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Personalising Special Educational Needs – Making it Happen


On the 15th May the Department for Education made an announcement that could see the biggest shake up in the way children with Special Educational Needs receive support in 30 years. IMPOWER has been closely involved in the personalisation agenda, both with adult social care and in supporting the individual budget pilots for disabled children and their families. We believe these reforms are the right thing to do (you may have seen previous blogs from my colleagues on the subject), and do not come a day too soon, so why do we say ‘could’?

By now you will be familiar with the headlines from the announcement – the legal right to buy in care; education, health and social care working together; a single plan from 2014 onwards; and a host of other measures to make the process smoother, less confrontational and more effective at meeting the needs of the child. These are all sensible reforms and long overdue but we have two particular concerns.

The first concern comes from our experience in Adults personalisation. The Putting People First process gave local authorities grants totalling over £0.5bn, but the results have made nowhere near the difference that was expected. As a previous blog on our website articulated, a view shared with us by very senior figures in social care is that it is a case of “here’s your (reduced) budget and here is the list of providers.” The providers are not new and innovative but familiar and predictable. What we are up against here are market forces that do not currently favour the customer. It is of little use having money in your hand if there is nothing different to buy. There is a real risk that a personalised approach to SEN could result in families trying to source the same for less. We are not sure that this is what is meant by localism!

The second concern emerges from a far more positive experience. As a business we see demand management as absolutely vital for local government to successfully cross the ocean of austerity it currently faces. Central to this is changing the relationship between local authorities and parents, and helping parents to change the behaviours learnt in a system that makes them dependent on their local SEN team – for example, by enabling them to play a greater role in choosing how their child gets to school, or the support they receive when they get there. Our concern is that this will not happen.

Getting parents to behave differently requires the public sector to behave differently first – and when the changes are implemented we suspect it may be surprisingly easy for staff to hide behind what could become a replacement set of forms and processes. Our recent, award-winning work with Coventry City Council tackled exactly this problem. By focusing on changing the relationship between council and parents we were able to increase independence for children, provide parents with choice and save money. This also provided moments of real insight. Ironically, we discovered that whilst parents are in many ways dependent on SEN teams they are more likely to listen to other parents and teachers.

Similarly, during our work supporting the six original Disabled children IB pilots we found that recruiting families was far more difficult than expected. The most effective way to resolve this was for the pilot teams to get out and share their passion and commitment with individual parents, building a different kind of relationship to that they had been used to.

We believe that these changes could make a huge difference to the lives of children with SEN and their families. They also bring SEN reform to the top of the agenda of DCSs across the country by providing a clear deadline to act.

30th May 2012

David Colbear is a Manager at IMPOWER. To contact him to discuss this blog please e-mail or call 020 7017 8030.

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IMPOWER is an organisation driven by a social purpose. We are a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.



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