Children and Families Bill – you need to take action now [2]

Debs writes

We recently wrote about some of the changes being proposed in the Children and Families Bill that will not benefit families.  We looked at the duty to identify SEN, the annual review, the time limits and also the format of the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

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Today, we want to raise your awareness of other issues with the proposed changes and would like to thank Jane McConnell and all at IPSEA for helping to raise awareness of these.

Admission to Special Academies:

At present any child with SEN but without a statement must be educated in a mainstream school.  In order to attend a Special School, a child must have their needs assessed and the LA then have have a duty to fund the provision identified by the assessment.  This, in principle, protects children being placed in potentially inappropriate schools.  There are no exceptions to this in the current legislation.

This principle still exists in clause 34(2) of the proposed Bill but an exception has been introduced. Special Academies (including Free Schools), will now be able to admit children or young people with SEN permanently into the school without them having an assessment or an EHC Plan in place – if they are given permission by the Department for Education.   Now, in theory, this sounds great.  Getting your child into a special academy placement without having to go through the statutory assessment process (especially as the new Bill doesn’t put time limits on the process).  However, there are two issues with this:

1.  It  undermines the principle that mainstream schools MUST be enabled to make provision for ALL children without a statement/EHCP and also MOST children with statements/EHCPs – so if a mainstream school knows there is a Special Academy nearby, there will be a strong temptation to point the parents in their direction, rather than take the child themselves and have to cater for their needs.  So no aspiration necessary for the mainstream school to improve their teaching to include children with SEN with or without a statement or EHCP; and

2.  If a child with SEN is admitted to a Special Academy without EHCP – what happens when things go wrong?  What if the Academy cannot meet the needs of the child?  What if the child, due to no assessement of needs, is placed in the wrong Academy?  There is no duty for the LA to fund the provision without an EHCP and the parents will have nothing to challenge the school or LA with if there is no EHCP.  What about the Health and Care provision?  If no assessement or EHCP, how will the school and family know they are meeting the Health and Care needs of the child?  Yes, there will be minimum standards that all schools must adhere to – but let’s be honest, have you ever tried to find your LA’s miminum standards and if successful, actually make sense of them?   There is of course the NHS constitution and the Children’s Act but very often, to access the Social Care side of support, a statement is currently needed so no EHCP could, in theory mean, no access to that support.

We need the DfE to seriously consider this option.  Having an assessment ensures that the child’s needs are accurately recognised and provision put in place.

Re-assessment of Needs:

At present, a re-assessment is the same as an assessment.  If a child or young person’s needs change, then a further assessment can be requested and if agreed, then the LA has to comply with the statutory assessment duties.  This includes time limits, consulting with the professionals named in the Regulations (education professionals, educational psychologist, social services and health services).

However, in the proposed Bill, a new concept of re-assessment is being introduced.  LAs will be allowed to decide what format a re-assessment takes.  There will no longer be the same duties to consult and obtain evidence from the professionals named above and they can also choose to review just one area of the EHC Plan.

Also, there is no duty for the LA to conclude the process of re-assessment at the two points which would trigger a right of appeal to the SEND Tribunal (i.e. when the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan or when the LA issues a new EHC Plan with which the parent disagrees).

So basically, if your child’s needs change, the LA can re-assess but may only reassess one part of the Plan, e.g.  the health part but no need for them to reassess the Education and Care part of the Plan.  As we all know, each of these impacts on the other which is why the idea of an EHC Plan was so popular with parents.  One plan that looked at their child holistically, no need to tell your story more than once, everyone working together, etc.  So why have a joint plan, why jointly commission, why fund “Working in Partnership” workshops if once the EHC Plan is published, any re-assessment reverts back to individual agencies.

If you are not happy with the proposed amended EHC Plan or if the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan, then the proposed Bill (in its current form) does not give you any right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

Again, this Bill is introducing changes which, if we are honest, are based on every LA existing in a world we don’t live in.  Yes, in an ideal world, LA’s would never not re-assess, they would always produce an amended Plan if the child’s needs changed, the plan would always look at the child’s need in every aspect of their life and the LA would unreservedly support families if their current school did not meet the needs of their child.  However, we live in the real world.

We need to take action now, before the Children and Families Bill becomes the Children and Families Act.  If you want to know how to take action, please visit the IPSEA website

Sayonara, School Action and School Action Plus

Debs writes….

senreform3The Government is proposing to replace the current categories of School Action and School Action Plus with a new single early years and school-based SEN category.  This will mean that your school of choice will have to comply with clear guidance from the Government on the appropriate identification of pupils with SEN.  This guidance will include a clear process for identification and assessment of pupils, setting objectives for pupils, reviewing progress and securing further support.  This will be set out in the new SEN Code of Practice  – an indicative draft of the Code of Practice (COP) is already available.

Take a look at the Code Of Practice, specifically Section 5.4 looks at Identifying Needs, 5.5 looks at The Four Primary Areas of SEN and 5.6 covers Additional SEN support in settings.

Tania and I have written about the draft Code of Practice in previous posts which can be read here and further views here

One paragraph in 5.6 leaps out to me as a parent :

“It is the responsibility of educational settings in consultation with parents, and, where appropriate, the young person, to decide whether a child or young person requires Additional SEN Support. They must ensure that children and young people who receive Additional SEN Support have an identified SEN and that their progress has not been hampered by weak teaching or poor attendance”

Does your school consult with you?  Do you know now if your child is School Action or School Action Plus?  Did your school involve you in the decision to place (or remove) your child in this category?  Do you think your school will admit that your child’s progress has been hampered by weak teaching?

The Ofsted review of SEN (2010) found that nearly one fifth of the schools visited suggested that they provided additional SEN support when, in other schools, such provision was regarded as the norm.

Therein lies a huge part of the problem.  We all know there are schools where the staff will do all they absolutely can to ensure your child reaches their full potential and then there are schools which prefer to lay the lack of development at you and your child’s feet.  I am very fortunate in that all three of my children are now in schools that take the former stance and not the latter.  However, I do personally know of schools where there is not a chance in a million that they would ever admit they were perhaps the problem.

Ofsted reports do not always reflect the true representation of SEN in schools – we all know of parents asked to keep their child home for the day Ofsted are arriving or their Ofsted questionnaire somehow not making it home.  Would these schools be holding up their hands to say “oh sorry, some of our teaching is a bit weak”.

The proposed removal of School Action and School Action Plus is part of the Children and Families Bill.  After considering the Ofsted review of SEN (2012) and the Lamb Inquiry (2009), the Government believe the current system emphasises labelling children’s need according to the support  needed rather than the outcomes sought for the child and can lead to children being unnecessarily labelled as having SEN.  It also found that ‘there is a risk that the use of the SEN label itself leads to lower expectations or less vigorous intervention.

beaconThe Lamb Inquiry (20091) reported that SEN can sometimes be ‘unhelpfully collated’ with falling behind, and this may have contributed to the growing number of pupils at School Action and Action Plus.   Did you know that at the end of Key Stage 2, August-born pupils are 60 per cent more likely to be identified as having SEN than September-born pupils?

The Government believe that removing the need for a label of SEN, will challenge schools to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all pupils but what do you think?

Once again, we come back to the culture change needed.  The new Children and Families Bill and indicative draft Code of Practice do not totally reflect the aspirational Green Paper that so excited so many of us.  However, it is still a draft and as a mum, my main concern as I read through them is this tells us what the goal is but not we actually get here?”

What about the very basic communication to families and practitioner of the proposed changes.  If we can’t get that right, how do we propose to get all of the changes right?  Have you heard about the changes in your LA?  Take our quick survey and let us know – we will be sharing the results with the Department for Education.

There will always be great schools, management, LA Officers and staff (our Beacons of Good Practice) but there will also always be poor schools, management, LA officers and staff.   As long as that fact does not change, then does it matter what they call the provision of additional SEN support in settings?  What do you think?

