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!

SEN protection to age 25 – unless you go to university

I’ve been pondering on the SEN section of the Children & Families Bill for a while and I am perplexed by what seems to be an anomaly for some 18-25 year olds.

One of the aims of the extension up to 25 is so that young people can avoid a ‘cliff edge’ and they are supported through further education and training. If a young person with SEN is what is termed ‘NEET’ or ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’, it is intended that they will be encouraged back into the system with a reinstated Education, Health and Care Plan.

Apprenticeships will be covered by the EHCP, as will further education. But not Higher Education at universities. I realise that most universities have pastoral care services, with lots of advice available, and a browse through several university websites reveals an impressive array of help to ensure equality of access and even counselling services.

sad studentBut what bothers me is that without an EHCP, it isn’t statutory. So, depending on which university you choose, you may or may not get the support at a level that would meet the same criteria or above as might be set out in an EHCP and the legal backing to make sure that this happens.

And if there is no mandated regular review, it will be much easier for a student to fall through the cracks. For example, a young person with Asperger’s, desperate to fit in, initially gets help and is thought to be doing well and there is little concern for his well-being. But in fact, they begin to struggle socially and then academically and then mentally. They may be away from home, or uncommunicative or not wanting to admit they aren’t coping. The student’s difficulties are not flagged up until things have deteriorated significantly because the university is not under any statutory duty to monitor regularly or ensure his needs are being met.

Of course, at a university with first-rate pastoral care, this may well be picked up. But if it isn’t, then what? All the work, support and progress that has been done with the young person while they were under 18 will be jeopordised.

Naturally, there are difficulties in bringing universities into the fold. They  have their own ways of doing things. There is the Disabled Student’s Grant and lots of advice for faculty staff such as this provided by the Physical Sciences Centre. A student may also be out of his home authority, which brings its own difficulties (not to mention vulnerabilities).

But this SEN reform process is about ‘blue-sky’ thinking. The busy beavers at the DfE have already managed to bring in a duty on health to provide when they initially said it wasn’t possible. They managed to include Independent Special Schools when it was thought it would be a difficult hill to climb and they deserve much praise for this.

I have seen that there are many bright young as well as more experienced brains in the DfE with tons of energy working on this reform – I bet if they were set the challenge of bringing in universities, they could do it.

Otherwise it just seems to me that if you’re a practical sort and opt to take on an apprenticeship, your SEN will have the legal protection and support of an EHCP. But if you’re a geeky, academic type who wants to go to uni, well, er, good luck with those special needs. Just make sure that the university you choose not only has the course you want but the pastoral support as well, because you’ll have no legal redress through a tribunal.

An article in the Guardian in 2010 highlighted the difficulties faced by students with disabilities. I believe that having universities covered by EHCPs could boost the number of disabled students finishing their studies and thus being better equipped to lead a productive and rewarding life and less likely to be unemployed.

Maybe my fears are unfounded – my boys are below university age but are in the GCSE stage, so it isn’t a million miles away. I would really like to hear about your experiences on this and whether you think universities should be included in the EHCP remit.

*Addition: This article in the Guardian underlines my point: If the EHCP covered universities, it may well be a different story for the students in this story

Rough Draft SEN Code of Practice published

SEN Reform imageLate yesterday, the DfE published the “Indicative draft Code of Practice” as a “work in progress” to go with the SEN/D provisions in the Children & families bill, now going through parliament.

The DfE describe the Code of Practice thus:

The SEN Code of Practice is statutory guidance that provides practical advice on how to carry out statutory duties to identify, assess and make provision for children and young people’s SEN as set out in the Children and Families Bill (currently before Parliament).

The Code also sets out how legislation and regulations concerning children and young people with disabilities works alongside this.

The DfE says a subsequent draft for formal consultation will be produced later in 2013. After this, a final draft will undergo Parliamentary scrutiny in time for it to come into force alongside the Children and Families legislation.

This Indicative CoP is a sort of rough draft devised from early pathfinder learning and from the consultation that took place when the earlier versions of the C&F bill were published.

Additionally it published ‘Illustrative Regulations” and an “SEN Evidence Pack” pulling together the information that has informed the Bill.

It just isn’t possible to write an in-depth analysis of an 86 page document and two additional publications here in less than 24 hours. We’ll be bringing you that in the course of the next few weeks.

