The Department for Education updates SNJ on its plans for EHCP (Advisory) Tailored Lists

It’s 2024, and that means the Department for Education’s £70 million SEND and Alternative Provision Change Programme will start moving into a slightly higher gear.

As part of this programme, the DfE and its consortium of consultants will be road-testing some new policy proposals, including the creation of a ‘tailored list’ of placements.

What’s a tailored list?

Under this proposal, when an EHCP is created or amended, parent carers and young people would select a preferred placement from a so-called ‘tailored list’ that has been prepared by the local authority.

The ‘tailored list’ is one of the more controversial policies in the SEND & AP Improvement Plan. At this stage, it’s a proposal, not a legal requirement. In the Improvement Plan, the DfE says it is “committed to delivering” tailored lists – but for now, the intent is to see if the policy is workable.

The DfE states it wants the ‘tailored list’ to aid parental choice, reducing uncertainty and what it describes as the ‘bewilderment’ parent carers face when expressing a preference for placement for their child. Others are more cynical, seeing it as a tool that central and local government could use to restrain family preferences.

Nevertheless, this ‘tailored list’ proposal is now ready to be road-tested in some of the local authorities that are taking part in the SEND & AP Change Programme.

You can see which LAs are taking part in the Change Programme Partnerships here. We don’t know which specific LAs will be involved in the ‘tailored list’ pilot but just before Christmas, the DfE told us it was rolling out operational guidance to LAs on how to run the ‘tailored list’ pilot. We haven’t seen the guidance, but this is what the DfE told us…

Advisory Tailored Lists - the LA’s choice

The concept has had a light rebranding: it’s now known as an ‘advisory tailored list,’ to emphasise that it’s not a binding requirement during the pilot stage.

As expected, the DfE has confirmed that it will be the local authority that drafts the advisory tailored list. The Department wants each list to be individually tailored to the child, “informed by the views and circumstances of the child and their family.”

According to the DfE, the list is “designed to illustrate choice for families and support them to express an informed preference for a placement in their child’s EHCP.” Families taking part in this pilot are not obliged to use the list when expressing a preference for an education placement or setting.

However, the pilot won’t be applied to all children and young people going through the EHCP process. The advisory tailored lists will be tested on two main groups:

  1. children entering the EHCP system via needs assessment,
  2. children with EHCPs who are preparing to move to a different setting (for example, moving from primary to secondary).

For now at least, the trial will not include young people over the age of 16.

The list that the LA draws up will be tailored to the child, “in view of the special educational needs and provision outlined in their draft EHCP,” and will be “accompanied by supporting information to provide a clear picture of each placement.”

The list may include mainstream, specialist, or independent settings “as appropriate,” with the LA determining what counts as ‘appropriate’.

Important to note…

There are two important things to bear in mind with the advisory tailored list trial:

  • Families’ rights in law have not changed. All families taking part in this trial will be given a fact sheet about the list trial. They will be reminded of their current rights and their right to ask not to receive a list. LAs cannot compel a family to choose a placement from the advisory tailored list. If you’re taking part in this trial and an LA tries to tell you that it’s compulsory, get in touch and we’ll link you up with the DfE Change Programme team.
  • Inclusion on the list does not guarantee placement. The fact that a school or other educational setting has been included on the advisory tailored list does not mean that a place is automatically available there for your child, or that the LA will consent to naming that placement in Section I of the EHCP. LAs will still need to consult settings to see whether a place is available, and the law around placement decision-making remains unchanged.

Questions and answers about Advisory Tailored Lists

We asked the DfE a few questions about the advisory tailored list trial:

  1. Will there always be a mix of mainstream and specialist provision, or will some families be channelled down particular routes?

“The settings on the advisory tailored list will depend on the needs of each child and may include mainstream, specialist, or independent specialist provision. In some cases, LAs are likely to include a mixture of mainstream and specialist settings, but this will depend on individual circumstances.

“The advisory tailored list is about illustrating choice, so families are free to express a preference for an alternative setting if they are not satisfied with the ones listed. We have explained clearly in our guidance that LAs must make this clear to parents when they receive the list.”

  1. Will LAs only include settings on the advisory tailored list that they are willing to fund, or will it always be needs-led as indicated in your summary?

“We have set out the criteria that participating local authorities should use to develop the advisory tailored list:

  • Settings on the list should be considered suitable to meet the child’s special educational needs by the LA.
  • Settings on the list should be those that would be considered compatible with the efficient use of resources (including travel costs, where relevant).
  • Every list should include at least one mainstream school which is local to the child’s home (unless inappropriate).

“The most important criterion for inclusion on an advisory tailored list is suitability. No setting should be included on the list unless the local authority considers it likely to meet the child’s needs. LAs should also consider whether a placement at the setting is likely to be compatible with the efficient use of resources. Both these factors should be assessed by the local authority when developing the list then confirmed at consultation with relevant settings, in the usual way, if and when requested by parents (or if parental preference fails, or there is no preference).”

  1. How will LAs base their decisions on what settings can meet need if they haven’t consulted settings when drawing up the advisory tailored list?

“Local authorities should make decisions about suitability based on relevant available information, drawing for example on the SEND Local Offer, SEN information reports, and sections B and F of the child’s draft EHC plan. In preparation for delivering advisory tailored lists, we are also asking LAs to review their information held about settings as part of the setup phase in the Change Programme.

“Alongside advisory tailored lists, LAs will be testing Local Area Inclusion Plans and SEND & AP Partnerships as part of the Change Programme. This should support strategic planning of local provision and provide an additional source of information that LA caseworkers might wish to draw upon when learning about settings’ offer of provision.”

  1. Is it problematic that the placement options, at this stage, are hypothetical rather than real?

“In addition to the informed judgement initially provided by LAs on suitability, there will be a continued need (and legal duty) to consult relevant settings later in the process. We have not asked LAs to consult settings before including them on the list because we did not want to risk that consultations at multiple stages in the process interfered with statutory EHCP timelines.

“With this in mind, we have asked LAs to make clear to parents that a setting being included on the list is not a guarantee of it being suitable or available, both being subject to consultation with the setting in the usual way if requested by parents (or if parental preference fails, or there is no preference).

“We will monitor this process carefully throughout the Change Programme and consider the feedback and findings we gain from families and LAs, to ensure that any future policy development is rooted in evidence of what works best on the ground.”

  1. Parents can currently opt out of the list for this trial, and their rights are unaffected. Will this continue after the trial?

“The implementation of tailored lists beyond the Change Programme, including any legislative changes, will be informed by feedback from the Change Programme trial. We will carefully consider the feedback and findings we gain to ensure that future policy development is grounded in the best available evidence of what works for families and LAs. As outlined in the Improvement Plan, we will consult with parents and carers, young people, and SEND sector professionals ahead of any legislative changes to the placement process.”

  1. What implications, if any, are there for provision of transport?

“There has been no change to eligibility for free home-to-school travel and this has been made clear to LAs in our guidance. This is stipulated under section 508B of and Schedule 35B to the Education Act 1996, with further information available in the statutory guidance.”

What we don’t yet know…

We don’t know how long the advisory tailored list trial will run for, and we don’t know what information is going to be released about the trial’s progress or findings. There isn’t a specific timescale for completing the trial or introducing the policy, but the implication in the Improvement Plan is that it’ll follow a lot of the other changes and be implemented at some point in or after 2025.

Thank you to the DfE for responding to our questions and if there’s anything else you’d like to know, get in touch.

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Matt Keer

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