Question: Does the Minister appreciate that the attitude/behaviour of LAs is the biggest hurdle for most parents?
IPSEA’s answer: He should be becoming more aware! In defence of LAs, the fundamental, unaddressed issue comes from the fact that the current system (and the proposed new system) have underpinning it law which requires LAs to identify an individual child's SEN, identify where necessary the additional educational provision to meet those needs and then put it into place.
The law does not allow the LA to refuse to put provision into place on the grounds of cost once they have evidence that it is needed. A lot of some LAs’ efforts are therefore put into avoiding children reaching the stage where a statutory assessment of their needs is triggered, for example telling parents, ‘We don't do statements in our LA,’ or, ‘You won't get a statement because he/she is not bad enough.’ Or once a statutory assessment of a child's needs is underway, LAs turn their attention to ensuring that the evidence that is produced is woolly and fails to specify clearly the additional provision that a child needs, so speech and language therapy (SALT) fail to quantify the hours of SALT support needed. If the evidence is not there then it cannot be included in the statement and therefore there is not a legal duty to provide it.
However, the reality is that LA have fixed SEN budgets. If they did what they were supposed to do for each of the children in their area they would need far larger budgets - one large LA once estimated their budget would need to be eight times what they currently have. For most LA officers it is this balancing of the legal requirements with budgetary constraints which is at the core of their behaviour. To be seen by their employers as being good at their job they have to deliver a service within the LA budget. It explains why they refuse and block things at every level in some LAs. Only those children who have parents that are informed about their legal rights will win through and get what is needed. Too many children have parents who cannot engage with the system, are engaged but misinformed or don't have parents - it is a numbers game for LAs. Surely any new system being developed should be good for all children - not just those with active and informed parents?
There are some real treasures amongst the LA SEN officers out there. People who have dedicated their work lives to getting the best support for children like ours. However, as with anything, there are some really horrid ones.