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What does the new Green Paper on SEN teaching propose?

Over the last few years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on the special education needs (SEN) of some pupils. In March, a new green paper, called Support and Aspiration: A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and disability, was published by the government and included a number of proposals, which will impact on schools, teachers, teacher training, local authorities, people with SEN and their families.

Announcing the paper, Children's Minister Sarah Teather said the proposals would result in the biggest programme of reform in SEN for 30 years.

According to the government, there are a number of problems with the current SEN system, with the minister noting that SEN statements are not joining up education, health and care support. "We have heard time and time again that parents are frustrated with endless delays to getting the help their child needs, and by being caught in the middle when local services don't work together," said Ms Teather.

It noted that Ofsted has previously argued that too many children are being over-identified as having SEN, suggesting that this results in teachers having lower expectations and prevents pupils from achieving their potential. Currently, 21 per cent of children in the UK have been identified as having SEN, although only 2.7 per cent have statements.

The green paper, which drew on the views of families, teachers, local authorities, health professionals and national and local organisations working with individuals with SEN, calls for a whole new approach to identifying SEN. There should be a single Early Years setting-based category and school-based category of SEN, the document suggested, adding that parents should be included in the assessment process. Statements should also be replaced with a single assessment process, while a combined education, health and care plan needs to be created so that a child is fully cared for. Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "The proposed new single assessment and plan should make it easier for parents to get the support they need for their children."

While these changes would have an effect on teachers, the proposals which are likely to have the greatest impact on educators relate to training and a number of other issues. The government has proposed replacing the current School Action and School Action Plus system with a new programme, which would encourage teachers to focus on raising attainment. Teacher training should also be overhauled, the coalition suggests, while more emphasis should be placed on the professional development of teachers regarding special needs teaching. Scholarships will be made available for teachers to develop their practice in supporting disabled pupils and those with SEN. The role of special education needs coordinators (SENCOs) also needs greater support, it proposes.

Commenting on the plans, Lorraine Petersen OBE, Chief Executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN), said the organisation was pleased that the green paper placed a clear emphasis of training and development for staff in schools.

"We need our teachers to be well trained and confident to identify needs and barriers to learning and provide the right support early on," she noted. "NASEN is delighted the green paper recognises the important role of the SEN coordinator and is pleased that support for training new SENCOs is continuing."

Children with a learning need, which is not necessarily a special educational need, were also examined by the green paper. It suggests extending the Achievement for All programme in a bid to ensure that personalised support is mainstream in all schools, while introducing phonics-based training to support children to boost reading levels. Commenting on the report, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said mainstream and special schools "need to be able to build on the strong networks of schools to share responsibility for the success of all children in their area". She also called for more support for teachers who work with pupils with SEN. "No teacher can be an expert in all areas of SEN. A new scholarship fund for teachers to study higher level qualifications in SEN is welcome but should not be at the expense of central advisory teams nor the role of the SENCO within schools," she added.

The green paper also points out the need for good school management. "None of the ambitions highlighted here are possible without strong and effective leadership," the report states, adding that the National Qualification for Headship will be reviewed so that SEN is "considered appropriately".

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Any attempts to reform SEN provision must ensure that the training and resources are available for teachers in mainstream schools to cope with the vast range of ability and challenges within this group."

The government has now opened a consultation on the paper, which will run until June 30th.