Debs and I will be busy reading over the weekend, as on Monday, we’ve been invited to meet the Minister, Ed Timpson. I also have a few other great ideas to mention then as well. (I bet he can hardly wait)

So far, I’ve got through more than half the Indicative CoP and so here are some initial points:

References to statutory duties 

The text uses the word MUST to refer to a statutory requirement and SHOULD to refer to guidance which is a non-statutory requirement.

It emphasises the need for a fully engaged Health system through Clinical Commissioning Groups and other health bodies.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and, where responsible for children and young people with SEN, the NHS Commissioning Board, will be full partners in the new arrangements for securing the provision to meet these needs.

This is obviously a great idea, but, judging from what I’m reading in the press about the difficulties CCGs are facing before they’ve even fully launched, one can’t help but feel…uneasy at best.

Parental Involvement

Parents/carers figure heavily in the document, particularly in relation to helping for develop services at a strategic level and on a family level about schools fully involving parents when it comes to how their child will be helped.

Some teachers and indeed, many parents, will find this quite difficult for many reasons and this is why culture change on both sides is vital.

The CoP document talks about Parent-Carer forums and the support and remuneration they need to be fully engaged, although it does not detail what this should be.

Schools and colleges need to ensure that they fully engage parents and young people with SEN when drawing up policies that affect them. Pupil forums should always ensure that there is representation from pupils with SEN. Schools and colleges should also take steps to ensure that parents and young people are actively supported in contributing to assessment, planning and review processes.

The knowledge and understanding that parents have about their child is key information that can help teachers and others to meet their child’s needs. Enabling parents to share their knowledge and engage in positive discussion instils confidence that their contribution is valued and acknowledged.

2.2: Person-centred planning 

A key approach that ensures that parents and carers, children and young people are actively placed at the heart of the system is person centred planning. A person centred approach to planning means that planning should start with the individual (not with services), and take account of their wishes and aspirations, and the support they need to be included and involved in their community. It aims to empower parents, children and young people so that they have more control over assessment and decision-making processes. It enables continual listening and learning, focusing on what is important to someone now and in the future, and acting on this in partnership with their family and their friends.

The integrated arrangements for commissioning services for children and young people with SEN must promote the involvement of children and young people, and their parents, carers and representatives in decisions which relate to their care, and in the development and review of a local offer of services, derived from commissioning plans which reflect the strategic participation of local young people and their families. CCGs will want to engage with Healthwatch organisations, patient representative groups, Parent-Carer forums and other local voluntary organisations and community groups to do this.

Really, will they? As far as I can see, health/patient/parent engagement is at a very nascent stage and in many areas, embryonic or not even a twinkle in the eye.

Let’s be hopeful though. If it’s mandated, they’ll have to at least make an effort. Won’t they?

3.2 Keeping provision under review 

Joint commissioning is an on-going process and local authorities and their partner CCGs must keep the arrangements under review.  Local authorities also have a duty to keep under review the special educational provision and social care provision in their areas for children and young people who have SEN .

This will be a full time job for someone. In Surrey, an SEN Quality Assurance officer has been appointed already and so presumably this will be part of the role’s remit.

Two new Health Liaison Posts?

The document talks “Designated Medical Officer for SEN”.  This person might, apparently, be an employee of an organisation such as a CCG or NHS Trust. They will have responsibility for co-ordinating the role of the health body in statutory assessment and MUST work strategically across health, social care and local government.

They must… have good relations with local commissioners who are partners in the joint arrangements for SEN, working to ensure effectiveness in co-operation, and encouraging and supporting the optimum use of flexibilities for joint working (e.g. through partnership arrangements and pooled budgets).

They must provide a means for the local authority to access expert medical advice – for example, on whether or not a child can attend school, or on medical evidence provided in support of a school application – but may also be required to provide or facilitate access to, advice or support for the health community on SEN, particularly when health services are preparing reports on children. Whilst the advice and support may be provided by a number of health and care professionals as appropriate, the designated medical officer must be an identified, qualified and registered medical practitioner, with the appropriate training and/or experience to exercise this role in relation to children and young people with SEN.

The search had better get underway in LAs and CCGs across the land if they’re to stand a hope of finding such a person and training them in the ways of the different authorities they’re supposed to work across.

Social Care Services Liaison person

Another role is a similar function within social care. Social care teams have a range of duties and responsibilities towards children and young people with SEN.

