Is parental co-production just smoke and mirrors?

Tania writes…

If you’re a regular reader of Special Needs Jungle you will know what big advocates we are of parental co-production when decisions are being made about services for our special needs children.

A booklet all about co-production in the South East SE7 pathfinder, compiled by all parties involved including parents, defines Co-Production as “Co-production is one approach within participation and in SE7 Parent Carer Participation is welcoming parent carers to the strategic decision making process as full partners from the start”

You can download this booklet yourself here.

smoke-mirrorThe reforms are now moving into a second phase in the pathfinder areas where those local authorities and parent carer forums involved are working out how to implement the ideas they have been testing out. At the same time, some of these pathfinders have been named as ‘champions’ and are tasked with guiding the non-pathfinder authorities how to get with the programme.

All along, we’ve said here on SNJ that cultural change is the key to making a success of the reforms. That you could change all the laws you wanted to but nothing would be any different unless the LA staff carrying out the new system fully bought into the new person-centred, outcomes-focused ethos, where the parents’ and the children’s views were central to the process.

The reforms were needed in the first place because of the bruisingly adversarial and expensive practice that had built up over the years where many working in SEN seemed to think that taking on parents and their special needs children was some sort of gladiatorial sport. And ‘was’ is the wrong tense, sadly. It’s still going on all over the country, right now, despite the reforms speeding along faster than a Japanese bullet train.

At one of these ‘champion’ meetings recently, a non-pathfinder LA staff member was heard to remark, “Why can’t parents just be parents and professionals just be professionals?” In other words, we like the system the way it is, with us in charge and the parents in their place.

This viewpoint is not unusual and, I am disturbed to report, it’s not even unusual in the very areas that are leading the reforms. Many of the people who should be leading the new way forward , injecting culture changes with positive enthusiasm, have either never got fully on board or were just pretending to be in favour while quietly hoping they would soon be able to say, “Oh, yes, parental co-production. We tried that last year. We didn’t like it. It took too much time. We’re too busy giving them what we think they should have.”

So, in order for these reforms to make a jot of difference, a rapid and urgent process of ‘re-education’ needs to begin. Actually, it needed to begin at the same time as the reforms began to be developed.

…Most of parents have additional needs themselves..,, the problems we come across regarding health are dealt with in house …there’s no need to bother the parents about stuff like that… [Précis of comment from a senior SEN practitioner at a recent reform conference. Name withheld to save their blushes.]

But who is going to lead this massive undertaking? Who is going to make all these people, many very senior, have a complete change of heart and begin to openly welcome parents at the decision-making table, to value parents’ views as highly as they value their own and those of their ‘professional’ colleagues.

Nothing, I fear, short of the threat of job loss and maybe not even then, is going to do this. These views that parents should only vaguely be seen (preferably from a distance) and definitely not heard are so very deeply entrenched. And if they are still held within pockets of some, if not all, of the pathfinder authorities after 18 months of reform development, how the bloody hell are we going to change them in those authorities who are completely new to the whole idea in the remaining time before Royal Assent?

And how long will it be before having parents at the table becomes tiresome? After all, we know their views, they’re just the opposite to ours, aren’t they?

They are hoping, no doubt, that parents and those fantastic, hard-working LA staff who do believe in this reform (because there are many) will become exhausted, marginalised and may give up, and the role of parents will become minimised and then, non-existent. Again.

I urge the Department for Education and Mr Timpson to take this warning very seriously.

Your reforms are in grave danger of becoming a battleground of dashed hopes and disillusioned and furious parents who have worked so hard, turning up for meeting after meeting, even when so often, half those LA and most of the NHS staff nominated to go didn’t put in an appearance.

Mr Timpson, you must make it your business to oversee a firm policy of ‘change your ways or leave’ for those within SEN up and down the country who think they can just wait it out and go back to business as usual. It’s like giving us a fab new toy but saying you can’t be bothered to get us the right batteries so it works properly.

Taking a firm stance is the ONLY way because the stakes are too high for thousands of parents and vulnerable children whom you profess to want to help.

And I do believe you want to make a difference. I do believe that your department wants to make a difference. But if you do not take speedy and deliberate steps to ensure a change in attitudes of the people who will administer the new system on a daily basis, I fear that it will be back to business as usual with parental co-production becoming a fond but distant memory.

Pupil ranking plans are an epic fail for SEN children

Oh dear.  We’ve always said communication is an issue with the SEN reforms but it’s fairly obvious that it spans education as a whole.

Can someone please let David Laws and Nick Clegg know about the reforms going through and let them have the memo about “promoting inclusion”.

When the Department for Education launched the Green Paper, two of their proposals were to give parents a real choice of a range of schools and give children with statements the right to express a preference for any state-funded mainstream or special school.

However, this morning Mr Laws and Mr Clegg have announced a consultation about plans to change performance measures for schools.

  • Pupils aged 11 would be ranked in 10% ability bands across the year group
  • Test results would be divided into bands of 10%
  • Parents will be told how their child “measures up” to their peers
  • A tougher minimum level of achievement for schools (below which an Ofsted inspection would be triggered
  • This is currently 60% for Sats tests but would rise to 85% under the proposed change

So, let’s just consider this.