A video about the Surrey SEN reform Pathfinder

Tania writes:

Here’s a video made by the DfE about when Ed Timpson, the SEN Minister, came to Surrey. It features families and young people trialling the Education, Health and Care plan and two key people from the Surrey pathfinder whom I greatly admire, Susie Campbell, Surrey’s Pathfinder Manager and Julie Pointer, Transition Development Manager.

If you find it difficult to understand what the reforms are all about through reading the documents, have a look at this video and you will learn lots about what is planned for the whole of England.

Let us know what you think!

 

Special Needs Jungle meet SEN Minister, Edward Timpson

So the big day arrived and of course, it was raining. Tania and I headed into London, to the Department for Education, to meet the Education Minister in charge of the SEN reforms, Ed Timpson.

Unfortunately, there was ‘the wrong kind of ice’ on the conductor rail and  so I sat at Waterloo for half an hour while Tania updated, “At Wimbledon and moving”, “Now at Clapham”, all the time watching the clock.

Eventually we arrived, and the lovely Jon arrived to escort us up to Mr T’s office.  While we waited for the Minister to finish another meeting, Jon introduced us to some mums who blog about their own special needs children and who’d come along via Tots100 – one all the way from South Wales and another from up in Manchester. Hats off to them for making the effort!

We received a very warm welcome from Mr T, who didn’t look at all daunted by the prospect of meeting several passionate SEN mums.  Then again, perhaps he missed his vocation in life and an Oscar could have been his for the taking if he had chosen a different career route.

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Debs (left), Mr Timpson, Tania

The mums gathered had children with varying difficulties and were at different stages of the process of trying to secure support, but the main thrust was of the outrage and distress parents felt when they were forced to fight for what their disabled children needed.

The Minster asked us to share with him one thing we would change or we considered an issue.

The one thing that was very noticeable was the amount of nodding heads from all of us as each person relayed their concerns or suggestions – it was very clear that as parents, we all know our children and we’ve all had similar experiences and issues.  The solutions we suggested were all similar too.

I felt a genuine sadness that the bad bits – the bits  you think only happen to you or in your area – were  happening to many others across the whole of the country

Parents often feel they are not an integral part of any decisions made about their child – often they are talked at, rather than talked to.  The whole process can become, and often is,  adversarial, with parents feeling that it is often just a case of the LA showing us who is in charge.  As parents we want to engage and play a role in our child’s life but legislation alone won’t make this happen.

Aside from Tania & myself who, as you know, are involved in our own areas developing plans for SEN reform as part of the pathfinder, one mum was taking part with her family in the trials themselves (and we’re looking forward to hearing more about it from her soon) while others were less knowledgeable about the stage the reforms are at. I suspect that may soon change!

It was telling that most had felt a lack of support and signposting but there were several mums who could point to excellent help they had had and we think this could be developed into “Beacons of Good Practice” that the government could highlight as examples to other areas who may not be doing so well. What a great incentive, to have your service win such an accolade!

Tania & I raised our concerns about the massive task of culture change needed to drive forward the Children and Families Bill and to ensure it meets the outcomes it was initially designed to produce, but more positively, we also tried to offer some solutions to that and will be sharing our ideas and contacts.

Key working (and a named key worker) were the one thing we all agreed with.  Parents want to have the confidence that practitioners within different agencies (and sometimes practitioners within the same team) will actually speak to each other. As that doesn’t happen at present and there are not clear signs that it will be happening anytime in the near future, there was also the recognition that parents need someone who is just there to help them (independent advocates), someone who knows the system and the resources available, someone who can be your guide through the local offer.

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Charlie Mead

Another point your intrepid SNJ advocates raised was the huge potential for “nurture groups” to create a backbone of support for vulnerable and troubled children within schools.  Children sometimes present with what appears to be an SEN, but this can be exacerbated by unmet emotional or social needs.

When given the right support through this type of group, can then integrate back into universal services.  Tania talked about the great work that child psychologist, Charlie Mead, has done with the use of nurture groups in a previous post – Special Needs Jungle in the Telegraph – what I really think and we hope that Charlie will be able to share his experience with Mr Timpson, who was extremely interested in the concept. If commitment and funding for nurture groups can be mandated or at least added to the Code of Practice, this could be a real way to help families and children succeed.

Generally, the meeting was very positive.  Mr T did appear to listen to what we were saying and he was very keen to stress that the Code of Practice was an “indicative” draft, which will be informed by the findings from the pathfinders and SEND pathfinder partners.

desperatedanHowever, as parents who don’t often get to bend the ear of “The Man That Can”, this was our chance to indicate to Mr T and his trusty team that the indicative draft is at present rougher than Desperate Dan’s chin.

We will be working with other parents and practitioners to try to influence plugging the gaps and, in fact, Tania is attending a Code of Practice workshop next week.

We were given the contact details for the Minister’s team and asked to let him know of anything that was working well and were all told to “keep blogging”.

We can promise him, and everyone else, that we most certainly will.

Draft SEN Code of Practice: Further views

Debs writes….

As the Indicative Code of Practice was published, I was in Guildford delivering Early Support’s Key Working in Practice capacity building training.  I was lucky to have ten amazing ladies attend, all of whom understood the benefits of key working and working in partnership and wanted to see this working in their own areas.  I walked away from the training feeling really positive about what the future could look like.

After a long journey home – does the M25 ever NOT have roadworks? – I sat down and started to wade through the new draft CoP and regulations.

Edward Timpson - junior minister in the Department for EducationI was initially hooked by the line in 2.1 Introduction (A Family Centred System) “Parents know their child best” and I would like to thank Mr T for getting this line into print – it was long over due.  We don’t always claim to be an expert in our child’s diagnosis; we merely claim to be an expert in our child.

However, as I progressed through the new documentation, I started to feel a tad unsure.  It sort of feels as if “this is the goal” but there is no detail on what steps will need to be taken to reach that goal, nor does it feel as if there is any real understanding of the huge culture (and operational) changes the LA & PCT staff and families are facing.

2.3 Parent Partnership Services

“These services should be available to all parents of children and young people with SEN”.  Now, before any PPS staff reading this start shouting at their PC or phone, I happen to be a fan of Parent Partnership Services, I think they offer a great deal of support to families.  However, in several areas the PPS have seen huge cuts.  In Kent, we lost almost 50% of our service last year (while hearing rumours of increases in the tribunal staff – a really inspiring message for parents).

Cuts in a service offering SEN information, advice and support to parents, at a time when the new legislation is raising so many questions and concerns for families, is just nonsensical (and perhaps even disrespectful to the families who need this support).  How will PPS be able to ensure their services are available to ALL parents of children and young people with SEN with a reduced workforce?

In some areas, the PPS currently offer the Disagreement Resolution Service but the new COP states clearly, with regard to this service, that local authorities “should ensure that the service is impartial and it must be independent of the LA”.  Not all PPS are independent, even if , in theory, they operate at arms-length.  This is not a criticism of PPS, but a criticism of LA officers who just cannot understand that in order for a PPS to be truly effective and deliver the service that families need, they need to let go!  However, this  comes down to Politics and Personalities instead of achieving the outcomes for children, young people and their families

2.4 Parent Carer Forums:

“Local authorities and other service providers should work in partnership with parent carer forums”.  This is where “should” and not “must” comes in to play.  The COP says effective parent participation happens when the engagement of parent-carers is valued, planned and resourced – but doesn’t clarify how this should happen.   It states in 2.4 that PCFs should be involved in the preparation and review of the Local Offer but in section 4. The Local Offer, there is no mention of the forums, nor are they mentioned in the regulations regarding the local offer.   There is the “must involve parents, children and young people” line, but this will allow the LA to cherry-pick the parents who they know and trust not to challenge them and that won’t help some families.

5.1 Improving outcomes for all

“All children and young people SHOULD have an appropriate education” not MUST have.  “All education settings SHOULD have high aspirations for all children and young people” not MUST have.  It would be nice to see the bar raised slightly here.  However, I fear this will not be the case when you see in 5.8 Best Endeavours that educational settings must use “their best endeavours” to make the special educational provision called for”.

