Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Jane McConnell (IPSEA's Chief Executive) speak at the Towards a Positive Conference.
As Jane spoke, I realised that the messages about the Bill are not getting out - either people think the changes don't affect them or the changes just won't happen.
However, if you have a child or young person aged 0 to 25 with ANY additional needs, then you need to take five minutes out of your busy day (and as we are parents too, we know how chaotic our days can be) but the changes being proposed WILL affect you and not all of the proposed changes will help families.
This week we will be sharing with you the changes you need to be aware of and also saying how you can take action. Please share these posts with your friends and colleagues.
Which proposed changes will reduce or remove your current rights?
Duty to Assess SEN: At present, there is a PROACTIVE duty to identify the needs of children and young people with SEN via assessment: "Proactive = Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty".
In the Children and Families Bill (in its current form), this has been reduced to a duty to identify. "Identify = To ascertain the origin, nature, or definitive characteristics". There is no duty on the LA to be proactive. This is a weaker duty on the LA and will cause issues for many parents who are just entering our Special Needs Jungle looking for help and support for their child.
We need the DfE to ensure that LAs are proactive in identifying needs.
Time Limits: At present, your LA has a maximum of six weeks from receiving the request for statutory assessment (i.e. starting the statementing process) to decide if they will assess and then they have a further 10 weeks to decide whether they will issue a statement.
The Children and Families Bill, in its current form, will not provide a time limit by which LAs need to make a decision about whether they will issue a Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Once they decide to issue, there will be a time limit of 20 weeks (from the initial request) to issue, but as a mum who has gone through this process four times (once to be turned down), I can remember how anxious I was after my application had gone in, waiting to see if they would agree to assess.
Then, again, the stress I felt when I was waiting for the decision as to whether they would issue a statement. However, I had taken advice and knew that there was a time frame in which the LA had to make a decision and these dates were clearly marked on my calendar.
I cannot imagine the pressure that parents starting the process under the Children's and Families Act will face without the security of time limits. Yes, some LAs will do this promptly and will act fairly but as we all know, in the real world, there are also many, many LAs who won't.
We need the DfE to be prescriptive in this. This Bill is supposed to make our life less stressful, not more!
Education, Health & Care Plans: At present, the law says that a statement has to be in a standard format. As set out in the SEN regulations it has to "be in such form and contain such information as may be prescribed". However, the Children and Families Bill, in its current form, no longer requires regulations to prescribe a standard form for EHCP. Basically this means each LA can produce their own version.
Currently Part 2 of the statement has to state the educational needs of the child. Part 3 has to state the provision to meet the educational needs in part 2. The provision must be specific and also quantified.
If LAs can produce their own version of EHCP with no regulations about what they have to put in there - what can I say? We would all love to live in an ideal world where every LA would do everything possible to meet the needs of every child and no LA would even dream of spending valuable resources on very expensive legal representation to do battle with parents on their behalf.
Unfortunately, however, we all have to live in the real world - with budget cuts, lack of resources, lack of working in partnership and in some areas, total lack of empathy and of course, the hugely expensive legal representation that the majority of parents cannot compete against.
We need the DfE to regulate the content of EHCPs and ensure that the educational, health and care needs of our children and young people along with the educational, health and care provision to meet those needs is in every EHCP.
Annual Reviews: Currently, there is a duty on LAs to inform parents, children or young people of the outcome of the Annual Review. Once this is communicated, parents and children/young people can appeal to the SEND tribunal if they are unhappy. However, the Children and Families Bill, in it current form, no longer has this duty. So, LAs don't, in theory, have to tell you.
In addition, there are current duties such as enabling parents to participate in the decision making; the requirement to obtain up to date information before an Annual Review and share it with parents; parents to be able to make their views known and for those to be circulated; the compulsory attendance of professionals at the review meeting at the key states of a child/young person's education and transition arrangements out of education.
Guess what? Yes, I think you are starting to get the general idea - there is no duty for any of the above in the Children and Families Bill.
We need the DfE to address this. Once again, some LAs and educational settings will do all of the above without legislation in place but so many more will only do what they absolutely have to.
If you want to know how to take action, please visit IPSEA's website
We will be posting soon about some other changes which will reduce or remove your current rights and some outstanding issues with the proposals of the Children and Families Bill.