  • Would a mainstream school realistically welcome children with SEN if this could risk bringing their minimum level of achievement below 85%?
  • As a parent of a child with SEN, I already know that my child is not achieving at the same rate as their peers.  Will introducing a new measurement help them to do better?
  • How would a young person with (or without) SEN, who has tried to the very best of their ability, feel when they find out that their hard work wasn’t good enough and they were banded in a low percentile?  Will introducing a new measurement help their often already-fragile self-esteem?
  • Is it just a rumour or do all children develop at different rates, based on their age and family dynamics?   Will introducing a new measurement put a stop to that nonsense?
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Epic Fail, Mr Laws

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Schools Minister, David Laws said he thinks that levels such as 2a, 3b, “Mean almost nothing to parents,”  

Well, here’s a suggestion, why not just explain to parents what they do mean?  That would be an awful lot cheaper and as a parent of three children, I found out what they meant (and any parent who is interested in their child’s progress will have done the same).  

Therein lies the issue, there will always be parents who are more engaged than others and introducing new methods of measuring children’s achievements won’t encourage parents who are not engaged to suddenly become the type of parent who pushes their child to do better.

Mr Laws also said that the individual score won’t be published nationally and children won’t be told the results, only the school and parents will know.  How does he think parents will find out how their child measures up?  Would that be a letter being sent home via their child’s school bag because we all know that children will never look at them?  Or are we going to put the results online and password protect them – because no child can ever access the information that way, can they?

And parents are not going to discuss it with each other or their friends within ear-shot of the kids? And the kids aren’t going to just ask outright? Or brag if they got a great score within the hearing of less able or SEN children?

This has to be, in our opinion, one of the worst thought-out proposals to have come out of Westminster for quite some time!  Transition to Secondary is an issue for all children, especially those with SEN.  However, the proposals being presented today show a real lack of understanding of children, SEN, parents, schools and inclusion.

If I was to score this proposal, in the manner being proposed, it would definitely be in the 0-10% band.  Mrs Laws and Mrs Clegg, I am sorry to have to tell you that your sons are performing way below their peers (but don’t worry, we won’t tell them if you don’t).

Summer’s here: Where are we in the SEN reform process?

Tania writes

Well, good question.

The answer is we’re here, there, everywhere and nowhere, depending on which county you live in.

cdc_timpsonjuly2013As the long summer break approaches (and enjoy it while it lasts as Mr Gove has it under his microscope – though I can think of better places for his microscope) let’s take a look at where we’re up to.

This is an easy exercise, as Ed Timpson, the Minister in charge, who certainly seems to be a very genuine and well-intentioned person, has written today to the Council for Disabled Children with his own round-up of the broad facts.

You can download the letter for yourself here but to summarise:
  • The Children & Families Bill has now completed the House of Commons stages of the Children and Families Bill and has just completed second reading in the House of Lords. Ed Timpson said, “I have very much welcomed the engagement of many sector and parent-carer organisations in the careful scrutiny of the Bill clauses. The debates in the Bill Committee and in the House were rightly challenging but also constructive.”
  • The CDC has worked with the DfE and produced a leaflet explaining in more detail the reforms to the SEN funding system. The leaflet explains clearly that the funding changes do not change the legal responsibilities of schools and local authorities for children with special educational needs.
  • The indicative Code of Practice has been published and a full consultation will begin in the autumn.
  • CDC and DfE have been discussing the arrangements for reviewing Education, Health and Care Plans, especially the reports parents and young people receive about annual review meetings and the year 9 transition reviews.

As we develop the Code of Practice, it will be important to write it in a way that supports a real improvement in outcomes for those with SEN in schools and colleges in order to meet the Department’s wider aims to improve attainment and close the gap. Ed Timpson MP, Education Minister.

  • The DfE is now thinking more widely about implementing the reforms, and how to manage the changeover to a new legal system from September 2014. It is not proposed to move wholesale to the new system from September next year; rather it will be the beginning of a period of gradual and orderly transition to full implementation.
  • The pathfinder champions are now holding their first regional meetings to support non-pathfinder areas, and have recently shared core learning points through a series of information packs, which can be found here
  • The DfE will be providing £9m in 2013-14 to support local areas to prepare for implementation.
  • Evidence from pathfinder experience and evaluation reports have emphasised the value of early engagement with parents and parent carer forums. (Hurrah!)
  • The DfE will be publishing more information in early autumn to continue to support implementation.
  • Additionally, not mentioned in the letter, the 20 pathfinder areas have all developed or are still developing their own versions of an EHCP and Local Offer, Personal Budgets, Transition plans and so on. Lots of money spent, lots of work carried out and quite a number of minds changed on both parent and practitioner sides about one another.

All very nice (or as my SEN barrister friend Gulshanah, would say sweetly and with a ton of barely-detectable cynicism, ‘That’s lovely, isn’t it?’

