Working Documents (WD) and draft EHC plans are quite similar, although with a draft plan you can negotiate on all of it whereas a WD only (currently) relates to sections B/F/I (or 2/3/4 of a statement). When your plan is in draft stage, you have the opportunity to present ‘parental evidence’ which can also include privately commissioned reports.
If you are new to the system, you may wonder why parents seek private reports. It may be that the parents disagree with the LA commissioned ones, the LA ones are vague or the LA didn’t commission a report at all from the service they wanted them to. Therapies are generally the main area of dispute.
Reports should be fit for purpose, they should clearly state ‘needs’ and ‘provision to meet needs’, which includes how often, by who and if necessary, with what qualification (i.e. specified and quantified). It doesn’t necessarily follow that the LA will include any wording from private reports, even though they should consider all evidence. If appealing to SENDIST (tribunal) however, tribunal use their own expertise to decide whether or not to include them.
For a great many parents, the importance of the WD may not be obvious.
A WD is only for those tribunal appeals where amendments are being sought to sections 2/3 (statement) or B/F (EHCP). It is highly advisable that those going to tribunal for a change of school, also consider whether amendments are needed to parts 2/3 or B/F. It is only after these sections are written can an educational placement be considered.
An EHCP might say ‘an environment sympathetic to a student with Downs Syndrome’, but isn’t that every school? What is needed is the meat on the bones, what is needed for that specific student? Vague terminologies should not be used such as ‘as appropriate’, ‘regularly’, ‘have access to’ etc. I might ‘have access’ to technology (programmable fairy lights) ‘regularly’ (every Christmas) because someone (my kids) considers it ‘appropriate’.
Needs and provisions
I must stress that EHCPs are unique to each individual child. The information here is a generic overview, a recipe if you like and like all recipes, no two cooks will serve up the same dish - as anyone watching The Great British Bake Off will know! It is why you should always be wary of examples of ‘a good EHCP for X condition’.
The initial start-point of assessment is the identification of a student’s needs (part 2/section B). This should be all SEN needs, regardless of whether they can be met ‘generally’ in nursery/school/college. Once all of a student’s needs have been established, there must be provision to meet each and every one of them written into part 3/section F.
If there is missing information, or provision is ‘woolly’, a school may say it can meet a student’s needs when it may become very clear later that they cannot, or at least not without top-up funding or outside help. It is neither fair to the child nor the school. A draft EHCP should have all sections filled in with the exception of section I – school placement. The LA must give parents the opportunity to put forward amendments before the final plan is issued.
When you are appealing contents to tribunal, the LA must send the parents the WD at the Grounds of Response stage. Parents are expected to type in the amendments that they are seeking, return it to the LA for them to accept the amendments, reject them or offer alternative wording. This document can be passed backwards and forwards up until the morning of tribunal, although the LA has to send a copy to tribunal 10 working days beforehand. Some LAs are more engaging than others regarding the WD.
Working on the Working Document or draft plan
A good place to start is with a ‘pen portrait’ of what you think your child’s needs are and what provision is required.
The next step is to look at what evidence you have to support your thoughts. Generally this will come from the reports written as part of the EHC Needs Assessment (Section K), it may also be from private reports, Annual Reviews, school reports, medical professionals etc. Reports written by a professional will always be given greater weighting than those from family or friends. Evidence should be fairly recent, preferably no older than 12 months. This can be an issue if the LA has not conducted an EHCP assessment well and/or used old reports. It’s not unusual to see reports that are over 5 years old, possibly even 12!
The next bit is the time-consuming headachy bit. Grab a couple of highlighter pens and go through all your reports and see what evidence there is to support what you want and highlight it – one colour for needs and another for provision. It may well be that there are other needs and provision in your reports that you hadn’t noticed before, you can include them too. Look at the statement or plan and if the highlighted information has already been written in, discard it. What is left are the amendments that can be used for the draft/WD (tip: try cutting out the highlighted bits and ordering into needs/provision piles, or stick them on a wall to get a better view).
Some people might feel that the provision lacks quantification, or that there are gaps. Where reports have not been quantified, try asking the report writer to do this. If this is not forthcoming, it may mean that it would be useful to commission your own report. Ensure that the person commissioned knows the purpose of the report and your expectation for quantification (and what their fees are!).
