7. Special Educational Needs
7.1 In formulating a response to the evidence submitted to this inquiry I have tried to retain in the forefront of my mind the particular issues that relate to those young people educated at home with special educational needs (SEN). For although as a group they simply form part of the cohort of those educated at home and should be covered by the generality of regulation, I am quite clear that their support and monitoring from local authorities or other agencies should be significantly different. The evidence offered is punctuated by very convincing case studies of hardship, anxiety and misunderstanding that would confirm the research evidence that many parents whose children have needs as diverse as dyslexia and autism, withdrew their child often in despair that their needs were not being adequately met in school. In such instances, it is often a case of ‘home education by default’ rather than ‘elective home education’
7.2 Evidence submitted to this review by the National Autistic Society, Autism in Mind and particularly the Independent Panel for Special Educational Advice (IPSEA), all raise searching questions about the quality of support that follows a child into elective home education, and the methodology by which that support is offered. Similar points are made by individual parents, some of whom seek no help from the local authority even when their child has a statement of special educational needs. Many point to the need for greater sensitivity in intervention, indeed some are fearful that the act of monitoring would in itself be damaging to the child.
7.3 IPSEA, in its submission to this review, cite a range of reasons why children with special educational needs become educated at home:
“…some families with children with SEN make a positive choice to educate their children at home. For others it is the least bad option which may come about for a number of reasons:
*Inadequacy of local SEN provision e.g. lack of special schools or lack of appropriately
resourced units in mainstream schools
*School or LA failure to make statemented provision
*Breakdown of relationships with school &/or LA
*Withdrawal as an act of desperation in the interests of the child’s mental or physical well-being e.g. when he/she is being badly bullied
*Being asked to leave/exclusion by a school which cannot cope with the extreme behaviour linked with the child’s disability
*Neutral position pending tribunal hearing (e.g. on secondary transfer)
*Response to unsuccessful tribunal
* Religious reasons e.g. lack of local school of relevant faith which can cater for SEN child
*Response to threats of prosecution when a child is out of school for reasons above
*It is clearly a matter of grave concern that some of the most vulnerable children including those with very complex special needs, should end up out of school through a default in the system. Once a child is being home educated, Local Authorities may decline to provide support or make special educational provision. This is a situation which IPSEA commonly encounters.”
7.4 They also express concern about the amount of time a child may be ‘in limbo’ awaiting a new assessment or out of school pending a First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). Almost all of the evidence submitted to the review around special needs points to the need for constructive relationships and adequate training of local authority staff. In line with the approach outlined in Recommendation 6, local authorities could commission new, independent experts and existing third sector organisations to support and monitor children with special educational needs who are educated at home, and meet the proposed duty of the local authority to monitor the elective home education, and in some cases, the statement of SEN. IPSEA endorse this approach.
More work needs to be done in this area and I therefore recommend:
That the Ofsted review of SEN provision give due consideration to home educated children with special educational needs and make specific reference to the support of those children.
7.5 That being said I also believe that immediate action should be taken both to regularise the current position, ensure that local authorities meet their obligation to monitor statements of special educational needs and secure adequate resources and support for the child. To that end I recommend:
That the DCSF should reinforce in guidance to local authorities the requirement to exercise their statutory duty to assure themselves that education is suitable and meets the child’s special educational needs. They should regard the move to home education as a trigger to conduct a review and satisfy themselves that the potentially changed complexity of education provided at home, still constitutes a suitable education. The statement should then be revised accordingly to set out that the parent has made their own arrangements under section 7 of the Education Act 1996. In the wake of the Ofsted review, changes to the SEN framework and legislation may be required.
That the statutory review of statements of SEN in accord with Recommendation 18 above be considered as fulfilling the function of mandatory annual review of elective home education recommended previously.
When a child or young person without a statement of special educational needs has been in receipt of School Action Plus support, local authorities and other agencies should give due consideration to whether that support should continue once the child is educated at home – irrespective of whether or not such consideration requires a new commissioning of service.
7.6 Local authorities should also pay particular attention to the Lamb Inquiry (17) comments relating to partnership with parents and the need for transparency in communication (18) . In the same inquiry, comments made regarding better and more communication with parents (19) could equally well be applied to the expectation parents should have of local authorities when they elect to home educate.
(17) Lamb Inquiry Review of SEN and Disability Information; Brian Lamb; April 29th 2009 HTU www.dcsf.gov.uk/lambinquiry/.
(18) Ibid p 7, para 27 19 Ibid p6, para 24