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Special needs pupils and supporters march against the lack of places in state schools due to government cuts to resources
TEACHERS unions have condemned the onslaught on children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), launched by the coalition government yesterday.

Legislation to slash the rights and numbers of SEN children will be included in a Children and Families Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech last week.

Children’s minister Sarah Teather claimed yesterday that the current SEN system is ‘outdated and not fit for purpose’.

Teather said the government will push ahead with proposals announced last year that fewer children should qualify for the special needs category, while those who do should have a ‘personal budget’.

Last year’s green paper on special educational needs claimed that ‘too many children are being over-identified’ as having a special need.

Teather said that by 2014 SEN parents would have to buy in services, rather than rely on local authorities and support agencies.

She denied the measures were purely to reduce the number of children recorded as having special educational needs.

She claimed: ‘For me this is not about numbers, it is about getting the right children identified and getting the support in place. We do not have a target.’

But Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘The reform of critical support for children and young people with SEN is being proposed at a time when the health service is being plunged into the chaos of reorganisation, the free market is being introduced into schools and massive cuts and job losses are being faced by essential services.

‘It appears that consultation on this complex and critical issue has been reduced, once again, to a cosmetic exercise and the Coalition Government is simply proceeding with its original proposals in the Green Paper.

‘Whilst it is true that the current statement arrangements can be bureaucratic at times, it is not at all clear that the proposed changes to the system will address the issues of concern.

‘It is all too apparent that the Coalition Government’s proposed reforms will do nothing to address the real concern of parents that sufficient resources are made available to meet their children’s needs.

‘In circumstances where education funding is declining in real terms, the ability of the system to ensure that pupils with high levels of need get the care and support they require is only likely to become increasingly constrained.

‘Personal budgets may sound superficially attractive but are simply vouchers by any other name. They rightly will be seen by many parents as wholly irrelevant to their concerns.

‘Vouchers are about opening up a market in the provision of special needs rather than ensuring that parents, teachers and other professionals can work together to support pupils with the most complex and challenging SEN.’

She added: ‘The key message is that the Coalition Government is seeking to redefine what constitutes SEN, in the context of an economic austerity programme.

‘This can only mean that fewer children will qualify for additional support and teachers and parents will be left to pick up the pieces.

‘If the Coalition Government’s intended reforms are introduced, the ability of schools to identify and remove the barriers to achievement that pupils with SEN face will be undermined severely, causing real alarm and distress for parents of some of the most vulnerable children within the education system.’ 


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