Recently, SNJ published two posts raising concerns in the bill, none of which seem to have been addressed so far. You can read the posts here and here to see the issues that remain. The letter doesn’t answer these questions, with the exception of the Annual Review question which is under further consideration. To make for easier reading, we’ve combined them into one easy to download PDF

senreformmontageWe do hope that these problems and omissions will be tackled in the autumn as the next parliamentary stages are started, as Mr Timpson says himself, “I am aware that there will still be some areas that you and others in the SEN and disability sector will want to see evolve further as we start the next Parliamentary stages in autumn. lt is very much the right time to raise these points so that we can continue the constructive dialogue between the Department and the sector.”

We, and we hope, you too, will be continuing to work as much as possible on influencing the bill through the channels that we are part of. It is so important to stress that everyone concerned with the bill has an opportunity to make their voice heard. For parents, this is most likely to be through their local parent-carer forum.

For parents who have SEN children,the upcoming consultation of the Code of Practice will be a huge opportunity to have your say. This is where the rules and regulations will be written and if your child doesn’t have a statement/EHCP, this is even more important. Read the draft – you don’t have to do it in one go, take the whole summer to comb through it and make notes.

Your voice may be the one that makes the difference. It’s easy to complain when you don’t like something, much harder to do something about it so if you are in a position to, do make your voice heard.

Later this week we will be publishing the results of our survey into how much SEN/D parents and carers know about the SEN reforms. They make for startling reading. As a taster:

  • 40% of respondents in Pathfinder authorities did not know if their area was a pathfinder or not.
  • 60% of those in Pathfinder areas had heard nothing about the Pathfinder
  • Just over 50% do not feel they know enough to say if the school-based category is a better idea than School Action/School Action Plus

We need as many parents and carers to be as informed as possible, whether or not they can be or want to be involved. Local authorities, schools, colleges, children’s centres need to do a better job of funnelling information through to parents about the reforms and about their local (voluntary and over-stretched) parent-carer forums.

There’s no space to tell you how to do that, though as an experienced charity PR, I have plenty of ideas. I would hope every Local Authority’s Comms Department do too!

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?

Take the SEN reform awareness survey and grab a chance to win!

Debs writes...

sen reform special needs jungleOver the past 12 months, we have received a deluge of questions and queries about the SEN reforms.  From this, we can only assume that the word is not getting out to parents (or practitioners) about the changes that are coming.

As we don’t like to assume anything (the words “ass” “u” and “me” spring to mind), we wanted to find out exactly how much you do know about the  SEN reforms including the proposed Education, Health & Care Plan, the Local Offer and Personal Budgets.

We have put together a survey – SEN Reforms: How informed are you?

Please take a few minutes to let us know what you know.  There is the option to add additional comments if you wish to some of the answers, but this is not required. We just know that many of you have a lot to say!

Anyone completing the survey has an opportunity to enter into a prize draw to win one of five copies of the E-book version of Tania’s “Special Educational Needs – Getting Started with Statements“.  You can download it in most formats or PDF if you don’t have a e-reader or app.*

We will publish the results along with posts answering some of the questions.

Please share the survey with as many friends and colleagues as possible – it would be really good to get a national view.

Access the survey in your browser here or go to our Facebook page and take the survey there

 

*Make sure you enter your email address to be in with a chance to win. 

Ebook winners will be chosen at random after the survey has closed at 5pm on 12th June 2013 and notified by email and sent a single-use only download code for the ebook from Smashwords. You may, of course, donate your winning code to someone else instead of keeping it for yourself, but it is only valid for one download. The ebook may not be transferred to anyone else after download.

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.

snj-ET

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.

charlie

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.

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

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?”

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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?

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Pathfinders, politics and parental co-production

Last Friday, our parent-carer forum in Surrey, Family Voice joined with Surrey LA and local voluntary and community services to host an SEN reform pathfinder update.

Surrey is one of 31 Local Authorities that make up the 20 pathfinder areas, with Surrey being part of the largest group, the SE7.

We had a great line-up of guests including Stephen Kingdom from the DfE, SEN barrister Gulshanah Choudhuri and Susie Campbell, the woman who has been responsible for pulling together all Surrey’s different streams of work for the pathfinder trials – a huge job.

This was an important conference and the right time to update parents whose children these reforms will affect. The draft bill was published last September and since then it has been picked over by parliamentarians, local authorities, charities and lawyers.

Ministerial Assurances

Stephen Kingdom, for the DfE, re-stated the Minister in charge, Edward Timpson’s assurances that no rights would be taken away from parents or children and that there was definitely scope in the draft bill for a tightening up of the language to  make that clear. He said they were working with the Department of Health on structures for redress if a stated provision is not made by a health organisation.

On timescales, he said they would be shorter than they are at present and the requirement for mediation would not extend the timescales for appeal. As mentioned on this website last week, Mr Kingdom confirmed that Speech and Language would stay under the remit of education and said that an ECHP must be as clear and specified as statements “should be”.

