Speech and Language Working Group
The Speech, Language and Communication Needs Working Group was formed, following advice from the Whitehouse Consultancy, by leading organisations and charities with remits for supporting individuals with speech, language and communication needs. The Working Group’s members included the Communication Trust, Communication Matters, I CAN, and the ACE Centre .
The Working Group was formed to ensure the sector spoke with one voice and to mutual benefit on the subject of the Children and Families Bill (now the Children and Families Act), a substantial part of which promised to transform service provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). The Working Group’s members sought to address three main concerns with the legislation:
- That there would not be the same legal duty on health services as on education services to ensure provision for eligible children and young people.
- That there was not sufficient requirements on schools to support the majority of pupils with SEND that were not eligible for statutory Education, Health and Care Plans.
- That the reforms did not apply to within secure settings for young offenders, 60 per cent of whom are thought to have Special Educational Needs.
As result of the Working Group’s lobbying, by the time that the Bill received Royal Ascent, health bodies were subject to the Act, the duties of schools to support all pupils with SEND were made clear in the and, most drastically, a statutory conflict was overcome so the legislation would apply in secure settings for young offenders.
To ensure the SLCN sector spoke in one voice that would grasp the attention of both Parliamentarians scrutinising the reforms and the Government pushing them through Parliament, Whitehouse proposed establishing a Working Group whereby sector experts could sit alongside supportive Parliamentarians to channel their messages to influence the Government in the most effective manner.
Whitehouse helped the SLCN sector to hone its messages through the Working Group, while embarking on an extensive engagement programme with parliamentarians to bring a sympathetic and dynamic band of MPs and Peers, from all parties, into the forum. Whitehouse coordinated the Working Group, ensuring that its aims aligned with the sector three key goals but also allowing flexibility for the specific concerns to be raised during its meeting programme, which would take place in stages aligning with the scheduled passage of the reforms.
Conservative MPs Robert Buckland and Paul Maynard, Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke, Labour MPs Sharon Hodgson and Pat Glass, as well as Crossbench Peer Lord Ramsbotham, joined experts from the Communication Trust, Communication Matters, I CAN, the ACE Centre and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the Special Education Consortium.
The Working Group was addressed by officials from eh Department for Education and Department of Health, as well as by the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson (twice), allowing the Group to make the case for change to the key persons leading on the reforms
Whitehouse prompted Robert Buckland MP to put-in for a 90 minute Westminster Hall a debate on the education of children and young people with speech, language and communication, and briefed Mr Buckland and other members of the groups who contributed in the debate when it took place in June 2013. Whitehouse also arranged for the Minister to address the Working Group directly only hours after he provided the Government’s response in the debate, maximising the impact of the Group’s arguments.
Following this meeting, Whitehouse supported the Group to embark on a coordinated programme of activity in the House of Commons and House of Lords, including the tabling of parliamentary questions, asking members to issue letters to the Minister, as well as drafting a series of amendments to the Bill to draw out debate on the sector’s three key concerns. This ensured that the Government could not ignore the sector’s concerns and were compelled to respond.
The Working Group was instrumental in ensuring that now children and young people with special educational needs will receive statutory provision from health bodies where health provision is required, will now be assessed for and able to receive support for their needs should they be within a young offenders secure setting, and be in receipt of a graduated response for their needs within school settings regardless or not of whether they have a statutory plan guaranteeing provision.
Robert Buckland MP successfully convinced the Government to place duties on health bodies during the Committee Stage of the Bill in the House of Commons, with the support of arguments made by the Working Group and its members.
Department for Education officials substantially amended the first draft of the SEND Code of Practice – the statutory guidance underpinning the new system – to ensure that it set clear requirements for schools to provide a graduated response to meet and address the majority of children and young people with SEND but without a statutory Education, Health and Care Plan, following feedback from members of the group in written consultation responses, in Parliamentary debate, and directly in person.
Following the Westminster Hall debate, the Children’s Minister’s meeting with the Working Group and a long debate on an amendment that Whitehouse drafted to the Bill in the House of Lords, Department for Education officials were prompted to find a solution to the statutory conflict that prevented the SEND reforms from applying in secure settings for young offenders. Whitehouse represented the group at the unveiling of the Department’s complex solution, feeding back on the proposals that would become a ground-breaking resolution to this crucial issue late in the Bill’s passage.
The Minister later cited the Working Group in correspondence with group members Paul Maynard MP and Robert Buckland MP as influential in the Government’s decision to introduce these changes, which should help to transform lives by improving the support provided to children and young people for their special educational needs and disabilities.