“Using their ‘best endeavours’ means that within the resources available to them these bodies must do their best to meet a child or young person’s SEN”

Seriously?  We went from “Support and aspiration: ……. wide-ranging proposals to respond to the frustrations of children and young people, their families and the professionals who work with them” to “do their best”?  Hardly aspirational when one of the main frustrations of children, young people and their families is educational settings not making the special educational provision they or their children need.

5.9 CAMHS

“Some children and young people identified as as having SEN may benefit from referral to special CAMHS for the assessment and treatment of their mental health problems”.  Now this is truly aspirational.  Does the DfE know about the wait lists?  Do they know how many children and young people are turned away as “not meeting the criteria” or because they are assessed as “too severe”?  What about those families?

SNJ7-9The good bits?

The timescales proposed (20 weeks from request of assessment to EHC Plan being provided) are better than the current 26 weeks, as is  the clarity that if a particular service is assessed as being needed (eg from a statutory social care assessment), the provision should be delivered in line with the relevant statutory guidance and should not be delayed until the EHC Plan is complete.

The statement that “the assessment and planning process should be as streamlined as possible” along with “there should be a “tell us once” approach to sharing information” – if any LA can cut down on the number of times a family has to re-tell their story, that will be such a welcome change for families.

“EHC plans should be focused on outcomes (both short term and longer term aspirations)”.  An outcome is not the delivery of support or a service, it is what that support or service is trying to help the child or young person achieve.  So your EHC plan shouldn’t say that as an outcome you will receive Speech and Language Therapy, it should specify what that Speech and Language Therapy should help your child to achieve.

Speech and Language Therapy should be recorded as educational provision unless there are exceptional reasons for not doing so.

There was one thing that stood out for me, as a Lead Trainer for Early Support and that is the omission of the key worker role within the CoP.  Key working is mentioned but only four times and each of those is a reference to something LAs may want to consider.  Having been involved so closely with the Key Working training, it feels very disheartening.  The whole ethos of key working and working in partnership is the very thing that LAs, PCTs and parents need to be using as we move forward.  Having everyone concerned aware of what it means and more importantly, what is looks like in practice is essential to the success of the Children and Families Bill.

Legislation on policies and procedures is about the delivery of the Bill, not an outcome of what the Bill is hoping to achieve.  Let’s hope the final COP is more outcome-focussed.

hands-001As this article is published, Tania & I will be travelling up to meet Mr T.  If anyone thinks that is a daunting thought, then let me also share that I am waving K off  on his first ever school trip away just before I head for the train and that is a much more daunting proposition – as any mum will tell you.

So,  if you’re on the train to Waterloo from Kent on Monday morning, I will be the woman desperately trying to disguise my red-rimmed eyes, probably muttering “he’ll be fine, he’ll have fun” under my breath.

Government acts on calls for SEN ‘duty’ for health provision in reforms

senreform3The surprising and extremely welcome news today from the Department for Education (DfE) is that there will, after all, be a legal duty on health providers to deliver the provision detailed in the health part of the Education, Health and Care Plan that’s currently being developed under the SEN reforms.

Clinical Commissioning Groups are GP groups who, under the new health changes, will plan local health services and who will be called on to organise the health requirements of an EHCP, including specialist services such as physiotherapy, and speech and language therapy.

Since the first draft legislation was published for the Children and Families Bill, parents, charities, SEN legal experts and local authorities themselves have been expressing concern that there was no duty on health to provide the services in the EHCPs. There was only a duty to “jointly commission” – the ‘abracadabra approach’ – which everyone knew was never going to be enough.

The government has bowed to this weight of expert opinion and today, in a press statement, the SEN Minister, Edward Timpson said,

“We are putting health at the centre of our reforms in bringing in this legal duty. It is a significant step forward for children and young adults with special educational needs, and I know that many parents will welcome it.

The duty will mean that parents, and children and young adults with complex special educational needs, will get the health services that are right for them.”

Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children said,

“Many children and young adults with special educational needs depend on health services. I am really pleased that their needs are being taken seriously. This legal duty should help to improve their lives.”

However, Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:

“We are determined that children and young people should be put at the heart of the new health and social care system. That is why we and many other organisations with the power to make a difference recently pledged to do everything possible to improve children’s health. This is an example of that pledge becoming a reality.”

disability sDr Poulter is the only one who does not make the specification “with special educational needs”. He instead refers to the recent pledge “Better Health Outcomes for Children and Young People

A quarter of all children with disability do NOT have special educational needs but do have significant health needs. They will not be covered under this announcement under the current way the Children and Families bill is worded.

Views on health from the House of Commons Children & families Bill Committee

In today’s HOC Children & Families Bill committee hearing, Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact A Family, said that including disabled children has the potential to cost less to provide provision because it will be more coordinated and simplified. She said that this is where working with parent-carer forums is beneficial because by involving parents at a strategic level designing services you end up with better targetted services.

In her evidence, IPSEA chief executive, Jane McConnell acknowledged the work that had gone into bringing about a duty on health as it had been previously said it wouldn’t be possible. However, she went on to say that that although now it seemed there would be an Education & Health plan, if put under scrutiy by the Trades Description Act, the proposed EHCP would fail because there is still not a duty on social care.

Mrs McConnell said that this should not be a big step as social care is administered from within the local authority, so it should not be as big a challenge to achieve. If there is, she said, a single entrance into the plan then there should be a a single path to redress.

Mrs McConnell explained that she had been told that the current Tribunal already has the expertise to oversee all three strands of a plan in a dispute over provision so it should be given the power to do just that. Otherwise, there would be a reliance on parents to go to three different points for redress, which, if it is a single plan, does not make sense.

So, a huge step forward, acknowledged on all sides but:

1. Still no duty on social care

2. Still no inclusion of children with disabilities who do not have special educational needs.

What do you think?

Read about today’s other developments in SEN reform – Pathfinder update and champions named, as well as more views from the HOC Children & Families Bill committee

SEN reform progress report: ‘pathfinder champions’ chosen

senreform4It’s been a bumper day of announcements and happenings surrounding SEN reform.

First of all, came the publication of a list of local authority groups who have been appointed “pathfinder champions” as they plan to implement the reform to special needs provision in England.

At the same time, a joint report on progress across the pathfinder programme, was published, including headline results from a survey of 65 families with completed education health and care plans. The report is available for download from the associated resources section of this page.

But, quite unexpectedly, the DfE announced a much called for duty on clinical commissioning groups (GPs who plan local health services) to secure any health provision required in the upcoming education, health and care plans for children and young adults up to 25.

Hard on the heels came the House of Commons Children’s & Families Bill committee meeting with a stellar cast of speakers that anyone knowledgeable about the SEN world will be familiar with.

Wow! This is too much information for one post, so Debs and I have prepared TWO posts, one about the new duty and one about the first two points.

Read the “New Duty on Health” post here. (The link will be repeated at the end of this post)

Progress Report & HOC Committee

The progress report and headline survey results is a largely upbeat document about, surprise surprise, progress made. It does seem that, as you would expect, the smaller, more compact authorities are further along in some areas where reorganising services is a more straightforward.

The report, while interesting and informative, does rather over-focus on the positive aspects of various pathfinders and while this is to be expected, highlighting particular achievements, it would be useful to see what isn’t working quite so well and where some of the larger challenges such as the scale of work needed to provide the Local Offer and its necessary IT framework mentioned.

It was, however, gratifying that they mention the parent-carer involvement of the SE7 because, certainly in Surrey and Kent, we do feel this is of particular note. You can read the document in full here

In fact during the House of Commons Children’s & families Bill committee hearing in Westminster today, Christine Lenehan of the Council for Disabled Children noted that, as she visited the various pathfinders, she found that some of most effective ones are the not those with the most plans but those that have concentrated on building climate for culture change to happen.

