Down at the Department for Education, the collective breath of expectant Ministers and civil servants was being held. Then, a cry sounded as news filtered through.. a joyous birth... It's an Act!
The Children and Families Bill was fertilised as a Green Paper, then the Draft Bill was announced and today, cheers may well have been heard, as the Queen raised her scratchy quill and gently blew dry the ink, heralding the arrival of the Children and Families Act. Someone probably passed around [unlit] cigars and there may well have been some high-fiving and claps on the back for Minister Ed Timpson and his weary team as the realisation hit that their baby had made it through, blinking, into the harsh light of reality.
But what about us parents who are supposed to be at the "heart" of the bill. We are among the band of parents who've been engaged with this process since the beginning, we were excited at the ideas for reform but our smiles have faded quite a bit since then.
Look, we know the Act is about more than just SEN & Disability but reading the press release published with the announcement was something of an anti-climax. Just one specific mention of the SEN aspect of the legislation. Surprising considering the Act has almost certainly had the biggest input from parents than any piece of law ever before.
"We will issue the final SEN Code of Practice shortly ahead of reforms coming into force in September".
Hedging their bets? Still not quite sure it'll make it to the Christening in time? Surely not!
So what happens now?
Below is the planned timetable for introducing the new system (click to enlarge). By September -December 2017 there will be no more statements left in force.
You need to see this, just as a birth is, the start of a fragile new life. And one that may quite possibly need to spend some time in NICU while everyone gets used to having it around.
What needs to be done before September?
- Local authorities will need to work with children and young people with SEN & Disability, their parents and carers. That will be a challenge for some, as we all know too well.
- Local authorities need to establish partnerships across education, health and care and develop plans for them to work together to provide services needed - called "joint commissioning".
- Local authorities need to develop their Local Offer and also develop the processes for assessments and Education, Health & Care Plans
- Local Authorities need to determine which services could be provided through personal budgets (money given to the child/family to pay for services to fulfil the provision set out in the EHCP)
- They also need to make plans for providing information and independent support to families
You can call us cynical, but all of this has to be in place by September. That's September 2014. As parents of children with SEN, we know it can take longer than those six months just to organise one meeting with everyone around the table, so let's just wish them the very best of luck.
This is now an Act and therefore the law - we can't change it so we have work with it and make sure it works for our families.
What do you need to do?
- Ask your LA if they have a plan. You could do this through your area's Parent Carer Forum This site needs a large overhaul but you should find at least the contact for your PCF.
- Ask how your local council's SEN department will work with parents, children and young people. Maybe they will put on some events to explain this to parents - some are more proactive than others.
- Contact us about the training we will be offering to parents and practitioners alike - you may have noticed, we know quite a bit about these changes and we're really quite nice too.
So, what about the Code of Practice?
For anyone who hasn't been involved in the legal side of SEN provision, the SEN Code of Practice is the detail as to how the law is followed. Government guidance can be statutory or just advice on good practice. The Code of Practice is statutory guidance, which has more legal force. Schools and local authorities must follow statutory guidance unless they can show they are doing something just as good or better.
An indicative draft was published last year, followed by a second draft in October. The second draft was open to consultation, so any interested parties could feed in their views. The consultation was based on the draft bill published in February 2013.
Generally, after a consultation closes, there is a three month period before an amended version is published. However, the amended SEN Code of Practice hasn't been published yet and the press release from today states that the final SEN Code of Practice will be issued "shortly ahead of reforms coming into force in September".
Gulp. Well hold on a mo... This is fine if it passes through both Houses of Parliament smoothly and the DfE have been consulting those with an interest since the official Consultation ended, such as disability and SEN charities, in an attempt to make sure of this.
But the Bill, now Act is quite different than when the Draft Code of Practice was consulted upon last year and so we await, with much interest, to see if these amendments to the Act have been reflected in the Code of Practice. This is all quite confusing, but of course, we shall seek clarification and explain it to you, hopefully next week.
To end on a light-hearted note, the Department for Education have proudly sent a round-robin to all their contacts (that's us) of their baby video, also known as "Look Back" Facebook style video about the Children and Families Bill.
We'd love to hear what you think of it. Did you reach for the tissues to wipe away tears of joy or hilarious laughter?
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking more in-depth at the new Children and Families Act and some of the issues around the Code of Practice so don't forget to subscribe to Special Needs Jungle, we're sure you don't want to miss it.
By Debs Aspland. Additional reporting: Tania Tirraoro.