The Good, Bad & Ugly

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah Choudhuri of SEN Barristers, called her presentation “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and addressed some of the legal concerns over the bill’s wording, in particular that there is no duty on health to come up with the provisions in the proposed Education, Health and Care plan, beyond a stated commitment in the new NHS Mandate for ‘joint commissioning’. She called on the government to make sure that children who may not have an educational need but do have a significant disability and so will need health and care provision are included in the final bill.

Gulshanah also called for the new SEN Code of Practice that must accompany the bill to undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it is the bible that parents, SENCos, lawyers and Local Authorities use and as such it is vital that it is closely inspected to ensure that it is the best it can be. Make it updateable by all means, but first of all, it has to be right.

Co-production a “no-brainer”

I spoke on behalf of Family Voice Surrey as co-producers of the conference and this, in itself shows how far we have come in changing the relationship from being on opposite sides to having our opinions given equal weight. If this government is to be lauded for just one thing it is that parents have been put at the heart of the reform and mandated to be closely involved with any decision-making processes that will, of course, affect our children. Even though my boys are now 15 and 13, with an EHCP going up to 25, we’ll be in the system for at least another ten years.

Family Voice Surrey is still a relatively new parent carer forum. We had our launch about this time last year it’s been quite a challenging year so far because we had to plunge straight into the pathfinder workstreams as parent representatives.

Fighting to get the right support can be lonely and isolating and frustrating, especially when it seems that the services you need are not available or you’re told your child doesn’t qualify for them or that you’ve have to fight for the educational help they need every single step of the way.  Expensive legal battles for assistance have become far too common and unacceptably adversarial. We all have many horror stories and they are still being created as this culture change has most definitely not yet filtered through to the coalface of SEN departments up and down the country.

Changing all this is what the reforms are supposed to be about. As parent representatives, we’re not there to window dress. After a tentative beginning on all sides, we’ve worked together for the best part of a year, and our views are listened to. I think that co-production has largely so far been a positive experience. It has most certainly given us a voice as parents and, I think, Surrey has seen the benefits of having the first-hand perspective of SEN services that we bring – even though our views are not perhaps always comfortable to hear.

It’s a no-brainier when you look at it. How do you know if you’re delivering the right support and services if you don’t speak to the people using them and their families?

The Minister, Mr Timpson certainly seems to be listening to those concerns that have been voiced and I hope that the bill’s wording is tightened up as soon as possible. Good intentions and assurances are fine, but I think everyone would feel much better if it was down in black and white in the Bill itself.

Reform – expensive but worth it

As for the trials themselves- they are only just beginning. Some families have been recruited, but this is an ongoing process.  Key workers- the person who is to guide a family through the whole process- are still being found and trained. The trials will need to be monitored and evaluated and, at the moment while there is nothing in law, a child who qualifies for an EHCP will still also need a statement as their statutory protection.

There is still much work to be done, and as the trials have been extended until September 2014, more money will need to be found to support this. There’s no doubt it’s going to be hugely expensive by the time the new system is finally in place, but if there’s something worth doing, it’s this.

In the same way that it is right to support children from difficult backgrounds so that they do not perpetuate the expectation of a life on benefits, it is right to support children with special needs and disabilities because many, though obviously not all, will have a much better chance of becoming a contributing member of society with the right assistance when it counts – in their school years and early adulthood.

This is the way to cut welfare – over a generation of helping our adults of tomorrow reach their potential, have a positive outlook and believe that they can achieve their dreams, wherever they lie. It is the responsibility of today’s adults – all of us – to help make that happen.

SEN Reforms: professional views to the select committee

The Education Select Committee yesterday heard from various witnesses about the draft legislation on Special Education Needs.

Over two and a half hours, professionals gave their views about the draft bill. In this first of two sessions of oral evidence, the Committee heard from local authorities, health, SEN organisations, educational institutions and OFSTED.

A snapshot of the SEN select committee hearing

One of the major concerns that was voices by the professionals throughout the hearing, which I watched online, was the lack of statutory duty on health to ensure that they provide for the needs of children who will have an EHC Plan, even though that came with complexities and difficulties.

Peter Gray from the Special Needs Consultancy said there was an issue for parents around the fact that a single agency (the local authority) would have to enforce commitments from another agency without the authority to see it through and so any agency named to provide for a child’s needs should be duty-bound to do that.

Another issue that was generally agreed upon among the witnesses surrounded the ‘local offer’. Most believed that any local offer should be framed around a national framework to avoid the potential for post-code lotteries. This could be, for example, a national offer with a quality framework and local variation. This would mean that there would be a consistency of provision for every child with SEN, wherever they are in the country, whether or not they have an EHC plan.

It was noted that the local offer was not individualised and it need to be made clearer what was required – was it a directory of services? Would there be parental entitlement or  expected pathways and would it properly include schools and be inspected by OFSTED?

Christine Terrey, Executive Headteacher of Grays school and Southdown Junior school, said that many schools had no idea what would be required of them for a local offer and had no idea of what to put in it. Another witness said they believed that if parents knew what was available by law locally, they would have less need to pursue a ‘piece of paper’.