This, Mrs Lenehan emphasised, will be essential otherwise people will just be focusing on scaling up the pathfinders rather than looking at how you make an entire system change and so that it helps individuals in the system.

Mrs Lenehan said that true success was working with empowered parents, empowered young people and being able to bring creativity to some systems that have struggled to be creative, because there are far too many professionals who do what they do because it’s the way they have always done things. She noted that in her experience some professionals happily seemed to admit that their jobs would be far easier without the interference of parents!

Brian Lamb, the author of The Lamb Inquiry in 2009 and who spearheads Achievement for All said during the select committee that, “Essentially the more you involve parents both at school level and the strategic level, the better the outcomes you get.”

He welcomed the concept of the Local Offer of services for SEN/D in terms of what the government has painted as the picture around it, rather than the language that now exists in the actual bill.

Pathfinder champions named

From April 2013, the ‘pathfinder champions’ will begin to support councils who local authorities across England who are not involved in the pathfinder as they prepare to roll out the reforms.

The DfE says that the champions were chosen based on a mix of skills, experience and regional factors. Each region will have its own pathfinder champion but in some areas, the role will be carried out by a partnership of pathfinder local authority areas.

The pathfinders are:

London Bromley & Bexley
South East SE7 (consortium of seven LAs) and Southampton
South West Wiltshire
North East Hartlepool
East Midlands Leicester City
East of England Hertfordshire
West Midlands Solihull
Yorkshire & Humber North Yorkshire & Calderdale
North West Greater Manchester Group (Wigan, Trafford and Manchester)

The SE7 consortium consists of Surrey, Kent, West Sussex, East Sussex, Hampshire, Medway and Brighton & Hove. Obviously with Surrey and Kent being our own areas, we are both very pleased that the SE7 has been designated.

The champions cover a broad range of authority types. In some city-based authorities, it is a very different system where, for example there may only be one new health Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) whereas for example in Surrey there are 5.5 (half of the .5 is in Hampshire) and so coordinating provision will be much more complicated. In addition, in Surrey the SEN department is divided into are four geographic sub-quadrants as it is such a big county and I’m sure this isn’t the only LA that will face such complications.

The work of the pathfinder champions will be informed by a set of ‘principles of emerging practice’. There will be an updated version of this document on the pathfinder website from the end of March. Translated, ‘principles of emerging practice’ are ways that those involved with the reforms have found to be the most effective and practical steps to implement the reforms.

Two further SQW evaluation reports will be published at the end of May and September. The first of these will include further progress made, feedback from 10 case study areas and a final update about the SEN Direct Payments Pilot Programme.

Read the post on SNJ about the new duty to provide health provisions in an EHCP here with responses on it from the SEN Select Committee hearing

You can watch the replay of the HOC C&F committee from 5th March 2013 here

Not: As we publish, the committee is still going on, but for our purposes, most of what we needed to hear has been said. If anything else interesting is said after 5pm, we’ll update.

Children and Families Bill – the missing pieces

senreform2Earlier this month, we shared our Initial Views on the Children and Families Bill.  Since then, we have had chance to look at the Bill in more detail and wanted to share our views and more importantly to discuss “the missing pieces”.

As parents, we know the current system and its failings far too well so we welcomed the introduction of the Green Paper and the excitement of being involved in Pathfinders.  However, the Bill that we have been offered isn’t quite all that we were hoping for.

The reforms offered, “a new approach to special educational needs and disability that makes wide-ranging proposals to respond to the frustrations of children and young people, their families and the professionals who work with them”  and a vision of reforms to, ” improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN, minimise the adversarial nature of the system for families and maximise value for money”.

What we’ve been given in the Children and Families Bill has not quite lived up to the hype.

The good bits:

  • Children, young people and their families are to be true participants in all decisions affecting them
  • A duty for health, social care and education to commission jointly (which theoretically means they will actually speak to each other)
  • Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) to be available up to the age of 25
  • Academies and Free Schools to have the same SEN requirements as maintained schools
  • Independent Special Schools will be included on the list of schools that parents can request as a placement (although the proviso about ‘efficient use of resources’ is still in there)

What’s missing?

  • Disabled children and young people without SEN.  Despite the Green Paper offering improved outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN, the Children and Families Bill is only offering the new EHCPs to those with SEN.  This decision shows a real lack of understanding from the DfE about the difficulties that children and young people with “just” a disability (and no SEN) face.  The Children and Families Bill suggests that the needs of these group will be met by the Local Offer.
  • Local Offer – Minimum Standards.  Currently, the DfE are suggesting a “common framework” for the Local Offer.  This could possibly (and will most probably) result in a postcode lottery.  As the Local Offer is being offered as the alternative to EHCPs, there needs to be much clearer legal obligation of minimum standards for Local Authorities.  “Minimum” indicates that something is the very least which could or should happen. “Framework” indicates a skeletal structure designed to support something.
  • There does not appear to be, within the Bill, a “duty to provide” the contents of the Local Offer, just to publish it and that a local authority “may” wish to review it “from time to time”. All a little bit wooly.
  • School Action/School Action +.  There is no mention within the Bill as to how the needs of children currently on SA/SA+ will be met.  Again, if the Local Offer is to be the alternative then this  needs to be much more prescriptive to Local Authorities. The DfE says the replacement structure for the present lower categories of SEN will be defined in the new Code of Practice which is now starting to be drawn up – interestingly by a different team of officials to the one that drafted the bill. Hmmm.
  • No duty on health or social care to provide the services within the EHCP – just an obligation to jointly commission with the local authority. There needs to be an realisation in government that the words “Joint Commissioning” aren’t a new magic spell – a sort of Abracadabra for SEN. Optimistically repeating the “Joint Commissioning” mantra doesn’t mean it’s, as if by magic, just going to happen.
  • No specified time frames from when you apply for an EHCP assessment to when you receive an assessment and more importantly, a EHCP.  Currently, it takes 26 weeks from applying for an Assessment of SEN to actually receiving a Statement of SEN.  This, as a parent, can seem like a lifetime (especially if you only hear about the need for a statement a short time before your child attends school – and yes, this is more common than people like to admit). However, you can see a light at the end of the tunnel with a deadline of 26 weeks.  The new Bill does not provide any defined time scales and this is essential for families. It does say that the regulations may make provision for this – but “may” should really be replaced with “must” as this is a key point.
  • Key worker – throughout the Green Paper, there was mention of a key worker for families.  One person to go to, who would help the families through the jungle but there is no mention of this within the Bill.  This is one of those key features that really excited a lot of families.  The ability to have one person; one person who would repeat your story for you and point you in the right direction to access the support your family needs. This is one aspect of the initial aspirational Green Paper that needs to be clarified – both for families and practitioners. Was this just an absent-minded omission from the Bill or has the DfE decided to quietly sweep this innovative and important role under the carpet? Note to DfE: if it’s the former, someone needs a slapped wrist, if it’s the latter, you’ve been rumbled so put it back in, pronto. Or is this another point for the “regulations”?
  • Time – the current Bill is scheduled for Royal Assent in Spring 2014 (i.e. passed into law) with September 2014 being proposed for when this will come into practice.  How will Local Authorities and PCTs manage to train all the necessary staff in this short time (especially with a 6/7 week school holiday in that time)? Ask any parent and they will say the same: they would far rather wait for another six months so that LAs can get all their recruiting and training in place (not to mention their funding arrangements) than inherit a chaotic mess where no one knows what’s going on, where the money is coming from and half the staff still hanging on to the old adversarial ethos.

While we’re on the subject of culture change, a DfE official did mention to us that he thought re-training to effect culture change should be starting now. I would be really interested to know what funding or provisions or courses there are in existence or planned, to begin this process – which is arguably one of the most important parts of the entire process. Indeed, it might be a little controversial to suggest, but if a root and branch programme of culture change within LA SEN departments had been put into practice to start with, there may have been less need to overhaul the entire system.

