I thought you might be interested in the response I wrote to the Education Select Committee on how the 2014 Children and Families Act is working out from my perspective.
Obviously, as I have responded as an individual, I have a particular view that is coloured by my personal experiences, but I do wonder how much of it I share with others, both professionally and in my private life.
Anyway, here is my response – edited because it is long, and because I am not quite sure what the rules are about publishing it in a different place (so I have made it slightly different ie. shorter!). I am sure that there are more things that could be said and recommended. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
- The assessment of and support for children and young people with SEND
- It remains that case that Local Authorities carry out both statutory assessments and award EHCPs while making difficult funding decisions. This means that there is a conflict of interest.
Recommendation: The role of the Local Authority as both assessor and granter of funds must be reassessed in order to remove the conflict of interest.
- The assessment of children and young people with SEND, rather than acting as a means by which ways to support learning can be identified, acts instead as a gatekeeper. This is illustrated in a number of ways, from access arrangements to EHCPs, including access to benefits and social care. Without certain diagnoses, it remains the case, despite the Graduated Approach/Pathway, that certain support cannot be accessed.
- Due to the constraints of running two systems (Statements and EHCPs) and set against a backdrop of austerity measures both locally and nationally, it is questionable whether assessments are undertaken by multi-agency professionals such as Educational Psychologists at points in time other than transformation to EHCP or in the initial stages of statutory assessment, prior to the granting of an EHCP. This can mean that information, upon which the professionals reviewing any plan are relying, can be considerably out of date and therefore of limited use.
- Access to specialist assessment is also limited. Many parents resort to paying for private assessments. This means that children and young people from poorer backgrounds are not able to access the same level of assessment. This also means that professionals question the validity of private reports, suspecting that those who privately seek and pay for assessments must therefore have paid for the desired results. This is not equitable or fair.
Recommendation: Access to specialist assessments must be equitable and fair. It is not fair that some parents are paying for private assessments, and that these are disbelieved by professionals.
- Support for young people is variable, with some schools doing an excellent job and some not. Excellent inclusive schools act as ‘honey pots’ for parents and their children. Some schools operate a ‘soft selection’ by implying that SEND children are either not welcome or that other schools do a better job with SEND than they do.
- Access to specialist support is limited. Educational Psychologists, for example, have limited time to spend on supporting colleagues as they are busy with statutory assessment. In some areas, support from specialists is a ‘traded service’, in others, the Local Authority provides SEND services, such as advisory teachers. However, whether schools are able to access support as needed in order to provide early help is questionable.
Recommendation: Access to specialist support must be equitable and fair. Any moves towards an increasing system of MATs must be considered in the light of SEND support.
- An open Graduated Approach/pathway means that there are many systems at work at any one time, with some Local Authorities using ‘My Plans’, others IEPs. There is no standard pathway for schools to follow, and no standard template for Local Authorities to use. This means that plans such as an EHCP can be confusing rather than clear for professionals, families and young people.
- This confusion increases the likelihood that SEND ‘paperwork’ can be seen by professionals as an administrative exercise, increasing workload for teaching staff and the cause of stress for Local Authority case officers, leading to poor plans which can be effectively ignored by the staff who work directly with young people.
Recommendation: One system for SEND documentation nationally, with proper training for those working within the system, will help schools and Local Authorities to collaborate and improve their service for SEND children and young people.
- Children on ‘SEN Support’ are not protected by a legal framework. Only those children with an EHCP are protected in this way. This means that it is very difficult to hold schools or Local Authorities to account for the way that they support these young people. There are far more children and young people on SEN Support than those with EHCPs.
Recommendation: Children and young people on SEND support must be protected by a legal framework.
- However, while a legal framework appears to allow for accountability and transparency, it is the parents of disabled children who are forced to hold schools and Local Authorities to account. They become reliant on forming positive personal relationships with professionals with whom they can be drawn into conflict over provision for their children. Where positive relationships do not exist, parents are pushed into problematic categories which themselves hinder effective collaboration. Holding a school or a Local Authority to account is an exhausting activity and can have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of families who are already under pressure.
Recommendation: Accountability must rest between schools, young people, Local Authorities, parents and government. It is not fair that parents of disabled children must hold schools and Local Authorities to account as individuals. It is wasteful and costly. OFSTED must play a role in holding schools and Local Authorities to account for SEND provision by both inspecting Local Authorities regularly and ensuring that SEND is always part of a school inspection.
- The transition from statements of special educational needs and learning disability assessments to education, health and care plans
- The transition of Statements to EHCPs has been difficult for Local Authorities to manage, especially when sent against a backdrop of cuts to local services. This has meant that some Local Authorities have not been able to complete the transition by the deadline, and others have resorted to measures such as outsourcing to independent EHCP writing companies or simply copying the Statement over to an EHCP. This is not acceptable.
- It can take a long time for EHCPs to be finalised. This means that in the interim period, staff working with children and young people with SEND are forced to do so with little or outdated professional advice. This means that the likelihood that the statutory document, when it eventually arrives, will be ignored and characterised as useless, out of date or unhelpful, is increased.
- As EHCPs are subject to statutory time scales, the dates at which they are issued is significant. Coinciding with school holidays such as Christmas or the summer break is unhelpful to families and SEN caseworkers. Planning timescales needs to be properly and thoughtfully carried out, with the needs of children and families at the forefront, rather than the Local Authority.
- When preparing assessments for an EHCP, professionals consult both the child or young person and the parent, usually their mother. This means that the same questions are asked of the same people multiple times. Where a child has health or social care needs, the requirement to answer more questions and attend more meetings is increased. This impacts on parental, usually mothers, ability to work. Professionals, subject to statutory timescales, can unwittingly pass on the pressure they are working under to families. This is not acceptable.