A third main theme was whether there should be a delay in the legislation – something I believe should happen. Kathryn Boulton of Blackpool’s Children’s Services (which is not a pathfinder authority) said she believed that there had not been sufficient time and many pathfinders are still in the recruiting phases – which I know to be true. She also said there was a lack of clarity about how personal budgets should work and that the learning from the pathfinders should be allowed to develop to allow the bill to be properly informed.

Jo Webber, of the NHS Confederation explained that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) should, in the main, be authorised by next April, but under the new system, provision for a child with severe or complex needs or a physical condition would need commissioning from up to eight different parts of the NHS. There was, she said, a need to seek more clarity, which would take time.

Dr Charles Palmer, from the CYP service in Leicestershire said he believed there should be a delay because expectations of great improvements to the system have been raised among parents’ groups and there is a real danger that with the budget restrictions those expectations simply would not be met. He said that in his local authority they were already restricting the range of children and young people who were being supported through the process so that they would have enough money to help the most needy children.

Another issue that was highlighted was how to proceed with the reforms, taking into consideration that delegated funding for schools was already in existence and couldn’t be clawed back because of the minimum funding guarantee. Kathryn Boulton said that funding was not aligned and uncoupling delegated funding was going to be very complicated and could lead to variances across the country. Because of the Minimum Funding Guarantee it might not be doable.

One point – very close to my own heart – was the provision of mental health services from CAMHS. As I have written before, there is a very long wait to access even an initial appointment from CAMHS, let alone the appropriate follow up care. Kathryn Brown said that the bill should include a specific reference regarding mental health services in the overarching mental health provision. She noted that mental health needs very often run alongside complex SEN and there should be a requirement for mental health provision to be outlined clearly.

Regarding the draft bill proposal for compulsory mediation, a question was raised about lack of a mechanism to provide arbitration between health and education. Peter Gray believed there should be joint accountability between health and education and a duty to cooperate.

In his evidence, Dr Charles Palmer, said he did not believe mediation should be compulsory, while Brian Gale of the National Deaf Children’s Society said that if mediation was mandatory then it made no sense that there was no statutory obligation on health to provide or to mediate and without this, there would be no improvement.

On the issue of transition, there were concerns about coordination, in that adult services do not mesh with those for children and young people regarding the ages at which services stop. Jo Webber said the extension of an EHCP up to the age of to 25 would have an impact on health service provision and costs. Peter Gray said these costs, which included admin, monitoring, provision and review costs should not be underestimated.

The reforms also raised the question, said Kathryn Brown of the costs on local authorities of moving from old to new system and great thought needed to be put into resources and capacity. Would children and young people with a statement be automatically moved to an EHCP and would people post-19 but under 25 who had ceased an educational statement need to be reassessed. The draft bill provisions do not have this clarity and the time and mechanics needed should not be underestimated.

It has been my personal understanding during our pathfinder that children with statements would be left until there was a reassessment need at a review or a transition point was reached, but this is not clearly stated in the bill.

Kathryn Brown also believed that an EHCP should be maintained for a vulnerable Post-16 young person even if they leave education, if they enter an apprenticeship or if they go into custody. The latter should be needed for safeguarding reasons.

Dr Palmer said that the timetable for an EHCP should be linked to that of NHS waiting times – 18 weeks, instead of as at present, six months from referral to statement. Additionally, through the commissioning process there should be clear children’s leads from NHS commission, through local area teams and to clinical commissioning groups to ensure that children had a clear voice at each level.

One vital issue that was raised is that of the SEN Code of Practice, a significant document for schools and parents alike. The CoP will need to be revised or completely rewritten to come into line with the new reforms but, at present, it was noted that there is not duty for t to undergo parliamentary scrutiny and this was unacceptable. Brian Gale said that the new CoP needed to be right from the start – you couldn’t risk loose ends and then find that for the first cohort of children it didn’t work, thus jeapordising their provision and having to fix the new CoP retrospectively.

Mr Gale also related that in his experience, parents do not believe the bill will make much difference because services are being cut every day and it is very difficult to convince them that against this backdrop, there will be an improvement.

He also noted that when it came to a review of a plan, it seemed that only providers were consulted and not the child or the parents and looking at issue of funding – everything is being discussed by the Schools Forum where there is no representation from parents or young people.

Regarding the definitions for SEN, Philipa Stobbs of the SEC/Council for Disabled Children, said they would like the term ‘disabled’ to be clearly included in the definition of Special Needs for an EHCP, as some children with disabilities do not need special educational provision. Any new definition must improve the professional decision-making process for when a child has SEN because at the moment, the definition was too narrow.

Other points raised included:

  • A statement used the term ‘specify’ while the draft bill, at the moment, used the term ‘sets out’ which will only give rise to wooly EHCPs.
  • An EHCP should have broad outcomes and specific objectives, for example age appropriate language, ability to eat independently.
  • Where the green paper had a broader vision, the draft bill did not deliver on that
  • There was a concern that some children with a ‘Band A’ statement would not qualify for an EHCP but there was a belief that all children with current statements should automatically do so.