The new Children and Families Bill does have the potential to provide children and families with, “A new approach to special educational needs and disability” and to, ” improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN, minimise the adversarial nature of the system for families and maximise value for money” but not without some more thought and considerable tweaking.

Tania & Debs

SEN Reforms – The Minister visits

Last Friday a groups of parents from parent-carer forums around the country came together at the Department for Education to talk about how parental involvement in the pathfinder reforms had influenced the process, what was working and what wasn’t.

The parents included myself, Debs (who you will recall runs Kent’s forum) and Angela Kelly, my Surrey Family Voice co-chair.

We talked a lot about the value of what is being called the “co-production” of parents’ voices being valued and listened to and how it must continue after the reforms are put into practice, and preferably, mandated in the Children & Families Bill, or new Code of Practice/regulations.

On hand were DfE officials involved in the bill’s progression and yesterday, Edward Timpson, the minister in charge himself travelled to Disability Challengers in Farnham to meet parents and pathfinder families.

Although, very flatteringly, I had been invited to meet him because of Special Needs Jungle, I was already booked to deliver a half-day social media workshop for a room full of noisy and energetic Stella & Dot independent stylists. It was lots of fun, but I was rather hoarse and brain-dead at the end.

Despite sadly missing my chance to speak to the minister, I knew he was in very good hands with Angela being there, along with other parents.

And Ang, being the good egg she is, has written about the visit here. She did say the Minister had a tear in his eye at missing me too, but I think she was smirking when she said it.

Over to Ang…

The SE7 pathfinder team had an important visit on 14th February. SE7 is a collective group of seven south-east local authorities, parent-carer forums and Voluntary and Community sector organisations, who have come together to trial the reforms proposed in the Children & Families Bill.

On a mild Thursday morning, a collective group of professionals, made up of local authority, voluntary and community sector and parents came together at Disability Challengers in Farnham, Surrey to meet with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Edward Timpson. (And yes, I have included Parents in the professional capacity because 1, we are professionals where our children are concerned and 2, we are professional in our capacity as co-producers under the new approach to the SEN reform)

Upon my rather unceremonious and flustered arrival, I was greeted by a room full of familiar and  friendly faces. Co-chairs of West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent parent-carer forums had arrived in a much more timely manner than myself, thank goodness and represented parent participation in a very professional manner.

But most importantly there were young people present and a family who are currently at the Statutory Assessment phase under the current SEN system.  Having young people and families involved in such a key meeting is such a step forward and gives a them a voice, it also enables the people who need to understand this message the opportunity to hear how real people are affected by the current system and what needs to change.

The Minister joined everyone in a circular group and was told about the progress being made so far by all trial areas, while Surrey’s pathfinder manager, Susie Campbell followed with Surrey’s progress regarding the single plan. She explained how Surrey had devised their single plan, focused and the child and their family, and how families and young people had been instrumental in this process. Our draft has gone back and forth until a plan was agreed suitable for testing.

I was then asked what my thoughts were on the single plan and I rather gushingly spilled out how I thought co-production was the only way forward and that by children and families having a voice and being at the heart of the process this would create a culture shift and build relationships with parents/carers and all the authorities.

Mr Timpson spoke with a family about their experience of the current system and the openness of the discussion demonstrated that they were being heard and that a change in the way mainstream schools approach SEN and disability was urgently needed.

There was a very limited discussion about Key Working which, while this was due to time, is something that I feel will have to be further addressed  and  when further trials have been carried out this will be  key area (pardon the pun) to ensure the success of the new approach.

Personal budgets and the Local Offer were next and Co chair of West Sussex spoke of their experiences with personal budgets and how this had enhanced their child’s access to services he actually needed rather than accessing services that were available.

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

I think more time needed to have been spent discussing the Local Offer, as there huge concerns over how this will work and how it will  replace the categories of School Action and School Action Plus and inform parents of services that will be able in cross-boundary areas in a clear transparent timely and effective way

Time seemed to be the main constraint with the meeting as there was a lot to present in such a small amount of time, however that Mr Timpson visited to see what is happening in the trials from the mouths of those involved  demonstrates a willingness to listen learn and understand what is happening with the trials and, if I hadn’t mentioned it before, the importance of co-production!

At the end of the session Mr Timpson was  presented with messages from each SE7 parent-carer forum to the Minister. This was innovatively delivered in a hand made Valentines card.

This was well received and Mr Timpson remarked that it was the most creative lobbying he had ever seen, I therefore feel that because of this, the impact of the messages will resonate for longer and have a greater prospect of successfully informing the change to the SEN and disability reform.

Here’s Family Voice Surrey’s message to the Minister:

Message from Family Voice Surrey- Thank you for listening to and including parents/carers views in the publication of the draft legislation.

Our thoughts are that the new bill needs more clarity. This view is shared by ALL parent carers on our steering group. Statutory protection is necessary for those children and young people who have disabilities that may fall outside of the SEN bracket, these children and young people may have very complex health needs but if they have no special/additional educational requirement then currently they will not be eligible for statutory protection under the single plan.

Family Voice Surrey request that you include:

  • Statutory rights for those aged 0- 5 with an EHCP, ensuring swift and timely access to treatment/equipment to aid the delivery of early intervention
  • A mandatory requirement for children with SEN and Disabilities to receive a level of support from their LA that meet the requirements of their EHCP
  • Minimum national standards for the Local Offer – a specified minimum level of provision that Local Authorities will have a duty to provide to children with education, health and/or social care needs who are not eligible for an EHCP

Pathfinder has shaped co-production and parents and carers are working alongside professionals, practitioners and providers in an unprecedented way and it is working.  Policy and local delivery is being shaped in a pioneering way.   This must continue!

Mandatory requirements for co-production are a central part of the EHCP process, together with the delivery of the Local Offer at a strategic level across all services.

Parent/carer forums have a vital role ensuring that parents receive sufficient support and training to undertake co-production effectively. Recognition is needed for the unique role that parent/carer forums will have in this delivery , with adequate resources provided for this work.

Message from Kent PEPs (Kent parent carer forum)

As a forum we were please to see some of the feedback received from parents/carers has influenced some changes in the draft Children & Families bill, and thank you for listening to our views.

We welcome the changes regarding mediation and the fact it will not become compulsory. We are pleased to see the inclusion of Towards Adulthood as a requirement of the Local Offer and an emphasis on strengthening the participation of young peoples.

However there are still some areas where we have concerns:

  • We are concerned about the lack of inclusion for children & young people who have a disability but not SEN and hope your decision to exclude them will be looked at again, in particular to provide statutory protections for Disabled children & young people who have a specific health/social care need but not severe SEN.
  • There is no indication of a duty to respond to a parents request for assessment within a time limit; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • We would appreciate more detail of the single assessment process, Including how the integrated assessment will work in practice; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • With regards to the Local Offer we urge you to support a standard approach for schools to determine some national minimum standards encompassing what parents/carers can expect from schools, clearly laid out so parents can see how these standards work in practice. This should of course include academies & free schools.
  • We support the call for a national literacy and dyslexia strategy, which includes dyslexia trained teacher in every school, which would support the need to ensure early identification (Dyslexia Action’s Dyslexia Still Matters report).

The pathfinder has certainly increased parent participation and closer working relationships between parents/carers and professionals and we would appreciate support for the vital role parent/carer forums have in ensuring effective co-production continues.

Children and Families Bill – initial views

Finally, the wait is over and the Children and Families Bill, which includes the SEN reforms, has been published. Debs spent yesterday poring over it and here are her initial views:

***

c&fbillimageJust after 10am yesterday, the Children and Families Bill was released and I started to plough through.  Not only did I  have to read this Bill, I  wanted to compare it to the draft Bill published last September, the Select Committee’s pre-scrutiny recommendations from just before Christmas and the numerous responses.

All of this with a child off school with a chest infection and a husband at home who wanted to chat about decorating the bathroom – oh, and no in-house lawyer on hand to help.

