John Harris

Journalist & Author

The new special educational needs maze, where parents go back to the start

Laws meant to ‘simplify’ support for children with SEN have made things chaotic, and in some cases catastrophic, say families, schools and experts

Besides the presence of a frisky Gordon setter, the scene when I arrive for my appointment with Melinda Nettleton and John Friel exudes simplicity and order: a pristine meeting room at a London legal chambers, tea and biscuits served on spotless white china and conversation of lawyerly precision.

What I’ve come to discuss, by contrast, seems complex and chaotic. The revised English system for special educational needs (SEN) was introduced via the Children and Families Act of 2014, and local authorities have been rolling it out, in theory, since last September. Friel and Nettleton are lawyers and campaigners who have closely followed the whole story – voicing alarm when the legislation threatened to reduce parents’ rights and pushing for amendments that, in a few cases, made it into the final act of parliament. Even so, they are less than pleased with the result.

On the face of it, it seems some children whose needs were met by the old system have been cut out in a stroke

Related: Funding rules on special educational needs are leaving inclusive schools with a cash shortfall

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