Social care departments may find it useful to designate an officer or officers to support their social care teams in undertaking these duties and to act as the central point of reference for the local authority’s SEN teams on matters related to social care.

Although ‘may find it useful’ may be taken as meaning, sweep it under the carpet, there’s no money in the pot.

Section 4: Local Offer

There is a long section on the Local Offer of services and the document underlines the point that a “Local Offer’ should not be simply a list of existing services but should be used to improve the local offering for children with SEN/D.

The accompanying Regulations document is aimed at providing a common framework for the local offer. They specify the requirements that all local authorities must meet in developing, publishing and reviewing their local offer:

  • The information to be included

  • How the local offer is to be published

  • Who is to be consulted about the local offer

  • How children and young people with SEN and parents will be involved in the preparation and review of the local offer

  • The publication of comments on the local offer and the local authority’s response

There is a lot of information on the proposed Local Offer and SNJ will talk in more details about this in another post but enough to say at this stage that a ‘common framework’ is still not a ‘minimum standard’

5.6 Additional SEN Support

The big question has been what will replace the School Action & School Action + levels of SEN that are being abolished along with the statement.

The answer is here and it’s called  Additional SEN Support

But, to me, it all seems to depend on:

  1. The strength of the school’s SENCO
  2. The training of staff.

It’s fine to say, as the document does, that all teachers should be teachers of children with special educational needs, but we all know that mainstream teachers are trained to be mainstream teachers and a HUGE programme of extra training is going to be needed if there are not structured levels such as exists at the moment.

The document talks about all the tasks that a SENCO should be carrying out, but when my boys were in mainstream, the SENCO (who was great) was also a year head, class teacher, head of PE and Deputy Head.

In my personal opinion, a SENCO should be just that. A SENCO whose sole duty it is to identify, organise, monitor and review the progress of children with an SEN. They should be listening to those children and, where appropriate, organising nurture groups to support those whose support needs may look like a SEN but may, in fact, stem from an unmet emotional or social need.

Additionally, they should be monitoring the quality of SEN provision from the school’s teachers and be liaising regularly with parents (and it does say that in this document).

It’s a full time job all by itself. And they should be part of the school’s senior management team.

Before providing a child or young person with the Additional SEN Support, a rigorous assessment of SEN should be undertaken by the institution using all available evidence/data sources, such as attainment and historical data, the child or young person’s development in comparison to their peers, information from parents and, if relevant, advice from external support services.

How will this be funded? It will be 1. “agreed locally” and be from “the delegated schools budget”, but early on in the select committees they were talking about clawing back the delegated budget. So what’s it to be?

That’s it for now, we’ll have more next week, when we’ve had time to read it in detail.

You can find the DfE main document page here

You can find the Indicative draft Code of Practice here

You can find the Illustrative Regulations draft here

Please do add your opinions in the comments below or on our SNJ LinkedIn group

Stop the DLA Takeaway campaign – your help needed

Stop the DLA Takeaway campaign – Contact a Family and The Children’s Trust need your help

The Children’s Trust, Tadworth and Contact a Family would like to hear from parents and carers of children who spend long periods in hospital. The charities are asking families to fill out a short survey which could provide vital information to strengthen their “Stop the DLA Takeaway” campaign.

Link to survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/StoptheDLATakeaway2012

The Stop the DLA Takeaway campaign highlights that disabled children who spend long periods in hospital are at risk of having their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) suspended. Current regulations mean DLA payments are suspended if a child’s hospital stay is more than 84 days. The days do not have to be consecutive, so hundreds of severely disabled and sick children, who are regularly in and out of hospital, could be affected.

The Government argues that when a child spends longer than 84 days in hospital ‘a patient’s needs are fully met free of charge’. However, Contact a Family and The Children’s Trust hear from families that they provide the same or more care when their child is in hospital and incur extra costs such as loss of earnings, travel to and from hospital, parking and childcare expenses.

If you are the parent or carer of a child who has spent a long time in hospital you can complete the short survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/StoptheDLATakeaway2012

This information could help Contact a Family and The Children’s Trust strengthen their call for the Government to scrap the rules that deny some of the UK’s most severely disabled children financial help when they need it most.

For more information visit the Children’s Trust website.

Latest information and advice for families

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Parents can order free hard copies of Contact a Family’s printed guides by calling our helpline on 0808 808 3555.