PARENTS of children with special needs are bracing themselves for the biggest shake-up of the education system in 30 years.
Children’s minister Sarah Teather said by 2014, parents will be given control over their children’s special educational needs budgets, allowing them to choose expert support rather than local councils being the sole provider.
She said this will stop parents being pushed from pillar to post in a battle between different authorities and agencies.
However, there is concern the draft legislation, which contains proposals to merge categories of special needs, would see many children removed from the special education register altogether.
We spoke to parents and teachers across Essex to get their views and find out what else needs to be done.
Jayde Soper, from Basildon, says she was so frustrated by the lack of support provided for her son Finley, who has Aspergers, she took him out of mainstream education and is now tutoring him at home.
She feels the situation could worsen for children with a “less visible” special needs, if the new measures mean they are given less help.
She said: “My son is intelligent and speaks and looks like any other child. But he has these special needs, meaning he has no social skills, cannot make eye contact and needs a bit of extra attention, like help to write things in his planner.
“These things were not happening and, as a result, he was not doing his homework and receiving detentions and be made to sit in isolation. A child with Aspergers cannot be made to sit in isolation.
“The mainstream school system is no good for children with special needs. There are so many supply teachers who come and go – how can a child with Aspergers bond with their teacher if they are always changing?
“I’m in a fortunate position where I work at home, so I have been able to home tutor my son, but it was hard at first.
“However, he is doing so well and there is such a difference now in the way he wakes up in the morning and his enthusiasm for learning that I would not go back.”
Gary Smith is the headteacher of Market Fields School in School Road, Elmstead Market, Colchester, a day special school for children and young people between the ages of five and 16 who experience moderate learning difficulties. It also has enhanced provision for pupils with autism.
He feels the new plans to “give some parents a shopping trolley” in respect of their children’s special needs budgets could mean the “disadvantaged are even more disadvantaged”.
He said: “There are pros and cons to everything. The system isn’t working, but changes need to start from the bottom.
“You get these do-gooders who want to come in and make these changes. I don’t believe the changes that are actually needed have been identified.
“There are some parents who find it hard to accept their child is different and has special educational needs. Ignorance exists about what special needs actually are.
“I’ve been teaching since 1981 and at this school since 1989, so I’ve been around long enough to say this. I went into education because I believe its supposed to be a leveller. Before I draw my last breath I want to make that change.”
About 21 per cent of schoolchildren in England were identified as having special educational needs in January 2010. More than half of the pupils, 11.4 per cent, are in schools which receive no specific extra money to help.
Under the new plans, some parents would have the right to a personal budget for their child’s support, and local authorities and health services would be required to ensure services for disabled children and young people were jointly planned and commissioned.
Managing the budgets will be optional for parents, and the Government will try out a number of different approaches, either giving money to parents directly or leaving the budgets with the local authority.
In a statement, Mrs Teather said: “Thousands of families have had to battle for months, even years, with different agencies to get the specialist care their children need.
“We also have a situation where a lot of children are not being identified early enough and actually may turn up later in the criminal justice system.
“If we don’t support children properly, particularly those with speech and language problems, we often find they fall out of education and then create all sorts of problems later for themselves and for others.”