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!

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.

Disability groups call for pause for thought in welfare reform

The NAS has today thrown its weight behind a call for the government to reconsider its plans for welfare reform relating to the Disability Living Allowance. The level of fraud for this allowance is very low and thr form that has to be filled in just to apply for it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

This is what the NAS had to say on their website:

We are calling on the Government to pause the Welfare Reform bill and carefully consider its reform of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The Welfare Reform Bill which will implement these proposed reforms is now in the final stages of its Parliamentary passage but the details of how the reform would affect disabled people have not been fully investigated.

Last week a Responsible Reform report (known as the Spartacus report) revealed strong opposition from disabled people, charities and other interested groups to the Coalition Government’s proposed changes to DLA. The report showed worrying evidence that the Government’s decision to reduce projected DLA expenditure by 20% may have been based on incomplete or misleading data about the reasons for growth in DLA.  It has also been revealed today that the proposed changes will lead to 500,000 disabled people no longer being eligible for this benefit.

Independent surveys carried out by some of the signatories to this letter have shown that cuts to DLA will force more disabled people into poverty, which is likely to increase the burden on the NHS and social care system in the long run. Such a potentially risky change in policy should not be taken forward without a robust and accurate evidence base and the support of disabled people and the experts in this field.

Last year the Government took the bold decision to pause and reflect on its reorganisation of the NHS after similar levels of concern and anxiety from medical groups and patients. Today Papworth Trust, Action on Hearing Loss, Brandon Trust, Campaign for a Fair Society, Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales, Ekklesia, Leonard Cheshire Disability, MS Society, The National Autistic Society, Rethink Mental Illness, RNIB, Sense, Three Cs, United Response and the Westminster Society are asking the Government to show similar foresight and pause the Welfare Reform Bill to investigate the strong concerns raised above. We ask Peers to support amendments to pause the legislation that will affect so many people’s lives.

Source: National Autistic Society

Surely the government cannot ignore such a wealth of disability expertise all telling them that this most vulnerable group of people will be thrown into poverty (not that they’re living the high life now) if their reforms go through unamended. Can they?