Tags: SEN – Special Educational Needs | SEN Policy | SENCO

The House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, one of a number of the house’s select committees, started its inquiry into special educational needs at the beginning of October.

The inquiry was announced in July, following sustained political debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords towards the end of the last session of parliament about special educational needs policy and practice in England. This debate was fuelled by the publication of a pamphlet by Baroness Mary Warnock, Special Educational Needs: A New Look, in which she called for a reappraisal – or refinement – of recent and current policy; a review of the role of special schools; and an acknowledgement that too high a value is placed on inclusion as an educational principle.

The committee is looking at the following issues in more detail:

  • Provision for SEN pupils in ‘mainstream’ schools: availability of resources and expertise; different models of provision.
  • Provision for SEN pupils in special schools.
  • Raising standards of achievement for SEN pupils.
  • The system of statements of need for SEN pupils (‘the statementing process’).
  • The role of parents in decisions about their children’s education.
  • How special educational needs are defined.
  • Provision for different types and levels of SEN, including emotional, behavioural and social difficulties (EBSD).
  • The legislative framework for SEN provision and the effects of the Disability Act 2001, which extended the Disability
  • Discrimination Act to education.

Remit of the select committee The Education and Skills Committee’s terms of reference are to examine ‘the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Education and Skills and its associated public bodies’, and it chooses its own subjects of inquiry, within the overall terms of reference. This means that the aforementioned issues have been identified by the committee itself, on the basis of debate within parliament, and members’ knowledge and understanding gained from other sources, to warrant further discussion and probing. The committee commences its work by inviting interested parties to submit written evidence, or comment, on these issues. The committee’s special educational needs inquiry has already completed this phase of its work; the closing date for all written submissions was 3 October 2005.

The next phase of the inquiry involves public evidence sessions, usually held in committee rooms at the House of Commons or nearby. These sessions enable members of the committee to follow up matters they consider to be important after scrutinising written evidence, and to seek views and opinions from the witnesses they invite to attend. The parliamentary website provides specific further guidance for witnesses presenting both written and oral evidence.

At time of writing oral evidence sessions were due to commence on 31 October (a timetable for future meetings can be found on the Education and Skills Committee website, the address of which can be found at the end of the article).

At the end of the inquiry, the committee will normally agree a report based on the evidence received, and this is likely to contain recommendations to the government and other bodies. This is published and made available on the internet. Copies are sent free to those who give oral evidence. The government will publish a response to the report, usually within about two months of publication.

Getting your views across Busy professionals, including SENCOs, may wonder why they have not been consulted directly about issues pertaining to their work. It may be the case that their views have been presented indirectly through written evidence provided, for example, by a teacher union or professional association. It may also be the case that the committee of inquiry will invite a group of SENCOs to give oral evidence during the coming months. An alternative approach to presenting views would be for SENCOs to contact a local MP to remind him or her that an SEN inquiry is in progress and to ask if their views could be passed on to select committee members. The length of the select committee of inquiry is not predetermined, and it could continue its deliberations for several months. If this is the case, then opportunities to influence its thinking and conclusions are still available.

The ‘other’ SEN commission
On 18 July 2005 David Cameron (Conservative MP and party leadership contender) announced the formation of a Special Needs Commission (SNC), to be chaired by Sir Robert Balchin. The aim of this commission is to review the provision of special needs in the British education system and to make recommendations about how it can be improved in response to the needs of children and their families. Whether or not this commission has been overtaken by events (the select committee of inquiry) is a matter of conjecture, but it is due to publish interim findings in the near future.

Additional information
All select committee publications and press releases are available here.

Further information for witnesses about presenting written and oral evidence to Select Committees can be found at: www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/witguide.htm.

Comprehensive live webcast coverage of all select committee evidence sessions is provided by www.parliamentlive.tv. Evidence sessions may also be televised on the BBC Parliament Channel (digital/freeview).

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Nov 2005

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