John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says laws meant to ‘simplify’ support for children with SEN have made things chaotic, and in some cases catastrophic. Here’s the opening…
Besides the presence of a frisky Gordon setter, the scene when I arrive for my appointment with Melinda Nettleton and John Friel exudes simplicity and order: a pristine meeting room at a London legal chambers, tea and biscuits served on spotless white china and conversation of lawyerly precision.
What I’ve come to discuss, by contrast, seems complex and chaotic. The revised English system for special educational needs (SEN) was introduced via the Children and Families Act of 2014, and local authorities have been rolling it out, in theory, since last September. Friel and Nettleton are lawyers and campaigners who have closely followed the whole story – voicing alarm when the legislation threatened to reduce parents’ rights and pushing for amendments that, in a few cases, made it into the final act of parliament. Even so, they are less than pleased with the result.
Now, the couple – both have children who have been through the SEN system – have written a timely book, Special Needs and Legal Entitlement, subtitled The Essential Guide to Getting out of the Maze. Using an array of case studies and forensic legal analysis, they highlight the awkward relationship between parents, schools, local authorities, the NHS and central government, and how to navigate a system that draws all of these together (short answer: with difficulty). What they say about the system amounts to a story of ministers and civil servants going into a three-year frenzy to apparently no avail. “The original intention,” says Friel, “was to simplify the system and put parents in control. But what you’ve actually got now is the complete reverse…”
After a detailed account of what’s changed in the SEN system, John Harris concludes by saying “And so we arrive, once again, at the problem of the old SEN system that seems to have become worse: “If people aren’t experts, they’ve got no chance.” Would you agree with this verdict?
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