Thursday, 3 March 2011

Special educational needs

Tipping point only a few days away?

England is the land of birth of 'special educational needs'. The Government has been promising radical review of the whole SEN system but publication of a promised 'Green Paper has been delayed, and delayed:


Now the word is out (and it could be wrong) that the Green Paper will be published next Tuesday, 8 March.

What is a Green Paper?

In the English-speaking world (apart from Canada) a Green Paper is a tentative government report of a proposal ,without any commitment to action; the first step in changing the law.

Given the plethora of offical and quasi-official public consultations that there have been on this topic over recent years, and the mountain of reports and recommendations that have resulted from these, then it is hard to see that there is much more to be asked. Who knows, though, the Government's 'tentative report' might be so radical as to start the whole talking shop off again, for years' more delay.

This seems unlikely. The parlous state of the economy makes it likely that the Government will want this whole matter done, dusted and out of the way now, as soon as possible.

What might this Green Paper propose? The Government has kept all information on this tightly bottled down. Perhaps it will dismantle the whole spwawling SEN category and accept a distinction between those with disabilities and those disadvantaged by the circumstances of life. Nobody's saying. How the Green Paper might describe such things, or anything else, given the wonton destruction of concepts and distinctions over the SEN era, will be fascinating to see.

What happens now?

Presumably, selected leading echelons of the state and the voluntary sectors are carefully positioning themselves so that their interests benefit maximally come the day – and no doubt amonst these a favoured few are already well aware of what is going on, and preparing accordingly.

It might be that the coming weekend and Monday will see articles and leaks in the media, to lead-up to Tuesday's official on-line publication of the Green Paper. There will be a flurry of interest, with ministerial statements and causiously worded resposes from professional bodies, charities and other interest groups. After that the the foot soldiers can settle down to plough through and interpret what might be quite a hefty document.

And then?

Tuesday is a good day to publish. It gives the Times Educational Supplement and any other interested weeklies with a Tuesday-afternoon deadline time to summarise and to gather together some responses, Then the Governement, and the world of what (for a short while longer,anyway) is called 'special eduational needs', can get on with more pressing matters.

Except that the world of SEN should by then be aware that it will not be getting on much longer with things as they have been and, indeed, that many features of that familiar world will not be around much longer.

No doubt the Green Paper will be proposing change – not just a 'road map' for it. but a timetable too.

In the little world of SEN, organisations of every kind will already be planning how they are going to exist fanancially over the forthcoming financial year. Budget Day in the United Kingdom will be on 23 March – just fifteen days after the Green Paper –  by when the country as a whole will doubtless have bigger things to worry about. SEN faces a double connundrum. Not only does it not know what the Budget will bring, and the possible effects of this upon income, but only on Tuesday (if this is indeed D-Day) will it know the possible future geography and the new ground rules of its own sector.

Conductive Education in England?

Most CE practice in England relates to children, and it is hard to think that any such practice will not be affected by the proposals of the Green Paper. Who knows, some such effects may be benficial for some.

When it comes out, there will be plenty to study, likely including the following:
  • CE people will be looking out for mention of Conductive Education. Maybe it will be mentioned, maybe not. If it is mentioned, will what is said make you shout 'Hoorah', or sink into depair?
  • What is currently called 'physical disability' will surely get a mention. Again, what is said may make you shout 'Hoorah', or sink into depair.
  • 'Inclusion' is a guarunteed topic – 'Hoorah', or despair, or somewhere in between?
  • Money, money, money – and best value (evidence-based practice?)
  • Allocation of what money there is – or to use the old financial term 'assessment'. (And what will happen to educational psychologists?)
  • Transition to adulthood (and those non-existant adult services)
  • Training (for whom, in what, by whom?)
  • Research
  • In our brave new Big Society, lots about the voluntary sector (charities)
  • And of course parents, with bold talk about 'choice' and 'partnership' – and lots of 'support'.
What lies within may be the making or the breaking of marginal services, in all sectors of SEN. Study hard.

And if you are not in England?

Then for the moment none of this is your problem – and for some of you it may never be.

But do remember that the notion of 'special educational needs' has proved an attractive one to politicians and bureaucrats around the world, even in places where strong local special educational traditions might have led one to assume that their indigenous systems might be immuine.

Watch out, there might be a new policy meme about!

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