I hope that in the next session there will be strong input from parents themselves. It is, I believe, scheduled for 6th November. You can watch the whole of the first session here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11597

 

The Every Child in Need Campaign – help needed!

A campaign is being launched today (Thursday 26th July 2012) aimed at protecting society’s most vulnerable children from “damaging changes” proposed by the Department for Education.

The Department of Education is proposing wide-ranging changes to the legal framework which protects these ‘children in need’. Although the changes will affect all ‘children in need’ in England and Wales – including all disabled children – they are focused solely on child protection. The proposals are set out in a consultation which runs until 4th September 2012 [details here].

However, a group of charities, campaigners and lawyers, who are today launching :Every Child In Need” say these proposals are wrong-headed, dangerous and will place the most vulnerable children at risk .

The organisations include Maxwell-Gillott SEN solicitors, Ambitious About Autism and child protection charity ECPAT UK. The organisers, between them, work with and reach thousands of children across the country, including disabled children, children who have been trafficked, and others facing challenges such as street homelessness, physical or sexual violence (often gang-related), parental neglect, educational difficulties and behavioural or mental health problems. All of these are children ‘in need’.

The organisers say:

The Department for Education is proposing wide-ranging changes to the legal framework which protects these children.  The Ministers, Michael Gove MP and Tim Loughton MP, say these changes involve cutting ‘red tape’, allowing local authority children’s services departments more freedom to meet children’s needs.  Many local authorities – cash-strapped following swingeing cuts to their budgets – are happy to take this lifeline, which will mean less pressure to act quickly when a child in need comes to their attention.

We disagree.  The legal framework is not ‘red tape’ – it is an essential safety net for children when they are failed by their local authority.  Basic minimum national standards and requirements are essential.  A hands off approach, allowing local authorities to do what they want, when they want, is dangerous.

Even the Government’s own impact assessment (.pdf) recognises this – it accepts that, “there is a risk of negative impact on children if central government is less prescriptive.”  That is not a risk we should be taking.

We believe these changes are wrong-headed, dangerous and will place the most vulnerable children at risk.  Join us and stop these changes.

Although headlined as a consultation about ‘safeguarding’ and ‘child protection’ only, following on from the Munro report, in fact the proposed changes are far wider, impacting upon all ‘children in need’ across England and Wales, and drastically altering the current guidance regarding how local authorities should assess and meet their needs.

Time is short.  The consultation is running over the summer, 12th June – 4th September 2012.  We recognise that the issues are complex and you may have many questions.  We have arranged a campaign and information meeting for Thursday 26th July 2012, to discuss the proposals further and answer any questions.  It will take place at Doughty Street Chambers at 6 – 7.30pm and we very much hope you can join us.

The Department for Education’s wide-ranging proposals are set out here: https://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/a00211065/revised-safeguarding-guidance.  In short, Michael Gove MP and Tim Loughton MP say these changes involve cutting ‘red tape’ and stopping prescription by central government, allowing local authority children’s services departments more freedom.  Many local authorities – cash-strapped following swingeing cuts to their budgets – are happy to take this lifeline, which will mean less pressure to act quickly when a child in need comes to their attention.

We disagree.  The legal framework is not ‘red tape’ – it is an essential safety net for children when they are failed by their local authority.  Basic minimum national standards and requirements are essential.  A hands off approach, allowing local authorities to do what they want, when they want, is dangerous.  Even the Government’s own impact assessment recognises this – it accepts that, “there is a risk of negative impact on children if central government is less prescriptive.”  That is not a risk we should be taking.

The campaign has three central concerns:

(i)            The proposals are based solely upon ‘children at risk,’ but the changes will apply to all ‘children in need’ – a far wider group.  For example, all disabled children are ‘children in need’ but their needs have not been taken into account in the proposals.  There are at least 770,000 disabled children in England and Wales. Why have their needs been disregarded?  How will they be impacted by these changes?

(ii)           The proposals remove national minimum standards for child in need assessments, basic standards which all local authorities must meet.  At the moment there are maximum timescales in place, so that when a child in need is referred to children’s services his or her needs must be assessed within 35 working days at most.  Gove and Loughton are removing this requirement.  We believe that many children in need will be left to languish, without the assessments and services they desperately need – and are statutorily entitled to.

(iii)       The revised statutory guidance proposed in the consultation is hopelessly vague and general, and will not ensure that children in need obtain assessments with a ‘realistic plan of action’.

The campaigners say they are very surprised to see the Department supporting the removal of national minimum standards on the timing and quality of assessments for children in need at this time, when in other contexts they are demanding more proscription and are criticizing local authority decision-making.  They cite as an sample, how Tim Loughton MP recently sharply criticised local authorities for their placement and management of vulnerable young people in children’s homes, and the poor quality of local authority data on such children.

The campaign website is at, www.everychildinneed.org.uk.  Full details of our meeting on 26th July are available at http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/seminars_events/.

We hope to see you on 26th July.  If you wish to attend please book your place by contacting Doughty Street’s Events Coordinator at 020 7404 1313 or events@doughtystreet.co.uk.

Active listening: a core skill for SEN reform

Yesterday, MumsNet hosted a live web chat with Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.