The first thing I looked at was whether the Bill strengthened the involvement and rights of the parent and child (or young person)?  Well, you’ll be pleased to know it has.  There is a whole new clause, right at the beginning of Part 3 of the Bill (the part that deals with SEN), which reads:

In exercising a function under this Part in the case of a child or young person, a local authority in England must have regard to the following matters in particular—

(a) the views, wishes and feelings of the child and his or her parent, or the young person;

(b) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person,participating as fully as possible in decisions relating to the exercise of the function concerned;

(c) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person, being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions;

(d) the need to support the child and his or her parent, or the young person, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.

As a parent, I am reading this as “Dear  Local Authority, you have to listen to me and my child(ren), and you have to give us the information we need in order for us to have an informed view”.  Now, there are probably 1001 legal-type people shouting at this post and saying the local authority “must have regard to” is not the same as the local authority “must” and yes, I know there is a difference but I am trying to be positive.

Throughout the Bill, clauses have been added or amended to clarify that parents and young people must be involved and their views listened to.  So thank you Mr T, this is a move in the right direction.

Rights & Duties

My second question was to look at whether there was now a duty for health to provide a service.  In the last Bill, there was a lot of criticism that “joint commissioning” was not enough.  In fact the Education Select Committee believed strengthened duties on health services were critical to the success of the legislation

Well, now in the definition of “Special Education Provision” we have:

21 Special educational provision, health care provision and social care provision

(5) Health care provision or social care provision which is made wholly or mainly for the purposes of the education or training of a child or young person is to be treated as special educational provision (instead of health care provision or social care provision).

This doesn’t put a duty on health but the LA do have a duty to secure the special educational provisions.  There is no clarity however, as to which health care provisions this will actually mean and as there is still no duty on health with respect to the provisions within the EHCP, there are no guarantees.

Next, we considered if the new Bill clarified that parents can apply for a EHCP assessment and the answer is yes.

36 Assessment of education, health and care needs

(1)A request for a local authority in England to secure an EHC needs assessment for a child or young person may be made to the authority by the child’s parent, the young person or a person acting on behalf of a school or post-16 institution.

There appears to be no timescales for the LA to respond within the Bill, but we are constantly being told that the “devil will be in the detail” so this, surely, has to be announced in the draft Regulations which are currently being compiled.

So, on to the next question “is mediation still compulsory” (an oxymoron if ever I heard one)?

And the answer is no.  It’s still an option for families who wish to go down this route before Tribunal but no longer compulsory.

What about disabilities?

So, I started to relax a little now but then had a  big reality check.  One huge (or as my son was said “gi-normous”) omission from the new Bill.  Disability.  Or to be more precise, disability without a special educational need.  If your child has a disability and health and social care needs but does not have a special educational need then I’m sorry but you’re not part of the Plan.

Despite several charities protesting and high profile campaigns, it would appear that the Government will not be providing the same opportunities to some of the children who need them the most.

In the DfE’s case for change, it stated “Disabled children and children with SEN tell us that they can feel frustrated by a lack of the right help at school or from other services”.

In the Green Paper, it said “The vision for reform set out in this Green Paper includes wide ranging proposals to improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN” and “This Green Paper is about all the children and young people in this country who are disabled, or identified as having a special educational need

All of the proposals were clearly for disabled children AND children with SEN, not disabled children with SEN.  So, what has happened?  Every Disabled Child Matters has already commented on this and I will be supporting their campaign to give disabled children the same rights as those with SEN.  When they launched the Green Paper, the DfE set out their cart and made us an offer, they clearly said “disabled children and children with SEN”.  We all hoped  that they were really listening to our families and then they changed the rules without explanation.

If you’re interested in what other groups have to say in response to the publication, I’ve listed all I can find here, if you know of others, let us know.

Children & Families Bill published

logo_dfeThe Children and Families bill, issued in draft form last year, has just been published. Within this bill are the reforms to the way special educational needs are provisioned, including the replacement of the statement with a single Educational, Health and Care plan that will set out all of a child’s needs in one document.

The DfE said:

“Significant reforms to services for vulnerable children and radical proposals to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year’s leave to look after their new-born children have been announced.

The Children and Families Bill, published today, includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of Special Educational Needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The proposed Shared Parental Leave reforms will give parents much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ care of their child in the first year after birth. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided that they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total.

These changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to go back to work at a time that’s right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce. It will also create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.

Speaking ahead of a keynote speech Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:

I am determined that every young person should be able to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For this to happen we must tackle the disadvantages faced by our most vulnerable children and families. Our measures in the Children and Families Bill do just that.

In this Bill we will overhaul adoption – breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice – tackling appalling delays and focussing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people – transforming the Special Educational Needs system and better protecting children’s rights.

The Bill will include provisions on the following reforms:

  • Adoption Reform: the Government wants to reform the system so that more children can benefit more quickly from being adopted into a loving home.
  • Children in care: educational achievement for children in care is not improving fast enough. The Bill will require every Council to have a ‘virtual school head’ to champion the education of children in the authority’s care, as if they all attended the same school.
  • Shared parental leave: the Government will move away from the current old-fashioned and inflexible arrangements and create a new, more equal system which allows both parents to keep a strong link to their workplace.
  • Flexible working: the Government wants to remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments. This will improve the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns.
  • Family Justice: the Government wants to remove delays and ensure that the children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making.
  • Special Educational Needs: the Government is radically reforming the system so that it extends from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met.
  • Childcare reform: the Government  is reforming childcare to ensure the whole system focuses on providing safe, high-quality care and early education for children. The Bill introduces childminder agencies which will enable more flexible childminding and removing bureaucracy so that it is easier for schools to offer ‘wrap-around’ care.
  • Children’s Commissioner: the Bill makes the Children’s Commissioner more effective by clarifying his or her independence from Government with a remit to ‘protect and promote children’s rights’.

We’ll be looking at the bill in detail and will bring you views and analysis during the week.

The DfE announcement can be read in full here,

To read the bill and a summary of it, go here

Key Working : Whose Job Is It Anyway?

When the SEND Green Paper was launched in March 2011, the Department for Education said they would “test the role of key workers”.

Several parents approached our parent-carer forum in Kent asking “What is a key-worker”,  “Can we choose the  key-worker  if we are involved?” and “Can a key worker be employed by the Local Authority and be truly independent?”

Confused by Key working?You're not alone...

Confused by Key working?
You’re not alone…

Eighteen months later, parents are still asking the same questions and practitioners are, understandably, asking “Is this another task for me on top of my existing, increased, workload?”

(more…)

Chinese Whispers and Garth’s Uncle

As you may have read on Friday, Special Needs Jungle has a new regular contributor in Debs Aspland, the director of Kent PEPS and parent of three children, all with disabilities. Today is her first post about the essentials of good communication.

Communication:  the imparting or exchanging of information or news

It sounds so easy.  It requires one person (the sender) to give another person (the recipient) a piece of information.  The communication is complete when the person receiving the information understands what the person giving the information has said.  So why is it so difficult?

(more…)

Speech Therapy to stay within educational provision – so said the man from the DfE

One question on many lips in the reform to the special educational needs system is, with the inclusion of health in an EHCP, where will speech and language provision end up?

As it stands at the moment, the Health part of an EHCP is not going to come attached to a statutory duty to provide and so if it ends up in the health part of a plan and isn’t delivered, how will you appeal?

However, my friend and SEN barrister, Gulshanah Choudhuri, this week attended the Education Law Association’s specialist SEN group meeting and asked this very question of Phil Snell, policy advisor for the DfE. Mr Snell was giving a presentation addressed to the members of ELA, followed by a question and answer session.

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah asked about her own daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, and whether her speech therapy would go under the new health provision or remain under education. Mr Snell, in front of an audience of around fifty lawyers besides Gulshanah, assured her it would remain under education.

