Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
The Welsh Government is launching a formal 6 week consultation exercise today on proposals to reform of the registration and approval of Independent Schools in respect of special educational needs (SEN).
The Education Act 1996 (“the Act”) currently gives power for Welsh Ministers to approve an independent school as suitable for the admission of children for whom statements of SEN are maintained by the local authority. For a child to be placed in an independent school, Welsh Ministers must either have approved the school as suitable for the admission of children with SEN statements generally or have approved the placement of a specific child in a particular school (section 347 of the Act).
As a result of the Education Act 2002, higher standards have been set for the independent school sector as a whole under part 10 with regard to registration (section 160 of the Education Act 2002) and regulations that support this. The standards against which all independent schools are judged are now higher than those set out in the regulations that are currently in place when considering an independent school as suitable for children with SEN under section 347.
Consequently, the section 347 regime administers a process that is today both unnecessary and duplicates the issues required to be considered in an application for registration under section 160 of the Education Act 2002. We therefore wish to seek views on the proposal to abolish section 347 in the light of the existence of section 160 and the other proposed safeguards that we propose to introduce.
We believe this will provide a simpler system that is less bureaucratic and that places the duty firmly with local authorities who already have responsibility to secure appropriate provision for children and young people with SEN. In doing so, we wish to maintain a high level of safeguard that will ensure local authorities place children appropriately into independent schools. We also wish for this proposed legislative change to coincide with the reforms of the current legal framework for SEN, which is currently out for consultation.
The consultation on the repeal of section 347 ends on Thursday 1 November 2012. Consultees include Directors of local authorities, Directors of Social Services, independent schools, Estyn and other interested parties. A young person friendly version of the consultation document has been produced.
Subject to the responses to this consultation, and following consideration of those responses by the Welsh Government, the proposals will be included in the forthcoming Education (Wales) Bill.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep Members informed. Should Members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.