Coronavirus: Children's minister claims relaxing SEND support rules 'strikes right balance'

New emergency powers that “relax” requirements on councils to provide support for SEND pupils “strike the right balance in difficult times”, the government has said.

The proposed coronavirus bill states councils won’t be penalised for failing to provide support outlined in pupils’ education, health and care plans (EHCPs) as long as they show “reasonable endeavours” to fulfil their duty.

Parents are extremely nervous they could see the erosion of hard-fought-for rights of disabled children

Labour MP Emma Hardy, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for special educational needs and disabilities, wrote to the government yesterday over “nervousness” the changes could erode “hard-fought-for-rights” for disabled children.

She called for the new “reasonable endeavours” requirement to be changed to “taken all practicable steps”.

But children’s minister Vicky Ford, in an open letter today, said the proposals “strike the right balance in these difficult times”.

She said the “overwhelming aim” of the changes is to “balance the needs of this vulnerable group to receive the support they need with managing the demands on local authorities and health bodies”.

Hardy had said that while many parents of children with SEND will understand the need for flexibility, their children will “still be in urgent need of specialist support and they deserve a clear understanding of why it is necessary to relax this statutory provisions”.

“Parents are also extremely nervous that they could see the erosion of the hard-fought-for rights of disabled children and young people.”

Holly Blacklaws, from HCB Solicitors, warned in a blog that EHCPs will now “be extremely watered down” and added “it is unlikely that local authorities will have to provide special educational provision for children with special educational needs”.

But Ford claimed the emergency powers will “only be exercised for shortest period and where necessary and will be regularly reviewed”. She added any decisions to enact the powers will “not be taken lightly”.

The bill will modify legal requirements on councils to fulfill duties relating to EHCPs.

Ford said: “In practice, this will mean that where a local authority is, because of the outbreak,
unable, for example, to put in place stated provision, they will need to use their reasonable endeavours to do this, but won’t be penalised for failing to meet the existing duty as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.”

She said they will also be seeking to amend regulations on the timescales for EHCP processes.

The bill is currently in the House of Lords and is expected to become law later this week.

We will be following this story throughout the week. If you have a view or will be affected by the bill, please email samantha.booth@schoolsweek.co.uk