As parent carers we often measure our successes in the little victories we achieve on a day to day basis. They may not seem significant to some, but to us they are milestones that serve to remind us that as a result of our hard work, we are taking steps forwards, however small those steps may be.
The post I am going to share with you today is one of those landmark moments that could pass you by unnoticed if no one tapped you on the shoulder and pointed it out. It actually marks a very important milestone that has been many years and many meetings in the making.
As any regular readers of Special Needs Jungle will know, Tania and Edward Timpson have seen rather a lot of each other over the years. During this time Tania has challenged, supported, advised, scolded and collaborated with the Department for Education in order to make sure that the views of parent carers, children and young people are not lost from the decision making process. More recently we have been trying to engage with Health in the same way and were delighted to meet with Jane Ellison in March of this year. During that meeting we spoke about the importance of Health and Education working together, as in the real world our children's health needs do not stop when they walk into school and their educational needs are directly affected by their health conditions. We even went as far as suggesting that Edward Timpson and Jane Ellison might want to think about getting together sometime and having a talk about it, after all, it might just be mutually beneficial.
So imagine my delight when Tania broke the news that 1. The Department for Education had approached her asking if she would publish a blog post for them and 2. The blog post was being written collaboratively by Edward Timpson and Jane Ellison.
This, my friends, is a milestone that should be recognised. I want to believe that Jane Ellison is acting directly on the advice we gave her. That she took on board that parent carers want to see Health and Education starting to work and communicate collaboratively on issues around the SEND Reforms. We might even allow ourselves to believe that we are witnessing the Ministers in Health and Education beginning to recognise that in order to deliver joined up services for disabled children, they need to understand how their own services directly influence the ability of the other services to work effectively. Now we just need to invite Social Care to the party!
And so without further ado, here is what Edward Timpson and Jane Ellison want to tell you about the SEND reforms...[Be sure to leave your comments below rather than on social media if you want to give the Ministers your feedback.]
Every parent wants to see their child happy, confident, doing well at school and on track to becoming a successful, secure adult. They desire academic success, rewarding careers, and place value on loyal friendships and time to pursue hobbies.
At the heart of every parent’s dream for their child is the ambition that they have the same life chances as any other, regardless of the individual challenges they face or the obstacles they must overcome.
As lead ministers for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), our ambition is just that. Our vision is that these children have dreams as big as any other young person, and aspirations that are just as high. That’s why we’ve made fundamental changes to the way the SEND support system works for families, the biggest in a generation, placing them at the heart of the process and working hard to ensure their views are taken into account throughout.
In the past few months, we have both sat down separately with parents like you to find out what’s working, and what isn’t. We have discussed the challenges of implementing the new framework for SEND across education, social care and health and the daily challenges you face supporting a child with special educational needs or a disability.
We know there is still a long way to go to deliver a system that works smoothly, in the coordinated way it is intended, but your insight and experiences are invaluable in helping us achieve this. Meeting with families like you ensures that our work remains focused and we want to continue these regular meetings.
But we should all be proud of what has been achieved over the last few years and we are both heartened by the support we have received from everyone involved.
Moreover, we are getting hugely encouraging feedback from parents of children with SEND who say the new system is making a real and lasting difference to them. A few weeks ago, we published a report which investigated the experiences of some of the families going through the process of getting an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. They told us that they like many of the principles in the reforms and overall are satisfied with the new approach. They also highlighted areas needing improvement, and their personal stories have been a valuable tool for councils to improve the service they provide. It’s also vital that we strike the right balance between timing of assessment and quality of the finished plan, something we know varies considerably across the country.
This kind of feedback is vital to give us a richer understanding of where we, and all other agencies involved in this radical system change, need to work harder.
And today we have published new figures which will help direct this work. Data collection like this is an essential part of assessing progress. This, together with the work of our team of SEND advisers and findings from the new Ofsted and CQC local area SEND inspections, will help target the support and challenge we give to councils.
We are already seeing many examples of great practice, delivered with real enthusiasm – such as in York, where the importance they place on good communication is supporting families through the system in a sympathetic way, and has seen more than 90% of new plans completed within 20 weeks.
The data put out today shows some really positive stories emerging. For the first time, we have collected and published the rate of recruitment of Designated Clinical Officers (DCO), who act as a key link between health professionals and other partners. It’s great to see that 147 council areas (97%) now have these in place. Indeed, we are seeing fantastic progress in some areas, such as in Kingston & Richmond’s SEND Family Voices scheme, where parent-carers are involved in key decision-making and support Kingston Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in commissioning its community paediatrics services.
A fundamental part of the reforms was to ensure that where required, young people have the same legal protections all the way through to age 25 – and today’s data bears out this fundamental point: 19 to 25-year-olds who need that extra bit of time in education are now receiving EHC plans, and are being supported all the way to adulthood.
Throughout this process it’s been clear, through our meetings with families like you, that the people involved truly want these reforms to work - but we know this is a steep learning curve. Councils are still learning new ways of working, and these will become routine in time.
Our network of Independent Supporters, into which we are investing £45 million between 2014 and 2017, are proving to be a catalyst for this change – they are helping embed the reforms, creating positive, powerful relationships with families, like you, who are accessing support. It’s encouraging to see the impact these individuals are having on children and young people with SEND - the very people who are at the heart of our work.
The job is not yet done – but there are clear signs that we are on track. We know what we have to do to keep things moving forward. The progress that has been made is thanks to the enormous dedication of all involved, and the candid insight you provide to continually challenge us.
Today, 74,000 children and young people with SEND are in possession of an EHC plan – a vital step in boosting their life chances. We can all be rightly proud of how far we’ve come. And in doing so we must remain resolute in our drive and determination to see the new SEND system, whether in education, heath or social care, become a springboard to a successful and happy life.
Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families
Jane Ellison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health
So do you agree with the Ministers' views on the SEND Reforms, or do you think they need a reality check? Make sure you take the time to share your views and experiences in the comments below!