Recommendation: The systems for producing or annually reviewing an EHCP must be reviewed, in order that Local Authorities understand the negative impact they have on the families they serve.
- It can be very challenging to extract useful information on what the future hopes of a disabled young person might be, especially if they are very young or if they have significant learning and communication difficulties. Questions about the future can be difficult or distressing to answer, especially if the young person has a severe or life-limiting condition. There is little support provided for parents; it is possible for questions such as these to damage rather than support the wellbeing of families.
- Support for parents in stating their views is, in my experience, limited to a single piece of paper which does little to allow for an exploration of their knowledge of their child or give their views. This is especially the case where parents also experience learning difficulties or have a problematic relationship with schooling, based on negative experiences from their own childhood.
Recommendation: The structure of the EHCP process, with its relentless focus on preparing for adulthood must be reviewed. Young people with disabilities must be given the same respect as the typical population, and access an education that helps them to fulfil their own aspirations, at an appropriate time.
- The level and distribution of funding for SEND provision
- Local Authorities have been required to make considerable savings in expenditure. Local Authorities have restructured and reduced services, and the motivation to limit the number of EHCPs has increased.
- Local Authorities and schools are subject to a new, fairer funding formula. This means that while resources are distributed more equitably nationally, there is less flexibility to respond to need locally.
Recommendation: Funding for SEND needs urgent attention. Local Authorities must be able to respond to need as it appears locally.
- School budgets are increasingly squeezed. This means that school leaders are forced to make difficult decisions regarding staffing, in particular Teaching Assistants. While the use of Teaching Assistants for supporting SEND children and young people is not without its difficulties, this has a disproportionate effect on those children and their teachers, who thus come under added pressure.
- However, more money for SEND children and young people does not necessarily translate into better or more effective provision. Long standing attitudes and practices must be challenged through a programme of reformed accountability and training.
Recommendation: Local Authorities must be held to account for the way that they spend money for SEND. There is no improvement to be had by simply increasing funding. Any increases to funding must be done intelligently.
- The roles of and co-operation between education, health and social care sectors
- While being an excellent idea in theory, the reality is that much of the work falls upon SENCOs, who are working in diverse situations, from full time leadership to squeezing in the role to a Friday afternoon. The role of the SENCO is subject to considerable flexibility and change.
- Education, health and social workers are all professionals working under the pressures common to those in public service in challenging times. Finding time to meet to discuss SEND children and young people is difficult. Understanding the needs of each other in terms of producing a workable EHCP is difficult, especially where there is no uniform or standard way of communicating or setting out a young person’s requirements.
- The role of social care can be problematic, especially where the language and assessment forms cross over between disability and child protection. This crossover can be ill-understood by education and health professionals and increase the levels of stigma falling upon families and young people attempting to access the societal support to which they are entitled. This can mean that families who do not wish to have their lives scrutinised in an intrusive manner failing to access support.
Recommendation: Social care for disabled young people must be reviewed, and the information gathering process divorced from the processes of child protection. A new language of social care for disabled young people and their families must be developed in order to reduce both stigma and levels of intrusion for families.
5 Provision for 19-25-year olds including support for independent living; transition to adult services; and access to education, apprenticeships and work.
- Provision for 19-25 year olds has seen an increase in number of EHCPs maintained by Local Authorities, with associated costs, in an era of cut backs to funding.
- There is an emphasis, from Year 9, on ‘preparing for adulthood’ in the EHCP, requiring young people and families to make decisions and declarations about what their future career choices are from age 14. This is a difficult thing to do, as all young people are subject to changes in expectations as they grow up. It is a concern that SEND young people may find themselves on a pathway that reflects an earlier understanding of their future, rather than allowing them time to mature, as in the typical population.
- A lot of time is spent investigating what young people would like to achieve and their aims for their future. This is a pointless exercise if options for them are limited to particular courses, where they are funnelled down a one-size-fits-all pathway to a life of café volunteering and charity day centres.
- There is little information to parents and families about post-19 options for further education for SEND young people. The onus is on parents, who are already under pressure, to investigate options, many if not most of which are private institutions, such as National Star College or Foxes Academy. This means that parents and families must be prepared to appeal to Local Authorities to allow their young people to take up a place.
- FE Colleges operate under a different ethos, different systems and timetables compared to schools. This means that, due to an understanding of a young person as an emerging adult, information for parents and families regarding post-19 options is not as effectively shared as it could be.
- Where options for post-19 education and training is private or independent then there is a perverse incentive for Local Authority professionals, who are required not to spend excess funds, not to share information with families and SEND young people.
- Where a young person may not yet have attained certain accreditations by age 19 it could be characterised as a failure to progress and a reason for a Local Authority to cease an EHCP. This does not give disabled young people the opportunity to develop their skills or further their education so that they can participate in the economic and cultural activities of the communities in which they live. A learning disability, such as Down’s syndrome, does not mean that a young personcannot learn; rather, it is that learning takes a longer time.
- FE Colleges operate under different timetables to schools. This means that a ‘full time’ college course may be three days a week. The day may be a shorter day. The terms may be shorter and holiday periods longer. This means that a disabled young person aged 16-18, compared to a typical young person at school, is accessing less education and training. This also has an impact on the ability of parents to sustain the ability to work and make a contribution of their own and they must access social care or become full time carers themselves.
- When a young person has access to a suitable education and training up to age 25 it is more likely that they will be able to participate fully in their community, make a contribution to it and fulfil their own dreams and potential, leading to better mental and physical health and wellbeing for the individual and lower costs for the state.
Recommendation: Provision for young people aged 19-25 must be urgently assessed. Existing providers must be consulted and collaboration with young people and their families encouraged in order to find imaginative solutions. Failure to progress – or failure to provide – is not a good enough reason to cease an EHCP for a disabled young person.