The upcoming reform in the way SEN support is delivered in schools and colleges in England brings with it much confusion for parents, young people, teachers and other education, health and care practitioners, surrounding the, "who, what, when and where" of the changes.
And if you think those inside local authorities have all the answers, think again - they're just as confused about what applies and when. Parents have been told that they can't apply for a statement anymore (wrong) or that the Code of Practice doesn't apply (wrong) or that everyone is going to have to wait until September for new applications for new statutory special needs support (again, wrong).
It is important, I believe, for those who will be affected by these changes to have as much information ahead of time as they need. This doesn't mean drowning everyone in a sea of policy documents, but just giving simple answers to some crucial questions about what parents, children and everyone else involved can expect in the near term.
As there is so little understanding of what will happen in the next year at the ground level, I decided the only way to cut through the misinformation and confusion was to go right to the top and ask the man behind the Minister. And so I sent a number of vital questions to Stephen Kingdom, the Deputy Director of SEN & Disability at the Department for Education. As a civil servant, Stephen has been alongside the SEN Minister, Ed Timpson, driving forward the reforms. We have met at SEN conferences on a number of occasions, including several I organised along with SNJ columnist, Angela Kelly, for Surrey's parent carer forum.
I'm bringing you the questions and answers verbatim, rather than editorialising at all and so I leave it to you to decide if the questions have been answered to your satisfaction. If so or indeed, if not, let me know in the comments...
1. If a statement application has been started in the summer term but either the process has not been completed or the statement not issued by 1st September, what happens?
The local authority may continue to follow the existing process for issuing a statement where the process began before 1 September 2014.
2. It is possible that an LA could drag its feet and use the longest possible time-frame allowed or state a delay because of summer holidays. What is the last realistic date the DfE recommends for a parent can start an application for a statement for their child? What is the DfE recommendation for Best Practice in the summer term for Local Authorities and what is its advice to parents, including for those with LDAs?
It will be open to a parent to request an assessment for a statement until 31 August 2014, after which they can request an assessment for an EHC plan.
Local authorities must ensure they comply with the existing legislation relating to statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments until the relevant sections of Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 is commenced on 1 September 2014.
In the same way that some pathfinder authorities do at the moment, non-pathfinder local authorities may issue a statement that meets existing legislation but that also anticipates final requirements for EHC plans. Alternatively, with the agreement of the parent or young person, a local authority could provide a non-statutory EHC plan in place of a statement.
Until 1 September 2014, local authorities remain under a duty to undertake a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) for young people in their final year of school who are moving into further education. For young people who need an LDA, an EHC plan would more than satisfy the legal requirement to carry out a section139A Learning Difficulty Assessment. Where local authorities are ready and able to do so, they could use draft EHC plans to replace LDAs for young people with statements who are leaving school and moving to further education in 2014-15. For funding purposes, local authorities will need to clearly indicate on the draft EHC plan that this is fulfilling the function of the section 139A Learning Difficulty Assessment.
For a non-statutory EHC plan to become a statutory EHC plan following 1 September 2014, local authorities will need to ensure it complies with the Regulations and the approved 0-25 SEN Code of Practice. We expect the process to give statutory force to EHC plans issued before 1 September to be quick and light touch, assuming that all parties (including the parent or young person) are content with the existing EHC plan.
3. The CDC has been charged with coming up with a workable plan for independent supporters. While this is an ongoing process, can every parent applying for an EHCP expect to be allocated a free independent supporter? If not, who makes the judgement that they need one or not?
Local authorities should work with organisations providing independent supporters to ensure that there are arrangements to offer help from an independent supporter to as many families as possible who request it.
4. Will there be national standards/complaints/training/qualifications set up for independent supporters?
Independent Supporters will have skills and expertise in working with parents and young people, and have experience and understanding of SEN and disability. They will all have to complete accredited training, which is being developed centrally by CDC.
More information on Independent Supporters can be found at http://www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/independentsupport
5. What are the DfE's recommendations to health bodies for training of health practitioners in the new system and integrated working? What should parents expect to see in the GP surgery or hospital paediatric specialist clinic that's different from now?
This is a new approach to how services come together to assess, plan and deliver services for children and young people with SEN, being introduced at a time when the NHS is increasingly looking to deliver more integrated care. This is not about clinicians acting differently when seeing a child, but it might mean significant change to the way in which receiving care is co-ordinated around the child, or the way in which clinical practice is supported – your child might be seen in a different setting, for example, or he or she might be seen by fewer professionals, working together to meet the needs of your child as captured in the EHC plan.
6. Have you had feedback from the 'ground' on how this is progressing? Who is in charge of it locally and what information/training is disseminated to GPs and other health workers so parents can expect to notice a difference? How can parents find out about this?
The new system has not been introduced across England yet. Pathfinder Champions have been promoting good practice based on their piloting of new arrangements, and liaising with local GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). DfE has been working very closely with DH and NHS England to consider how to support both clinicians and health commissioners to deliver the SEN reforms. NHS England recently held five regional events with health commissioners and clinicians, and we were very encouraged by both the numbers of people who attended and the enthusiasm with which they engaged with the issues. NHS England is working with CCGs to ensure readiness for their role in the new arrangements from September and will be developing commissioning guidance for CCGs on SEN. Details of each CCG can be found via NHS England’s directory at http://www.england.nhs.uk/ccg-details/
7. Bearing in mind our post from Jane McConnell, how concerned are the DfE about this claim that a second consultation on the revised CoP is going to be needed? Who makes this decision? (Tania's note: This was posed before the revised CoP was published and a partial consultation announced.)
The SEND Code of Practice is a crucial document – we need to get it right. We went out to consultation last autumn and since it closed in December have analysed the over 700 responses and revised the Code in the light of the responses, informed by sector experts such as IPSEA, to improve the draft and reflect the final Children and Families Act 2014 as clearly as possible. The draft Code has also been updated to include key issues such as mental capacity.
This final part of the consultation process is a smaller public consultation, focused on two specific issues only i) changes made to the consultation draft of the Code to take account of subsequent amendments to the Children and Families Bill and ii) clarity, layout and accessibility of the Code. We are not seeking comment on wider issues at this stage as we have already consulted extensively on other aspects.
We know a lot of people have been waiting for the Code of Practice – this version is still subject to Parliamentary approval, but is much closer to a final draft. This version of the Code will be a very valuable tool for those preparing for the reforms. We are also planning to produce short guides to the Code for parents, young people and specific groups, such as health practitioners who will need to have regard to the Code.
After the consultation, we will analyse the responses and aim to get the Code laid before Parliament as soon as possible.
9. When will the consultation response on the ‘supporting pupils at school with medical conditions’ be published?
We are planning to publish both the consultation response and the proposed text of the statutory guidance very shortly.
There was a tenth question, regarding admissions to Non-Maintained and Independent Special Schools, but I am saving this for next week, as it is quite involved and requires a post of its own.
So with thanks to Stephen Kingdom and his team at the DfE for answering the above questions - and as the information is from "the horse's mouth" so to speak, I'm pretty sure you can rely on it as back up should you be told anything else.
So now over to you - have these answers made things clearer for you to work with, and what other practical issues (rather than political or legal/policy, which we will still be talking about in other posts) are you still concerned about?
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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