I recently posted an open letter to Miss Teather, to which I’m still awaiting a response. Last week I spoke at a Surrey pathfinder event on behalf of Family Voice Surrey and in front of DfE senior official, Stephen Kingdom. I made sure to mention our concerns about the timetable for reform that everyone, outside the government, is very worried about. I spoke to Mr Kingdom, a very personable chap, afterwards, to ask him to pass on these concerns to Miss Teather. A day later, he emailed me to tell me about the MumsNet webchat and I was delighted to publicise it on my various social nets (and thanks to everyone who retweeted!) so that as many people as possible could get their questions in. Including, of course, me!

Here is my question:

Hi. My name is Tania Tirraoro and I am co-chair of Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum. On behalf of FVS, I sit on both the Surrey Local Change Board and the EHCP workstream, part of the SE pathfinder. I have two statemented teenage sons with ASD and I am also the founder of the website, Special Needs Jungle.
I can see how hard parents and professionals alike are working on this reform and how much many LA staff want to do things differently. There are many challenges and details to be worked out and worked through. Our EHCP trial isn’t even set to start until September, and we are far from alone.
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?A delay of a few months won’t stop this process (described by someone in your department as an ‘unstoppable train’, rather worryingly), but it will give those involved time to work through the pilots, making adjustments as they go without feeling the unnecessary pressure of looming legislation.
The genie is out of the bottle – reform will happen, but you’ll be remembered much more favourably if you give them time to do their work without the extra pressure that fitting into an artificial timetable will bring and you will end up with a stronger, more sustainable system that will really work for children with SEN & disabilities and their families.
Stephen Kingdom, your DfE colleague, told me last week the process will evolve and it won’t be a final bill – if that’s so, why bother publishing it until you actually have solid results to use?
Thank you for your time.

Despite being in bed recovering from surgery, on Monday I logged on via my iPad to read all the many questions posted – and there were lots of questions from concerned parents about various aspects of SEN provision.

It has been clear to me for some time that anyone outside the actual pathfinders doesn’t really know what stage they’re at, or what they’re even about. If you’d like to know more, I would thoroughly recommend this article in SEN Magazine from Jane McConnell, CEO of IPSEA who has a good grasp of the issues and spoke at the recent Education Select Committee on SEN.

Even though it wasn’t the first to be posted, my question was the first Miss Teather chose to answer, not that there is anything to read into that. See below.

SarahTeatherMP Mon 16-Jul-12 10:37:55

Tania Tirraoro asked a question which was picked up by a few of you:
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?

The most important thing I should stress is that what we will be publishing in September is just a draft bill – it is for discussion, not for debate in Parliament. We won’t be publishing the real bill until the Spring next year. The draft bill is an opportunity for parents and charities who are expert in this area to look at our ideas and tell us what they think. The education select committee in Parliament will also run a kind of inquiry on the draft proposals. It is one of the many stages we are using to test out people’s views and make sure we have the detail right.
It is also important to remember that this is the half way point in the reform process. We began in September 2010, asking people’s views on about what should change, then we published a green paper in the spring last year, more detailed proposals a few months ago, the draft bill in September and the real bill next year. We will also have lots of time in Parliament to debate the bill. It isn’t being rushed through. It will run over two Parliamentary sessions. And some of the legislation will need to be done in what is called secondary legislation at a later stage.
Throughout this process the pathfinders will be testing things out and we wil be getting formal reports. The pathfinders of course are not just testing out the proposals for the legislation. much more importantly, they are about changing culture. You can’t legislate to make people listen – you need to get better at it.

Sarah

I didn’t post a follow up, she only had an hour and there were a lot of questions to get through. The answer was interesting and informative but it still doesn’t answer the question posed further down in my posting – why publish a draft bill if the process is nowhere near ready for it and there is still feedback to be sought from parents and charities? This would seem to be a waste of time and money.

It is this draft bill that is putting unneccesary pressure on the professionals involved in the pathfinders who are trying to do their best – it is unfair and unrealistic. At this stage, in Surrey, we are only about to start talking about who a key worker should be and what qualities they need. But key workers need to be appointed before a trial can begin. Likewise a plan writer. This work WILL be done, but why place what amounts to a false deadline to loom over their heads?

Speaking as the parent of children with special needs (and I’m pretty certain that my views are echoed by most other parents and professionals), give them time to get it right! Why not say, okay, we will have a draft bill, but to instil confidence in the government’s intentions to get it right, we will listen to these concerns and make a much more informed draft bill in January. Would that be so difficult? Really? We wouldn’t think badly of you, we would all breathe a sigh of relief that the job could be done without a guillotine hanging over the heads of those doing the work.

The perception that without this October draft bill nothing will happen is utterly wrong. All it’s doing is causing anxiety and the impression that the government is steaming ahead without regard for the reality of the situation.

One very interesting point Miss Teather mentioned – and it’s something that is at the very heart of the reform – is culture change. This also is going to take money and time. People may lose their jobs over it if they can’t adjust to a new way of thinking. The idea of children and families as ‘client groups’ as I heard one person call them, must come to an end. Children are not clients, they are the vulnerable young people that this process is all about. You can’t change culture by a wave of the wand – extensive training needs to happen.