Private reports ought to generally agree with areas of strengths and weakness of LA ones, since they are assessing the same child. However, they may go into more depth and detail. On an EHCP ‘a programme of…’ says little - what programme, how often will it be delivered, who is going to deliver it? To use speech therapy as an example, how much 1:1 with the SaLT (time, frequency), how much 1:1 or small group work with the TA (time, frequency) and if necessary, the qualifications of the TA (Makaton, Elklan and level). Similarly, if a programme is named, does the school have the expertise to deliver it or will someone/service need to be bought in?
Shouldn’t the LA do all this?
Well, arguably they should have done this work when the EHCP was first drafted, or to keep the statement/EHCP current. However, a tribunal appeal is a parental appeal so therefore the job of ‘doing’ the WD falls to the parents (or possibly young person, if over 16). It is hoped that by the time the hearing date comes around, most of the WD will already be agreed. Some LAs do leave this to the last minute, so prepare for this. Tribunal is also able to use its own expertise to write the final statement/EHCP, provided that any information to be included has been discussed during the hearing.
It is worth noting that many assessments cannot be repeated within 6 months. If you are considering private reports for tribunal, I would suggest informing the LA when you are having the assessment done, inviting their professional to observe/jointly assess. If this is not possible, you could inform the LA that your specialists will assess first. If you are paying, it is only right that your professionals are prioritised. However, consider the timing of assessments so as not to be obstructive.
It is an expectation that both parties lay their cards on the table at the earliest opportunity, although this may not happen. If the LA suddenly arrives at tribunal with new evidence, or one of their professionals gives fresh evidence the parent has not previously had access to, it would not be unreasonable to ask for an adjournment so that this new evidence can be considered and rebutted if appropriate.
Children and young people should not be over-assessed. If a child or young person has had a Statutory Assessment, then a private assessment for tribunal, I would query the necessity for any further assessments within 12 months. Similarly, if the LA reports have been quite thorough, but the LA did not include their professionals’ recommendations in the EHCP, is a further assessment needed when you can use the existing ones? An assessment is only really needed when/where there are gaps. If a solicitor is being paid for and s/he says that new reports are needed, parents should question why – what gaps are there that need filling?
Once 2/3 or B/F have been agreed, attention can be turned to school. If an appeal also includes a change of the type of school, it is unlikely to be indicated unless 2/3 or B/F is quite thorough, hence the importance of including these in the appeal. It is expected that a mainstream nursery/school/college can meet a child or young person’s needs with the right support in place; that support comes from the provision in a statement or EHCP. If a mainstream school (or schools) are saying no, they won’t take your child, the LA must demonstrate that a) the attendance of your child would be incompatible with the efficient education or others and the efficient use of resources and b) those barriers cannot reasonably be removed.
Being ‘full’ is not sufficient reason in itself, nor is already having X amount of SEND students on roll. The LA would need to supply further information that would satisfy the tribunal of the legal tests (above). If an independent school is being sought, effectively you are stating that the LA does not have a school that can meet your child’s needs (i.e. make the provisions on the EHCP/amendments agreed in tribunal).
A personal note
I don’t view tribunal as a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ in appeals over 2/3/4 or B/F/I. It is the child whose needs are being discussed and if some additional provision is secured by the parent, clearly the tribunal considered that provision to be necessary, even if it was not all that they asked for. This can be quite significant where the appeal included a different type of school. Even if the school sought was not awarded, the provision gained is legally enforceable (duty to ensure it is made falls back to the LA) and could make all the difference to the child and the school.
Knowing what should go into an EHCP is not easy when you are not an expert in reading assessment reports. It is part of ‘best practice’ that assessors, whether EPs, Specialist Teachers, or therapists, to explain the results of any assessment. Reports should be in layman’s terms so that the EHCP can also be written in a manner that is understood by anyone reading it, especially the child, parent or young person!
The SEND reforms may be about ‘views, wishes and feelings’, but they are also about ‘best possible education and other outcomes’. A good plan will go a long way to achieving those goals.
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