MP Jonathan Reynolds has secured a ministerial commitment that parents will not lose out as part of the Government’s Special Educational Needs (SEN) review.
Under Government plans - currently being finalised - the system of Special Education Needs Statements will be replaced with new education, health and care plans.
There have been concerns that the existing rights of parents will be weakened as part of the changes bring drawn up in the review.
But during a parliamentary debate on autism Mr Reynolds – who is Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism – secured an assurance that an education, health and care plan would have the same legal force as a statement.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said that in some circumstances the education, health and care plans would extend the rights parents had in some circumstances. And he told MPs, "the legal force of an education, health and care plan will be the same as that of a statement".
Following the debate, Stalybridge and Hyde MP Mr Reynolds welcomed the Minister’s promise.
He said: "I know parents have been concerned that under the new system they would no longer have the right to
request statutory assessments and to have statutory timescales for receiving them.
"So I am delighted that the Minister has given this commitment that the new education and health care plans would have the same legal force as the statements of special needs that they will replace.
"This will be hugely reassuring to those parents, who often find that securely vital support for their children can be an uphill struggle. And I will be looking to make sure the new system delivers on the Minister’s promise – both in theory and in practice."
The debate in Parliament on Tuesday (November 20), focused specifically on the needs of people with the developmental disability autism – which affects communication with others - and their families.
Around half a million people in the UK have autism, which can impact on their lives in different ways. And it’s estimated that around one in 100 schoolchildren have the condition.
During the debate Mr Reynolds – who is the parent of a child with autism – highlighted the struggles faced by families.
And he talked about the need for a system that was ‘more joined-up’ and was easier for parents of children with autism to negotiate.
Mr Reynolds welcomed the Government’s proposal to extend the support offered to young people with autism to the age of 25.
But he said steps needed to be taken to make sure it was easier for parents to secure support for their children.
And he called for greater training and guidance for teachers, to increase their awareness of the condition and its complexity.
"We know that for too many of the families of people with autism the process of obtaining support is too hard, that we need to make it better, and that there are many organisations and bodies that could help us to do that," said Mr Reynolds.
"[. . .] If we can make access to support for young people with autism just a little bit easier, we will have done the right thing by those young people and done a great service to their families.
"We will also have done the right thing by the education system, and gone some way towards ensuring that every child has a chance to fulfil his or her potential."
During the debate, Mr Reynolds accepted local authorities could seem reluctant to award legally binding entitlements through ‘statements’, amid funding concerns.
And he said it was too often only those people who were ‘really prepared or equipped to take on the system" who would get the support they needed for their children.
He also praised the work of the National Autistic Society, for its campaigning, its services and for ‘providing parents with hope and with help when they need it most".
More information about the National Autistic Society can be found here, http://www.autism.org.uk/ And the full debate can be read at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-11-20a.509.0