The pathfinders have now been extended until September 2014 – the same month it’s planned to introduce the changes after the bill gets Royal Assent at Easter 2014. This has raised concerns that the legislation will be introduced before the trials on the reforms are complete.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is calling for the bill’s introduction to be delayed, so that the pilots have more time to test the reforms. The charity is particularly concerned about how the new system will fully involve health professionals.

Quoted in Children and Young People Now, Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at NDCS, said: “We have been looking closely at the pilots and speaking to families with deaf children. The evidence we are getting back is that professionals in health are not getting involved.

“Some parents are telling us that at the joint plan meetings health professionals are simply not showing up. If these reforms are supposed to be radical then the legislation will need to be strengthened to place a legal duty on health agencies to get involved. Currently that is not there.”

NDCS is also worried that local cuts to education provision will mean less services and staff are available to support children with SEN as the reforms progress.

Mr Campion said: “The cuts are affecting professionals who are working with families in the pilot areas who are under threat of losing their jobs. How will the government be able to test these reforms if there’s no-one left to work with families?”

Contact a Family’s head of policy Una Summerson agreed that the government should take time to consider the evidence from the pilot areas before introducing changes to the law.

“This is an enormous change to the system that needs to be tested properly so we are pleased about the extension,” she said. “But we are concerned that the legislation will be introduced early next year before the government has been able to collect the evidence.”

There are also fears that children with speech and language difficulties could miss out on specialist support under the new system.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) warned that the majority of children with speech, language and communication needs do not currently have a statement of SEN, and therefore may not be eligible for new single education, health and care plans.

But Christine Lenehan, director at the Council for Disabled Children, said the government is right to extend the pilot scheme due to the complexity of the reforms – despite other concerns about the changes.

“It is encouraging to see the government taking the pathfinder work seriously and giving them additional time to test out what works best in these complex areas,” she said.

Mr Timpson meanwhile said, “We want the best for children and young people who have special educational needs or who are disabled,” he said. “Our reforms will help children get support swiftly, make progress in school and then go on to live independently later in life.”

Source for the second half of this article is Children & Young People Now

The SEN bill’s future is in the hands of.. well, what a welcome surprise!

The last week has been really hectic with my boys going back to school and a huge workload, but I’ve just been prompted by a blog comment to write about just who will be responsible for SEN and the draft bill following the reshuffle.

Rather than David Laws, who took over Sarah Teather’s ministerial job, and much to the relief of many I expect, the SEN portfolio will be managed by Edward Timpson MP who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (children and families)

His responsibilities include: Adoption, fostering and residential care home reform; Child protection, special educational needs; family law and justice; children’s and young people’s services; school sport; CAFCASS; Office of Children’s Commissioner

I have done a little research and am quite pleased at what I have found. Mr Timpson grew up in a home where his parents fostered many children and he has two adopted brothers. He is married and has three children of his own.

Mr Timpson has sat on the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Until his ministerial appointment he was also chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Adoption & Fostering and Looked After Children & Care Leavers, vice chairman for the Runaway & Missing Children group.

So, it seems that someone with an actual interest and experience in and knowledge of vulnerable children and special needs. This is very welcome and, indeed, somewhat reassuring.

There are many who are concerned that the draft bill may not live up to expectations. It will be interesting to see what the future holds with someone who clearly cares about the issues concerned at the helm. As I have said before, I do not think that, unless you have had close experience of having or working with children like ours, and/or children that no one else seems to want, you can only sympathise, rather than empathise. Mr Timpson certainly seems to qualify as having experience.

He also has a personal interest in rare diseases, another subject close to my heart. I work for an organisation concerned with rare diseases, Son2 is about to be investigated for one and I myself have a rare eye disease, PIC, that can flare up overnight to leave me with very limited vision in one eye.

Of course, I know only as much about Mr Timpson as the above, and that he is a party loyalist. But he seems like a decent chap and has demonstrated that he is a good fit for the role, on the face of it, at least.

I look forward to hearing from Mr Timpson when he speaks about how he sees the draft bill developing. I hope he will use the experience that he has to make sure the bill is vastly improved as it goes through the stages and that he has the gumption to listen to the many, many voices, calling for a slowing of the pace.

If you haven’t seen it already, your views are being called for on the draft bill. I’ll be submitting mine as part of Family Voice Surrey parent carer forum. You have until October 11th. See this post for more information 

The SEN draft bill: Have your say – but be quick!

The draft SEN bill is now out and will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny by the Education Select Committee. The committee last week issued a call for evidence with their cut off being noon on 11 October, but considering the questions being asked, it might be difficult for full answers to be given, considering the trials are only just about to get underway. Again, things seem, to me and many others, to be being done with undue speed.

The Committee says it may be unable to accept late submissions due to “tight deadlines”. But why are deadlines tight? Who has imposed them? Can’t this time-constrained person just say, “Yeah okay, made a mistake, have another month?” Go on, I bet you could if you really tried.

SEN lawyers are poring over the draft and are already making their voices heard about potential issues they that they believe will not benefit children. They have their chance to submit feedback in the call for evidence, as does everyone who has an interest – parents included.

Several people from local authorities and charities have said to me that the draft bill leaves them underwhelmed and doesn’t go far enough, but I am sure the DfE would say that the key word is ‘draft’ and the final bill and its regulations will be informed by the outcomes from the trials. My view, that things are moving at too fast a clip, legislation wise, for that to truly happen, has not changed. Perhaps ministers or officials should sit in on some of the pathfinder meetings so they can truly see where things are up to. I’m sure they would be welcomed. In fact, they can sit next to me; I’ll save them a seat between me and Ang, my Family Voice co-chair.

Some councils seem to be ahead of others, and the danger is that the DfE will pay more attention to them, when in fact, they may have rushed into trials without the proper ground-work having been done thoroughly enough. The whole process rather reminds me of the tortoise and the hare. I, for one, would rather have a rather more sedate and considered pace. Well, when I say “I, for one” actually, everyone else I speak to involved in the trials thinks the same as I do. That’s EVERYONE. I’m really not sure why the government, who are aware of this disquiet, seem to think we’re all just moaning minnies. I’m not talking about people who don’t want the change to happen – these are people who have committed much time, energy and taxpayer money to this on all sides and truly want an end to the adversarial way that is still, as we speak, continuing.

In fact, tomorrow, I am accompanying a parent to a meeting with an Area SEN Manager regarding funding their chosen placement – and this is for a school that, albeit, independent, is well-recognised as a centre of SEN excellence, cheaper than most LA special schools and where the LA already funds many similar children. This child is only there because he wasn’t given the help he clearly needed when the family applied, twice, in previous years and were refused assessment. I’m still hoping they’ll see sense before we have to traipse over to the SEN office. In the draft bill, equal weight is being given for parents to ask for placements at non-maintained special schools as to any other placement so, hey, here’s a crazy suggestion, why not show some forward thinking and start now?

Part of this problem, I think, stems from the fact that the pathfinder information and changes in culture have not trickled down to the people doing the day-to-day work in the LA SEN departments. In our authority, this is about to be addressed and not a moment too soon.

If you would like to give your feedback to the Education Select Committee, The questions being asked are below. Don’t be put off if you don’t think you can answer every question. Just give the feedback that you are able to. I think very few people will be able to answer every question. If you are a parent or carer of SEN/disabled children, your views are just as important as anyone else’s; more so, in my opinion. If you have found the bill too impenetrable to comprehend, try reading the letter written by the former minister, Sarah Teather, to the select committee committee as this may help you understand the bill’s clauses. There is also a guide for submissions to select committees here

General

1. Does the draft Bill meet the Government’s policy objective to improve provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs?

2. Will the provisions succeed in cutting red tape and delays in giving early specialist support for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities?

3. What will be the cost?

4. What impact will the draft Bill have on current institutional structures?

5. What transitional arrangements should be put in place in moving from the existing system?

6. What can be learned from the current pilot schemes and how can these lessons be applied to the provisions of the draft Bill?

