The Bill’s successful passage into law made Sharon only the fourth female MP that decade to pass such a bill. The Bill became an act when it received Royal Assent on 21 July 2008, and it came into effect on 1 January 2009.
The Act makes it mandatory, for the first time, for the Department for Education to publish an annual report about children with special educational needs in England, particularly focussing on their progress and attainment. Such a report is useful for people interested in ensuring that children and young people with special education needs are getting the support necessary to achieve their potential, and allows people to pinpoint in which regions and local areas more work is needed.
The first report was published in October 2009, and can be found on the archived Department for Children, Schools and Families website here, and all other reports are now collated on the Gov.UK site here.
A Private Member’s Bill represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a backbench MP to make a difference. It is common for loyal backbenchers to choose a Bill from the Government’s shelf which is guaranteed to become law or for the more rebellious to court controversy in the forlorn hope of major change, but Sharon chose neither.
As a mother of two with a severely dyslexic son, Sharon was sympathetic to the pressures and frustration faced by thousands of parents whose children have Special Educational Needs (SEN). She also has first hand experience of moving between local authorities and the difference in levels of provision. It was conversations with MPs from all parties and with major SEN charities that convinced her something needed to be done to strengthen the case for change.
Sharon tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking for information on the specialist support given to children with dyslexia. The same answer occurred several times – ‘this information is not collected centrally’. The aim of her Bill was to ensure that future information is collected and published so that campaigners have access to the facts.
Her Bill, now an Act, enables government and campaigners to assess which local authorities are best meeting the identified needs of children, with the aim of ending the current ‘patchwork quilt’ of provision.
There were no plans to change existing legislation until the issue was raised by Sharon with DCSF Ministers, so this is a step that would not have been taken without her tabling her Private Members' Bill. The Act strengthens the powers of the Secretary of State to collect information from schools and councils which will assist in improving outcomes for children with SEN, and puts a requirement on him (or her) to analyse and publish this information annually.