestive evidence that individual SEN budgets can improve perceived quality among those who opt for them.”

“At the same time, we know little about the pilot’s impact on objective quality measures, and there’s a dearth of research on personal SEN budgets in this respect (and indeed in general). But there’s other relevant evidence, specifically from the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities, a special education voucher scheme in Florida. This also relates to the provision that allows parents of SEN pupils to have a greater say over which school their children attend. The research from Florida found that SEN children in government schools perform somewhat better academically when parents of such children can opt for independent schools. This indicates that more choice among parents of SEN pupils, which individual budgets are supposed to induce, may foster competition that benefits such pupils overall, not only those whose parents actively exercise it.”


Comment from Professor Sonia Blandford, CEO Achievement for All 3As and Professor of Education and Social Enterprise at the Institute of Education, on personal budgets:

What does the evidence say about giving parents the buying power in their child’s SEN provision?

“Few would argue that increasing parental choice in this way is a positive step. For parents with knowledge, having choice and control will mean accessing the best available educational option because they know and understand their child’s SEND, know what is available (or how to find out) and decide which one is best; they have high aspirations for their child.”

What does the evidence say about how their decisions will be made and how parents will decide how to spend individual budgets?

“Certainly, parental exercise of their right to ‘choice’ will be most effective when they are fully engaged in their child’s learning; parental engagement has a distinct and broad reaching effect on children’s aspirations. Further evidence from SEND Pathfinders shows that it was not the personal budget that made the ‘biggest difference’, but the ‘different type of conversation between the school/college and the family and the more personalised outcome focussed approach (in terms of the planning and the provision agreed)’. Parental engagement in their child’s education and wider needs, including other professionals involved, will certainly be a key issue in accessing and effectively using personal budgets.”


For your background the DfE have described the reforms here:

In summary, the DfE says:

“Parents will have a new right to buy in specialist special educational needs (SEN) and disabled care for children from 2014, the biggest change to SEN for 30 years.

Health, education and care services legally required to work together

Special educational needs support: families to be given personal budgets

For the first time ever, parents will be given the power to control personal budgets for their children with severe, profound or multiple health and learning – meaning they can choose the expert support that is right for their child, instead of local authorities (LAs) being the sole provider.

The biggest reform of SEN for 30 years will also force education, health and social care services to plan services together by law – so when their children are assessed, parents will be assured they will get full provision to address their children’s needs.”


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