Deaf News: NDCS says new Special Educational Needs system could leave Deaf children without vital support

Posted on June 13, 2015

New Government figures have raised fresh concerns that changes to the system of guaranteed help for children with special educational needs is leading to a reduction in support, the National Deaf Children’s Society says.

This is despite reassurances given by Government Ministers that the recent reforms would not make it more difficult for children to obtain the support offered by legally binding plans.

From September 2014, Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans started to replace statements of special educational needs (SEN).  The aim was to bring in a co-ordinated assessment process, with different professionals working together to agree a support plan up to the age of 25.

But the number of children issued with either a SEN or an EHC plan fell by seven per cent last year – the first drop in numbers since 2010 – and 20 local authorities have seen reductions of 30% or more.

Jo Campion, Deputy Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“The National Deaf Children’s Society welcomes the aim of the reforms, but we have repeatedly warned that pressure on local authority budgets could mean fewer children being offered this legally binding support.

“Sadly it appears those concerns may be justified.  Deaf children can achieve as much as their hearing peers given the right support, but unless central Government properly holds local authorities to account for failing to meet deaf children’s needs, there is a risk they will be seen as an easy target when looking for savings in the face of budget pressures.”

An NDCS survey of parents of deaf children published in 2013 showed widespread concern about the reforms, with only 6% believing that the changes would lead to better support and 72% thinking the real aim was to reduce spending.

NDCS has been consistently sceptical that SEN reform could take place during a period of significant local authority spending cuts without having a negative effect on the support available for deaf children.  But the Minister for Children and Families assured parents that: “no one will be left without support just because of the changes. We have not changed the definition of special educational needs or the basis on which councils determine whether a child needs a statutory assessment.”

The EHC plan was trialled in a number of pathfinder areas before being rolled out across England from 1st September 2014.  Since its introduction, no new SENs will be issued and all statements of SEN should be replaced with an EHC plan by April 2018.

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