Eight months after the Children and Families Act came into place with the aim of better meeting the needs of learners with special educational needs and their families and all is not well with the policy, explains Kathryn Rudd.

The Children and Families Act, which came into effect in September, promised a brave new world. It was designed to offer transparency, clarity and a more joined-up system.

But young people and their families are reporting a very different reality.

At the Natspec conference last month we heard from two parents about their experiences and their views of the new system.

One mother said she entered into the new planning process for her son with positive expectations that they could establish provision that would meet his requirements.

The first planning session took two hours and they quickly outlined her son’s interests, aspirations and the services he required. She was really optimistic that the plan would work for him.

What she hadn’t realised was that the plan and the funding were not connected. It took her 11 months and 21 different assessments to get the funding required for her son’s plan to be carried out.

Instead of introducing national procedures to support the new legislation in its early stage, the government opted for a system where individual local authorities (LAs) introduced policy and guidance appropriate for their local area.

Families report a ‘post code lottery’ based on where they live, the blanket policies operated in their area and the ability they have as a parent or family to fight the system

Somehow it is assumed that all young people want to stay within two miles of their parents, that LAs have the capacity, funding and expertise to make all the aspirations of the Act a reality, and that the LAs will telepathically deliver the same solutions to funding constraints and expectations.

It also assumes that the various government agencies will ‘play nice’ and set exactly the same thresholds for services and support and, that they will walk hand in hand into the sunset linking up budgets and systems around the young person.

The reality for many young people couldn’t be further from the truth. Families report a ‘post code lottery’ based on where they live, the blanket policies operated in their area and the ability they have as a parent or family to fight the system.

The heralded joined-up education, health and care plan was described by one parent as a fight to the death to protect each agency’s budget from actually funding the plan established.

The Department for Education has recognised the issues and spent a considerable amount of money and resource on tackling the individual issues as they are raised.

Now it has launched a wider review of the high needs funding reforms which all of us who work in this field are desperately hoping will address some of the cultural and systemic issues young people and their families are facing.

Without a considered review of the system, we are hurtling towards a two-tier system of educational provision post 16.

Parents and families who are articulate and well-informed are desperately using all available resources to fight the system (including ever-expanding legal support) to get the education they believe is right for their son or daughter.

On the other end of the spectrum the more disadvantaged families are seeing services and access removed.

This system unfortunately does not have any clear winners — young people, their families, providers, LAs are all suffering under expectations they cannot deliver and a plethora of different systems, paperwork and approaches.

As a country we need to consider carefully what we want, and equally, what we are prepared to fund, for young people with disabilities.

We need to ensure we can make this a reality ‘on the ground’ and carefully think through the unintended consequences of reform, so we can be clear that any future changes really do enable young people to have aspiration and choice over their lives.