Borough trial at forefront of reforms

Tom Barrow from Wigan with his personal assistants Rachel Lee and Michelle O'Toole
Tom Barrow from Wigan with his personal assistants Rachel Lee and Michelle O'Toole

A NEW support system for youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has started this week after being trialled in Wigan.

The overhaul of the current structure, which sees major changes to how children are assessed and supported, is being rolled out across the country.

More than 100 children with complex needs across the borough have been part of the pathfinder scheme since 2012 and Wigan Council staff have been advising other local authorities on the changeover.

The changes are designed to give parents a greater say in the support their youngsters receive with the option of a personal budget and improved choice on schooling options.

Instead of receiving individual assessment “statements” on a young person’s condition and support requirements, local authorities will be required to publish an all encompassing “local offer” combining education, health and social care needs, known as a EHC plan.

Coun Jo Platt, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Our staff have worked hard to make sure the families affected are not suddenly hit with the changes.

“It is testament to the work put in that our staff have been advising other councils because we have been part of the trial scheme, the work that has been done here is very impressive.

“At the forefront of the reforms is handing choice over to the young people and their families, that is key, at the end of the day, they’re the ones who know what is best for these young children.”

The EHC plans will be available for those up to the age of 25, an increase from 16 under the old system.

Joanne Barrow, whose 18-year-old son Tom has a number of serious physical disabilities, said being part of the trial scheme had made a positive impact for her family.

She said: “In the past the statement just focused on education but now it takes into account health and care factors, it’s a more holistic approach.

“As part of having our personal budget, we were able to choose two assistants for Tom whereas a lot of this support previously came from family members.

“Being part of the trial has meant the professionals were learning as we went along just as we were. It has meant we have been able to have a say and have been encouraged to think outside the box, it has been a two-way process.

“Personally, for our family, it has been a really positive thing, we have been able to choose more age-appropriate support for Tom and his lifestyle such as visiting the Youth Zone and taking part in Duke of Edinburgh.” The system will also allow parents whose children have an EHC plan a new legal right to attend an academy, free school or FE college, rather than just the previous options of maintained mainstream or special schools.

Children and families minister Edward Timpson said: “This is a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND and their families. These reforms put children and parents at the heart of the system.

“For too long, families have found themselves battling against a complex and fragmented system.

“These reforms ensure support fits in with their needs and not the other way round - they will result in a simpler and more joined up system that focuses on children achieving their best.

“This is the beginning of a journey, and the vast majority of local authorities have told us they are ready and parents have been supportive over the changes.”