On top of this is the massive shake-up  in school funding that is happening all at the same time and it is causing much anxiety, frustration and confusion. Mr Gove seems to forget that with all his ‘fantastic’ ideas, he is creating uncertainty in already uncertain times and this cannot be good for schools, teachers or ultimately, children.

So, thank you Miss Teather, for taking part in the web chat yesterday. I’m not really sure if anything you said made anyone actually feel better, but it was a nice gesture. I know you’re busy, but you need to do more getting out and about like this. You see, parents of children with special needs are a cynical bunch and for good reason. Actions speak louder than words to us.

Can you really understand what we’ve been through and are still going through? I don’t really think so, but delaying any draft bill to the new year would be a good indication that you are listening to those of us who are in a position to speak on behalf of our fellow parents who are too stressed and overwhelmed with their situation to have time to speak up for themselves.

 

Dear Miss Teather, an open letter about the pace of SEN reform

Dear Miss Sarah Teather

I know you mean well. I know you really want to do something to help improve the lot of kids with special needs. And you might think you understand the challenges faced by parents who have children with SEN and disabilities. But really, you don’t. You can’t, because, as far as I’m aware, you don’t have any children, let alone any children like ours. So while you might be able to intellectualise it, you really can’t possibly know what it’s like, unless you’ve lived it, day in, day out.

And something else you don’t seem to know about, is what is actually going on at ground level within the pathfinders for SEN reform. You might know what you’ve been told, but unless you’ve actually sat in on a few of the workstreams for the different pilots, or the Local Change Board, you really don’t know. And even if you have, it’s not likely anyone’s going to say, actually Miss Teather, you’re living in a parallell universe to the one that everyone, who’re desperately trying to put the pieces of this reform together, are in.

pencils

You’re planning, so you say, to inform the draft bill on the results of the pathfinder trails. Err, what trials? There will be trials – there are enough dedicated professionals and parents working to get them underway – but there won’t be any substantive results by the autumn. So what then? Are you going to press on regardless? Because if you do, then you’ve just wasted a shedload of money shelling out for the pathfinder authorities.

I watched the select committee on SEN last week online. All five experts said there should be a delay in bringing legislation. And you said, okay, let’s put it back a month or so until the autumn. I don’t think you meant autumn 2013, when we most certainly would have enough evidence to inform a substantial draft bill.

I know that your officials have been told that the pace of legislation is far ahead of the pace of the pilots, but it seems that no one is actually listening. Why not? What makes you think that you and your officials and the Rt Hon Mr Gove know better than those people who have been seconded to carry out the trials?

For a start – and I’ve mentioned this on my blog before (you do read my blog, don’t you – it’s award winning!) you can only start an effective EHCP pilot if

a)  you have some families who’ve actually signed up to it

b)  you have a Key Worker and a Plan Writer in place to help the parents through the process and to write the actual plan and

c)  you’ve actually finalised what a plan should look like. Unlike you, I’m on an EHCP workstream and we are closer to getting c) than we were, but it is so important to get it right that it needs a number of drafts.

As I said, it’s just my opinion, but at least I’ve actually been through statementing with my sons. Twice. And written a book about it. So actually, maybe my opinion is more informed than yours. Just maybe.

You can achieve all the reform you need without chucking the baby out with the bathwater because I’m not even sure there was a whole lot wrong with the statementing system in the first place. It just needed people to put the child at the heart of it and not egos, budgets or brinkmanship. It needed people to do what they were supposed to do, in a timely fashion. It needed more support for, often vulnerable, parents right through the process. It needed SENCos to be able to put the needs of the child first without worrying about their jobs. And it needed those SENCos to actually know what’s in the SEN Code of Practice. Some are great, but that’s no help if you’re at a school where the special needs help is poor.

As a result of the way the current system has been executed, literally thousands of parents have been left in debt, emotionally battered, angry and sometimes even divorced. A whole industry of well-paid SEN lawyers has grown up out of bad practice of local authority SEN officials who have forgotten who they’re there to help in the first place. And don’t think you’re going to put the lawyers out of business with the new reforms – at least not at the pace you want them done.

It’s not just a case of policies. It’s, first and foremost, a question of hearts and minds, of a will and an ability to do things differently. Training, and lots of it, will be needed. Inadequate training of staff in policies and cultural change will lead to poor results for the child, a bad experience for parents and an adversarial system. Kind of like the one we’ve got already.

And don’t think that every single professional is on board with your and Mr Gove’s reforming zeal. They’re not and if you’re going to make things work as they need to, you have to convince them that it’s a good idea or you’ll have failed before you’ve even started.

Are you listening yet? We, in Surrey, have some pathfinder events going on this week and on the 12th July. If you don’t believe what I’ve said here, why not throw on a disguise and pop on down so you can see what they’re saying about the pace of reform behind your back?

Look forward to seeing you (or maybe not, if your disguise is good)

Tania