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Education confirmed to age 25

Children with autism in the UK will now have a legal right to educational support until the age of 25 in what is being described as the biggest reform of the special educational needs (SEN) system for 30 years.

The government’s commitment to extend the legal entitlement for all young disabled people has been outlined in the Queen’s Speech and confirms the creation of an education, health and care plan from birth to 25.

The current situation finds many disabled young people having their support cut off at 16, with statements of special educational needs often ceasing and families given no legal redress.

The proposals form part of the new Children and Families Bill, to be launched in early 2013. It is expected to provide ‘statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN’.

The new measures also involve changes to the family justice system, a move that could impact positively on the lives of people with SEN and their families.

For young people with autism it will mean greater access to education and training for jobs.

Three in four young people with autism currently end up at home with nothing to do, or are in long-term residential care. This is due to the lack of appropriate educational support beyond school, according to Ambitious about Autism, the parent-led charity that campaigned hard for proposals in the Bill.

The charity saw its Finished at School campaign being backed by 23 national organizations, 80 parliamentarians and over 3,000 individual supporters.

Mark Atkinson, director of communication, policy and research at Ambitious about Autism, is upbeat. He said: “The reform has the potential to revolutionise the life chances of tens of thousands of young people with autism who are currently denied access to any educational opportunities beyond school.”

He indicated that the charity’s campaign work would go on: “We will be campaigning hard with our partners to ensure the ‘comparable’ statutory protections are clear, robust and apply to all young people who need them.”

The Bill was previewed in the Department for Education’s Green Paper on SEN in March 2011, when it outlined the single assessment process for children with disabilities and SEN. This is expected to lead to a combined education, health and care plan that will cover the young person’s support until the age of 25.

Families have been promised greater control over the choice of support for their child and will be given access to personal budgets to support them. Meanwhile, local education authorities are to be made more accountable for SEN provision and will be required to be more transparent, publishing all the local offers of support available to children with SEN in their locality.

Changes are also being made to the legal system, which will involve making parents consider mediation instead of litigation when in dispute with local authorities or schools. There will be a requirement on parents to attend mediation meetings ahead of any court proceedings.


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