Could new SEN reform nurture independence in people with autism? – Autism in Practice – September 2014

In the final feature for the September 2014 issue of Autism in Practice, I focused on changes made to Special Educational Needs (SEN) reform that came into action in Great Britain at the start of the 2014-15 academic year in September 2014. With updated provisions potentially offering support to people with a disability in education up to the age of 25, rather than the previous limit of the age of 19, changes were made in what could be offered and for how long it could be offered as a way of hopefully making a positive difference.

The Children and Families Act, introducing major reforms to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in England, came into force on Monday 1st September 2014.

Under the new act that has been created to provide in part “greater protection to vulnerable children” and also “a new system to help children with special educational needs and disabilities”, a new provision will be rolled out over a three-year period that could support people with a disability aged up to 25.Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans will replace Statements of SEN and Learning Disability Assessments that have been used in order to deliver SEN support, following the publication of The Warnock Report in 1978. They will act as an evolution of statementing developed so local education authorities could “maintain a record of children whom they judge need special provision”, in line with Mary Warnock’s recommendations that led to statements being issued under the 1981 Education Act.

EHC plans will promote independence for people with autism, if the person with autism in question has the ability to make decisions on their future, as they will be able to find out more about provisions available either locally or nationally that could benefit them through a local offer. They will also be able to buy support provisions through a personal budget, subject to an application.

Nurturing independent support

Having reached the age of 19, any person with an EHC plan will continue to receive support if they stay in education or move into training that could result in employment. Apprenticeships would be taken into account where time is spent in education and employment but studying at university would take away the option of support offered by the plan.

Ambitious About Autism state “the new SEN Code of Practice sets out how these young people should be supported to move into higher education or employment, and what support they will retain in terms of access to social care, health and other services”.

For people with autism who continue to receive support, however, opportunities to find out more about provisions available will be offered in the form of the local offer and a chance to independently purchase them for personal development will be offered through a personal budget.

People with autism or parents of people with autism will have a chance to apply for a personal budget. If successful, this could be given to an agency that could seek support or alternatively, it could be awarded through direct payments that could give independence in finding provisions.

Dan Leighton, The National Autistic Society’s Policy and Parliamentary Officer, feels a decision to independently source provisions could be positive but that any success will only come from real results:

“Personal budgets will be available to people who have gone through a mainstream or specialist education. With an agreement that a young person gives a loved one a chance to find support for them, this could be possible but the young person should assume control whenever possible.

“It may be easy to develop a budget for one-on-one social care, for example, but speech and language support in school for a larger number of pupils who individually apply through their plans would make it complicated to figure out how a personal budget could be managed.

“It could take six months from September 2014 to get a realistic idea of how personal budgets are being used. It could take at least a year to get a full understanding. It’s hard to understand where the budgets will be used and what they will be used for.”

Additional changes to SEN reform

Conversion from Statements of SEN to EHC Plans will be a gradual process lasting until 2017.

Immediately, children and young people in transition from pre-school to infant school, infant to junior school, primary to middle school, primary to secondary school, middle to secondary school and mainstream to a special school or special to a mainstream school will move to EHC Plans in the first year of implementation, along with young people in years nine and 11 at secondary school, young people who leave custody and young people who are moving to new local education authorities. In any other situation, a change will be gradual.

Should a child not currently be eligible for a Statement of SEN, support currently offered through School Action, a process where an SEN Coordinator can collect information on the needs of pupils before assessing whether extra help and support is needed, will continue to be offered through the new SEN Code of Practice being introduced as part of the SEN reform.

The needs of any children receiving support in this way will be monitored through a four-part cycle where any decisions made and actions taken are revisited, refined and revised. This process will be followed to develop an understanding of guidance that is required in a bid to make good progress in their future beyond education.