Lord Addington: A 'reluctant' system is hindering access to special educational needs services
Anyone who has special educational needs has to fight for the support they need from the local authority and is hindered by considerable financial costs in a difficult legal system, writes Lord Addington.
Currently there is much legislation saying that anyone who has special educational needs (SEN) and is in the state system should get help; this ranges from the Equality Act the Children and Families Act and the SEN Code of Practice.
The problem is that to get this help you are dependent on a determined and aware parent fighting through a system that is reluctant for a variety of reasons, mostly financial, to implement that help.
Even though we now have some awareness training for special educational needs in initial teacher training, this is often under a day for all the most commonly met conditions encountered in the classroom.
Teachers do not have sufficient training to deal with the different learning patterns, for instance someone who has Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, or Attention Deficit Disorder.
I know that parents of dyslexic children are being told by schools that they must be two years behind their peers in literacy. This means your child must be so severe and making no progress to receive help by the age of seven.
Effectively they will be several years into education before they can qualify for help, as most dyslexics particularly those with supportive parents will make some progress, it will simply be slower and often means that a child has been working much harder than their peer group to achieve much less.
This is also very unfair to those parents who take an active role in providing support themselves, in providing outside help.
This can be compounded by schools without specialist knowledge carrying out assessments, providing parents with inaccurate information. There have even been cases of schools refusing to accept findings of diagnostic assessments carried out privately and refusing to implement recommendations made by outside specialists.
It is worth remembering that schools are required by central government to define the first £6000 for funding pupils with SEN support from the general budget.
If you have gone through this process and decide that you need a ‘Health and Care Plan’ (EHCP) to set out appropriate support, this requires your school or often a parent to request an EHCP needs assessment.
It takes six weeks to get a yes or no decision from the local authority to carry out the assessment. The local authority decides within 10 weeks whether to issue a plan and if they agree you get your plan four weeks later. The whole process is supposed to take 20 weeks - there are normally less than 40 weeks in a school year.
The reality is this often takes much longer, as at every stage in this process where the local authority can say yes, they can say no and frequently do.
For a parent to appeal it takes 12 weeks, which can easily lead to the whole process taking well over a year and sometimes two.
Most local authorities start by refusing the initial application at week six and then wait for anecdotal evidence to see whether the parent will continue with the process to enforce the rights of the child.
Parents often have to launch a further appeal because of the poor quality of support that is offered by the local authority.
It should be remembered that parents who can pay for assessments - and you could be looking at multiple assessments from various practitioners - are looking at considerable costs.
Local authorities being challenged have often started this process by refusing to undertake assessments. Starting costs are about £1000 for this process and then you have legal costs on top, which substantially improve the chance of getting support.
Effectively we have a system which is difficult and legalistic, which guarantees that better off educated parents stand a better chance of getting through than those who aren’t.
Lord Addington is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords.