Two recent policy reviews have established the government’s priorities for spending on public services that help disabled and disadvantaged pupils

The 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) has been informed by a series of policy reviews. Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families, published in May, supplements an earlier, more general, review of support for disadvantaged families: Aiming High for Children: Supporting Families, published in March.

In reviewing its programmes for disabled children, the government aims to ensure that every child gets the best start in life and the ongoing support that they and their families need to allow them to fulfil their potential. This review has looked at what more can be done to improve the outcomes of disabled children and young people (0-19) and their families, examining the role that public services can play to make this aim a reality.

The review has worked towards the best ways of creating equality for all disabled children. Improving their educational, social and emotional development, and their opportunities for independent living, choice and control, is a key part of this process. Government wants to ensure that disabled children and their families are enabled and empowered to make a full contribution to the society of which they are a part.

To foster a responsive level of appropriate support for disabled children and their families, the review has looked at the most effective means of providing disabled children and their families with greater transparency about their entitlements, both locally and nationally. The review has also considered how evidence on effective practice and support for disabled children can be better evaluated and disseminated.

Although the review of support for disabled children and their families is more likely to be directly relevant for SENCOs, the earlier, more general, plans for helping children and families potentially trapped in a cycle of low achievement identifies further resources that should become available from local authorities and health departments.

It should be noted that plans which refer to specific funding commitments are almost always within the period of the CSR (2008-09 to 2010-11), so not all of the resources are immediately available. However, the reviews do clearly establish intended priorities and awareness of them will be helpful for SENCOs in advising families of possible sources of support.

Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families considers three key areas: access and empowerment, responsive services and timely support and improving quality and capacity.Access and empowerment
Engagement of disabled children and young people in shaping services at a local level results in the provision of more appropriate services. Increased transparency about entitlements and services available, and increased information at a local level, should lead to greater equity in access to provision.

To empower disabled children, young people and their parents, the government will set a clear standard or ‘core offer,’ and give disabled children and their parents the option to be fully involved in local service development and in designing their packages of care.

Empowering disabled children, young people and their families

  • A ‘core offer’ will encompass minimum standards on information, transparency, participation, assessment and feedback, to make it clear what entitlements and services disabled children, young people and their families can expect.
  • Piloting individual budgets will give choice and control to design flexible packages of services which respond to their needs.
  • Spreading good practice on engagement such as parents’ forums across the country, underpinned by £5m of investment over the CSR period, will give parents of disabled children a voice, foster better relationships between service providers and parents, and allow parents to contribute their expertise.

Responsive services and timely support
Disabled children and their families should be able to benefit from services which are easily accessibly at key transition points in their life, designed around the child and family, and delivered in a coordinated and timely manner.

To ensure that all disabled children and their families can benefit from responsive, flexible services as soon as they need them, and are included in universal services, the government will make disabled children a priority at both a local and national level, improve benchmarking of early intervention practices and set up a Transition Support Programme at the critical transition to adulthood.

Promoting more responsive services and timely support

  • The government believes that disabled children should be considered both a local and national priority. To ensure commissioners and providers have sufficient incentives to focus on the needs of disabled children, the government will develop a national disabled children indicator as part of a new set of priorities.
  • To prevent interventions coming too late, the government will provide specific resource for evaluation and benchmarking good practice on early intervention for disabled children and their families as part of the work of a new Centre for Excellence for Children and Family Services.
  • To develop a clearer picture of the disabled children population at a local level, so that their needs are planned for, local authorities and primary care trusts will improve their data collection for this group, and work together to develop more coordinated data sets.
  • The government will continue to roll out the Early Support Programme to cover all disabled children aged 0-5 to promote wrap-around, timely provision.
  • Disabled young people may face more challenges than most in the critical transition to adulthood. The government will provide £19m over the CSR period for a Transition Support Programme to help disabled young people and their families benefit from intensive, coordinated support and person-centred planning.

Improving quality and capacity
Certain services were highlighted throughout the review as particularly vital to improving outcomes. The government will make provision over the CSR to boost provision of these services for disabled children.

Boosting provision of vital public services

  • A specific grant of £280m over the CSR period to deliver a step change in the provision of short breaks for disabled children. The government will also provide additional funding through the NHS to provide short breaks for disabled children with complex healthcare needs.
  • Accessible childcare is vital to help parents work, and to improve children’s development. The government will set up a childcare accessibility project, underpinned by £35m over the CSR through the general Sure Start grant.
  • To maximise mobility, help children access schools, leisure and other services, and promote independent living, the government will deliver a radical reform of community equipment and wheelchair provision, through the Department of Health community equipment and wheelchair review. Subject to the outcomes of the CSR, the NHS will provide additional resource to increase the stock of wheelchairs and improve provision of community equipment for disabled children.
  • To make universal services more accessible for disabled children, the government will commission the Children’s Workforce Development Council to research the skills and behaviours required by the workforce and to identify gaps.

Supporting positive parenting
Aiming High for Children: Supporting Families focuses on ways to support parents to meet their responsibilities in raising their children. The government’s change programme for children’s services, Every Child Matters, has established a foundation for a new, integrated way of delivering support to children and families and the communities in which they live. To continue to support parents and families and ensure that public services contribute as effectively as possible to improved outcomes for all children, young people and families in ways that meet their needs, the government will take action to help families build resilience, greater personalisation and proactive support.

New emphasis on building resilience
Attainment in education, good social and emotional skills and positive parenting are critical protective factors: they promote better outcomes for children in childhood and later life. The government will increase investment in services and support that help to protect children and families from poor outcomes in later life through:

  • significant additional funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres, childcare and early years of at least £340m by 2010-11 compared with 2007-08 (over £1.6bn in total by 2010-11), as well as extension of the weekly entitlement to early education for three- and four-year-olds to 15 hours by 2010
  • to narrow attainment gaps, building on the Every Child a Reader programme, by providing an average of 10 hours, one-to-one teacher-led tuition for 300,000 under-attaining pupils a year in English and a further 300,000 a year in maths by 2010-11
  • funding so that by 2010-11 schools can offer two hours of free extended activities a week during term time, with two weeks a year of part-time holiday provision for children eligible for free schools meals
  • rolling out to all schools the successful Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning programme – building children’s social
    and emotional skills and providing the foundation for higher academic attainment
  • more support to help parents play their critical role in supporting children’s development – specific activities for fathers in children’s centres, new investment in a universal advice and guidance service for all parents and more intensive support for up to 30,000 parents who most need parenting support, focusing in particular on fathers.

Greater personalisation
Children’s centres, health services (particularly midwives and health visitors), schools and youth services play a critical role in supporting children and families. The government aims to ensure that the services provided are more responsive to the needs of families, that they offer further support earlier and that packages of support are tailored in accordance with need. To achieve this government will:

  • make the Common Assessment Framework electronic to help schools, health services and other children’s services assess risks better
  • provide funding to ensure that local areas can build on and roll out effective practice in supporting children and young people with social and emotional difficulties in schools
  • ensure the five Every Child Matters outcomes are reflected in the way the government articulates national priorities for children, in the national performance management framework.

Proactive support for those who need it most
Public services work best where users and the community are engaged and empowered to participate actively in the design and delivery of the services provided. Public services also need to ensure that they reach out to those children and families who need them most but who may be less willing or able to articulate their needs. The government will take action to:

  • set out a Parents’ Charter – making it clear the minimum level of support all parents should expect from local services, what is available where parents have greater need and in return the responsibilities of parents towards their children
  • ensure that existing support for parents and also new levels of support reach out effectively to those most in need who may traditionally be less likely to receive it.

Helping families to break out of a cycle of low achievement
The worst child outcomes tend to be associated with families with complex needs. There is a relatively small number of these families to help them to break the cycle of low achievement through support coupled with appropriate sanctions. The government:

  • expects that all local areas build on best practice for supporting families with the most severe and complex needs – providing dedicated and integrated ‘whole-family’ support through the use of family lead professionals and/or multi-agency teams; with conditions explicitly set out where appropriate, for example through use of parenting contracts with these families, on the contribution and engagement expected of them
  • to help drive change government will provide £13m to enable a significant number of local areas to set up pathfinders, providing more effective support to families caught in a cycle of low achievement.

Both reports can be read in full on the Treasury website at