Back in 1997, David Blunkett published a Green Paper on special educational needs. Though it has subsequently been presented as being about a 'presumption towards inclusion', it was much more about trying to address the frustrations of statementing, and to introduce alternative less bureaucratic ways of meeting the needs of those with less severe SEN. Blunkett certainly wanted disabled youngsters to have access to mainstream schools, but always recognised the need for special schools for those with severe learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural difficulties, to use the accepted jargon in the SEN world. The changes did at least allow for School Action Plus, where extra help short of a statement is needed. It too wanted more early identification of needs through baseline assessments and greater co-ordination between agencies. And it led to a significant new role for many special schools as hubs of specialist help linked with mainstream schools, a role extended as they formally became specialist schools.
Forward thirteen years to today's coalition Green Paper on SEN. There is plenty in here with which one could hardly disagree. Early identification of special needs needs to be improved. Better local information would be useful. Stronger aspirations for those with SEN is essential, and too many pupils are mis-diagnosed often being placed on School Action. Joint assessments and single personal budgets make sense too. As does mediation if people are ready for it, rather than tribunals. But while there may be some savings to be made through extending programmes like Achievement for All, the danger of this paper is that it falsely raises expectations in some of its promises. In particular, there may well be a demand for new SEN free schools, but will they have the funds needed for complex needs? Will there really be parental choice, when the Treasury has made it subject to the 'efficient use of resources'? And will there really be the great levels of local information and support when local authorities are implementing huge cuts, and schools are losing funds too? These are not mere details: they lie at the heart of delivering the ambitions of the Green Paper.