When the government made its announcement last year that it was to carry out a major shake-up of the system responsible for educating children with special education needs, it was met with mixed reactions. Whilst some parents and educational experts welcomed the initiative, hoping this meant a higher chance of children with SEN receiving appropriate support, others feared it would amount to little more than a cost-cutting exercise.
However, last week the government set out its response to the 2011 green paper that claimed too many parents felt they had to “battle” to get the necessary assistance for their children. The plan is, according to Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, to give parents a “personal budget” with more control over how the available money is spent.
The government’s vision seems to be that rather than relying on local authorities and support agencies, by 2014 parents will have the right to use their allocated funding to buy in services, thereby ensuring a more tailored package for their child. After all, who knows the needs of the child better than their parents, right? It is worth noting that parents would still have the option of letting local authorities choose how the money was spent if they preferred.
For many parents who have felt let down by the current system, this seems like an ideal solution. However, frustratingly for those parents who, for whatever reason, choose to home educate their children, little will change. According to the charity HEAS (the Home Education Advisory Service) “home educators are in a similar position to people who send their children to private schools – there is no funding available to support them.” This means that apart from in a few exceptional cases, if a parent feels their child’s special educational needs are not being sufficiently met in a school environment there is rarely any funding available to educate them at home, even under the new proposals.
Of course, some parents who home educate may have done so regardless of their child’s needs, but many initially opt to remove their child from mainstream education because of a negative experience (such as bullying), because they don’t feel the local authority is meeting the needs of their child, or because they feel a school environment in general is hampering their child’s ability to make progress. In these cases, it seems not only grossly unfair, but actually counter-productive to deny those parents the option of accessing funding that would otherwise be made available should their child be educated at school.
Some children with Asperger syndrome, for example, may find the forced socialisation and noise and bustle of an ordinary classroom prohibitive to learning, which can lead to an inability to concentrate, extreme stress and disruptive behaviour. In the face of this, many parents have chosen to remove their child from this environment and educate them at home. Flexible funding in schools will not benefit these children and opens the debate about what kind of provision should be available for students who are just not suited to the school system.
It is crucial to acknowledge that a classroom environment, however well managed, simply does not suit all children and by extending the special needs allowance to home learners, the government would be sending a clear message emphasising the value of high quality, personalised and appropriate education for all.
If you’d like more information on home educating with Oxford Home Schooling, contact a student adviser on 0800 0 111 024.