‘Special needs reforms will help families’

Mike Cleasby, at Harewood House, Darlington

Mike Cleasby, at Harewood House, Darlington

First published in Education News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Health & Education Editor

A NUMBER of North-East local authorities are testing proposed reforms to the current system of support for children with special educational needs.

Darlington, Hartlepool, Gateshead and North Yorkshire have all been chosen as “pathfinder” authorities by the Government.

The 20 authorities will be the first to test out proposals which appeared in the Queen’s Speech.

The Government wants to reform the system so that parents can have access to a “personal budget” for their children.

It is expected that the changes could lead to fewer children in the special needs category. A typical budget could be used to pay for short respite care breaks, social care or on transport. The NHS element is provided free of charge.’ Children’s Minister Sarah Teacher has said that the current system was “outdated and not fit for purpose”.

But teachers’ unions have warned that tightening the criteria for having a special need should not be a cost cutting measure.

Mike Cleasby, manager of the two pathfinder projects to test out the proposals in Darlington and Hartlepool, accepts that the changes may worry some parents but believes that the reforms are going along the right lines.

“The main reason we want to do this is to improve outcomes for disabled children and young persons with special educational needs and cut down the bureaucracy,”

said Mr Cleasby, who works for Darlington Borough Council.

As the father of a ten-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome, he knows the difficulties faced by parents.

“I know that parents experience a lot of frustration in getting the help their children need. I have had them as well. I am passionate about these reforms, I have a personal interest,” he added.

Pathfinders will test the following areas: a single education, health and care plan from birth to 25 years, focusing on whether the outcomes for disabled children and their families have been improved; personal budgets for parents of disabled children and those with special educational needs so they can choose which services best suit the needs of their children, improving support and information for parents and carers and young people and providing support for vulnerable children.

Mr Cleasby said this should result in better life outcomes for young people, a new approach to identifying special educational needs and a single assessment process and education, health and care plan.

He said the changes should give parents more confidence by giving them control of all services available with the option of a personal budget.

The project manager said the change should result in the transfer of power to front-line professionals and to local communities.

So far, 15 families have been recruited to test the personal budget scheme, balanced by a similar number of families who will continue with the existing system.

Their experiences will be evaluated by an independent company called SQW.

Mr Cleasby said anyone who wanted more information about the pilot schemes should go to Facebook and enter “Darlington Parent Carer Forum”.

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