7. Is there anything missing from the draft Bill?

Specific

8. Whether it would be appropriate to move away from “special educational needs” and use the term “learning difficulties and/or disabilities” instead in the new system?

9. How the general duties on local authorities to identify and have responsibility for children and young people in their area who have or may have special educational needs (clauses 3 and 4) work with the specific duties in other provisions (clauses 5 to 11, 16 and 17 to 24)? Are they sufficiently coherent?

10. Should the scope of the integrated provision requirement be extended to all children and young people, including those with special educational needs?

11. Should other types of schools and institutions be included in the duty on schools to admit a child with an education, health and care plan naming the school as the school to be attended by the child?

12. Do the provisions for 19 to 25 year olds provide a suitable balance between rights, protections and flexibility?

13. Do the provisions achieve the aim of integrated planning and assessment across agencies?

14. How could the power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations with regard to the practicalities of the assessment and planning process be best utilised to achieve the aim of integrated support?

15. What impact will the new powers provided for in the clauses have on young people’s transition into adult services?

16. Should the provisions in this bill relating to portability of social care support reflect those for adults contained in the Care and Support Bill?

17. How could the provisions in the bill be used to reinforce protections for young people with special educational needs who are in custody or who are leaving custody?

Please note that submissions need not address all the questions but only those areas on which you have evidence to contribute. Where your comments relate to specific draft clauses, please identify the relevant clause clearly in your submission.

Please note: The submission should be sent by e-mail to educom@parliament.uk and marked “Pre-Legislative Scrutiny: SEN”. The Committee’s strong preference is for submissions in electronic form, although hard copy originals will be accepted. Hard copy submissions should be sent to Caroline McElwee, Committee Assistant, at: Education Committee, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA

Each submission should: be no more than 3,000 words in length; have numbered paragraphs; and (if in electronic form) be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

For Data Protection purposes, it would be helpful if individuals submitting written evidence send their contact details separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Is your MP on the select committee?

Committee Membership is as follows:

  • Mr Graham Stuart (Chair), Conservative, Beverley and Holderness
  • Neil Carmichael, Conservative, Stroud
  • Alex Cunningham, Labour, Stockton North
  • Bill Esterson, Labour, Sefton Central
  • Pat Glass, Labour, North West Durham
  • Damian Hinds, Conservative, East Hampshire
  • Charlotte Leslie, Conservative, Bristol North West
  • Ian Mearns, Labour, Gateshead
  • Lisa Nandy, Labour, Wigan
  • David Ward, Liberal Democrat, Bradford East
  • Craig Whittaker, Conservative, Calder Valley

Draft SEN legislation published and a response to my open letter to Sarah Teather

Well today is the day – the draft legislation has, rather unexpectedly, been published for the reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. It had been said to have been put off until October, but that hasn’t appeared to have happened.

Towards the end of last week, I was delighted to receive a response to my Open Letter to Sarah Teather, from top DfE official, Stephen Kingdom. I had intended to publish it earlier but on Friday I had an EHCP meeting and then my day job, as PR for DysNet Limb Difference Network, had to take precedence with the Grunenthal “apology” to the world’s Thalidomide survivors, for which we’ve received much coverage. It’s had me working over the weekend since Friday evening.

Anyway, first the response to the open letter, then onto the draft legislation:

Thank you for your open letter of 27 June to Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, regarding the pace of reform to special educational needs and disability policy.  I have been asked to reply and I am sorry for the delay in doing so.

It was very good to meet you at the Surrey pathfinder event in July, and to hear your personal perspective on the pathfinder programme and the Government’s proposals for reform of the SEN system.  Since we met, I have become an avid reader of Special Needs Jungle.  I hope you also found the opportunity to correspond directly with Sarah Teather through the Mumsnet chat helpful.  We hope she will have the opportunity to do a follow up webchat shortly, as well as continuing to talk to parents and young people through other channels.

I know you are concerned about the pace of reform and whether the Government is allowing sufficient time to learn from the pathfinders. We do understand those concerns – which I know others share – and that is why we are ensuring we can continue to feed in learning from the pathfinders throughout the legislative process.  And, of course, the legislation is only one part of the reform story – as you know well it is getting cultural change that is key.

The SEN clauses in the Children and Families Bill, which we intend to publish in September, will be draft – that is, they are intended for discussion.  As the Minister said on MumsNet, we hope that this discussion will be a real opportunity for wide range of stakeholders, including parents and charities, to tell the Government what they think.  The final Bill won’t be published until spring 2013, and it will be debated at length in Parliament before it gets Royal Assent and becomes an Act.

The Minister also said on MumsNet that some of the legislation will need to be done at a later stage.  In Parliamentary terms, this is referred to as “secondary legislation” and is usually in the form of a statutory instrument, such as a regulation.  We will, of course, be able to build in further learning from the pathfinders into this secondary legislation.  In addition, we will in due course be updating the SEN Code of Practice, which provides practical advice to local authorities, maintained schools, early education settings and others on carrying out their statutory duties.  I open this will present another opportunity to build in learning from the pathfinders.

Ministers do genuinely want the SEN clauses to be informed by views, knowledge and experience of people like yourself.  That is critical for us to get the detail right.  I hope, however, that you can appreciate Ministers also want to maintain pace, to ensure that the reforms set out in the SEND Green Paper really do bring change for children and their families who have special educational needs or disabilities.  During the development of the Green Paper in 2010 and since, my team has heard from lots of parents about the frustrations they experience with the current system (and, of course, you are all too aware of these as well).

I hope this response is helpful, and thank you once again for taking the time to write.

It’s very nice to see that SNJ is read in high places and so if you feel there is any issue surrounding SEN that I haven’t covered that should be highlighted, do let me know.

I was very interested to see cultural change mentioned – having had two recent experiences of parents in my area who have received shoddy treatment at the hands of SEN panels. It is quite disturbing to see that even while we are working to improve things with the reforms, staff at lower levels in the LA feel it is acceptable to keep on as if it was the bad old days.

The draft legislation, published earlier today, will require some digestion. You can download it for yourself here. It’s going to take some reading, at 65 pages, so I’m not going to comment too much today other than to highlight the following regarding assessment:

The local authority must secure an EHC needs assessment for the child or young person if, after having regard to any views expressed and evidence submitted, the authority is of the opinion that.

(a) the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and

(b) it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.

Now, I can already see a problem – first of all, no one would ask for an assessment if the child clearly didn’t have SEN, or if earlier attempts to help the child had not already taken place so it’s a bit of a moot point. But the rub is in b). As it stands, so far, the proposals are that when an agency (parent, school, nursery, health visitor etc) refers a child for an assessment, a multi-agency meeting is supposed to take place where it is decided if anything needs to be done at that stage, or if the child’s needs can be met from the local offer (what’s available locally) or if an EHCP assessment is needed.

So who is going to make this crucial decision about whether to assess? Unless there is clear and complete cultural revolution within LEA mid and lower level staff, nothing will change and in order for parents to have confidence in the new system, this decision-making process will need to be totally transparent. At the moment, you get a yes or a no and maybe one line about why (if you’re lucky), but a parent has no idea what went on in the panel discussion. Having the proposed key worker involved to represent the child at that meeting would go some way to making sure that all documents are present and that the best decision for the child and not just the LA, is being made.

One further, and quite startling point, for now – the draft bill states that when an EHCP is to be drawn up the parents can ask for a place in an independent special school (non maintained special school). This is a huge step forward, if I’m reading it right. There is, of course, a get-out clause – the old “efficient use of resources” line that’s currently in the current system and so this really needs a closer look, because how can you give parents a right to name an independent special school if the LA then comes back and says, well we don’t want to pay for that because we don’t think it’s an efficient use of resources?

There is much to be digested this evening but at first scan, there’s also much room for improvement. Expect more on this in the next few days.

Sarah Teather is doing a live webchat over on MumsNet tomorrow at 1pm.