Yesterday’s new SEND statistics reported worrying progress on SEND reform up to January 2016, amid soothing words from the Ministers in charge that the reforms are "boosting the life chances of children with SEND". The facts speak for themselves: according to the DfE's data, the pace of reform is slow, uneven, unfair and unchallenged. So here's an urgent message to get the process back on track.
The EHCP numbers came just as Ofsted’s first local area SEND inspections got under way, in Brighton & Hove and Bolton. Both councils can breathe a small sigh of relief that they completed more than half their EHCPs on time last year and so are within the national average. But parents in 28 authorities had just a 1-in-5 chance of getting their plan within the 20 weeks allowed. Not a single child in Derbyshire, Kingston Upon Hull or Surrey had their needs assessed within the legal time-frame. Not. A. Single. Child.
"Councils are learning new ways of working..."
Okay, it's still a new system and they're also having to cope with the old system as it runs out. But they can’t use high volumes as an excuse: neighbouring Kent issued more EHCPs than zero-rated Surrey yet 86% met the target; Hertfordshire sent out a whopping 585 plans and, even allowing for delays permitted under the rules, 97% ticked the box.
The lead Ministers for SEND (Ed Timpson and Jane Ellison) gave us their view of progress, stating that “Councils are learning new ways of working…” Well, some are... The Ministers had a lot of positive things to say while acknowledging there are some real concerns. Ten days ago Amy Skipp wrote about her research on the experiences of parents, carers and young people in the new system, reflecting the same mix of optimism and disappointment. It’s true that, overall, LAs are gradually getting to grips with the 20 week time limit for new plans. But we learned yesterday much more of the reality behind reform and it isn’t pretty; not pretty at all. So here's my...
Message to the Ministers
Dear Mr Timpson and Ms Ellison,
Please take another look at yesterday's numbers, and think ahead to this time next year. How would you like to see them change? What can you and your teams do to make the change happen?
- Last year, almost 11,000 requests for assessment of SEND were refused: that number needs to come down. It tells us either that criteria are unclear or LAs are not following them. It leaves families and SENCos frustrated, confused and weary. What is your target for next year?
- It’s a ludicrous postcode lottery: how can the city of Bedford produce every new EHCP on time while Central Bedfordshire managed fewer than 1 in 10? Where is the accountability?
- There was a sharp increase in the number of children and young people who were assessed for EHCP but for whom provision arrangements are unclear, including young people who have no education, employment or training at all (NEETs). The system hasn’t worked for them and some of them may now be held in secure units. Last week the government issued new proposals for prison education but we already have commitments in the law for EHCP assessments to extend to the youth justice system. Where is the evidence of progress on that?
- A quarter of a million children and young people can't rely on the Local Offer alone and so require an EHCP. That tells us more could and should be done to improve the quality of basic support available in the early years and in schools and colleges. That way, fewer families will have to jump through the hoops of statutory assessment. So we need a funding system which is fair, based on robust data (how long will the DfE sit on the ISOS plan?); and we need rigorous inspection of schools and colleges’ SEND provision to examine how often it leads to better outcomes without the need for an EHCP.
- LAs utterly failed to get to grips with the system for young people with a Statement moving to college and for those with a Learning Difficulties Assessment needing to be transferred to EHCP. The DfE statistics are only experimental at this stage but just 5.5% of those with an LDA were transferred to the new plans. Independent research by Simpson Millar LLP has recently shown that many authorities are taking no action on plans for young people moving to college. Liverpool failed to complete a single plan by the deadline of 31st March this year. The situation is unacceptable: all the work and support at school is wasted if these young people are failed by the system at age 16, arriving at colleges which know nothing about their needs and have no personalised support in place. Please publish an action plan for SEND transitions to further education.
- Personal Budgets are a core element of the reform agenda but so far just 55 children with disabilities in the whole country are benefitting from Direct Payments for their health needs and only 2,095 were using their Personal Budget for social care needs. This is after the DfE has spent nearly half a billion pounds reforming the system and propping up local authorities to make it work. Why are Personal Budgets such a low priority?
- We know that Independent Supporters have been welcomed by parents in many areas and are making a difference. But in some areas they're just not able to get through to the local authority and, if you map the problem against yesterday's worst performers on EHCP deadlines, you'll find some common concerns.
- In some respect, mediation seems to be effective: only a quarter of cases which went to mediation were followed by an appeal to the Tribunal. Next year, the DfE should sharpen this picture by asking Amy Skipp to do another piece of research with parents and carers to find out how these cases were resolved and how their children have progressed.
In their statement yesterday, the Ministers talked about the need to “strike the right balance between timing of assessment and quality of the finished plan”. If that means we can have one or the other but we can’t have both then I’ve another message for the Ministers: the law says we can and we should. Nowhere in the Children and Families Act does it say that we can get our Plan in 20 weeks but it won’t have any useful aims, or any advice from a professional who has actually met the child within living memory, or any specific, quantifiable provision. Those of us working in SEND are seeing EHCPs which are, I’m afraid, abysmal. I hope the Ministers have read Bren Prendergast’s excellent take-down on the quality of the assessments coming out of County Hall. In fact, I hope the Ministers read SNJ every day: because the reality of SEND reform is written in painful detail right here.
- Key points of SEN Support in schools: What it is and how it should work - June 22, 2017
- SEN Support: Poorer outcomes when needs aren’t thoroughly assessed - June 20, 2017
- Fixing our broken SEND system: The next Minister’s ‘To Do’ list - June 12, 2017
I think rather than using statistics to try and spin EHCP as a wonderful success as Ministers you should be hanging your heads in shame. It isn’t working. Professional!s don’t like working together. They especially don’t like talking to parents and carers. Talking at yes. Telling us how brilliant they are and how we expect too much and should be grateful for the crumbs of provision scattered our way.
We have been going through the Ehcp conversion process since 2014. Our child leaves school soon. Numerous meetings, excuses, lost paperwork, complaint letters to social care and education show us how the system is shambolic. The blind faith put in the offer which really is a pretty distraction that serves no real purpose.
Ministers its not working . Maybe you can explain why social care and health needs on the draft ehcps our area are noted as none despite care plans etc being in place for years and the relevant professionals being present at the review.
I would just like to point out that statistics mean zilch. No doubt my oldest’s EHCP counts as one of the 97% that Hertfordshire managed to do within the timeframe. However, what it doesn’t say is that his SEN officer issued it while it was only partially done and then put it straight back into draft form so she didn’t miss her deadline.
A year later, we still don’t have a finalised plan.
I also sit on the PCF and know what truly terrible things go on in Hertfordshire, so would be incredibly suspicious of such glowing figures. They are so good you could say that they are completely unbelievable, especially for the county with one of the most notorious reputations (ask IPSEA).
I’d second the ‘stats are wrong’ idea. Also Herts, and I’ve contact with many parents who are not happy with the time taken, with the process as a whole, or with the quality of their plans. Maybe if we looked at percentages of parents who feel the need to go to Tribunal, the stats would differ? The whole system is still about the money and lack of resource in the right places, rather than considering what every child really needs to flourish. Herts may have achieved a huge number of plans, because it is after all a large county, but how many more parents/children were met with refusal to assess for example? Stats never tell the full story. Parents do.
I agree with others that we should be cautious in issuing any bouquets to counties that claim to be meeting the time limits. Although Kent, for instance, is doing a lot of transfers, it is managing it by disregarding the legal requirement to assess in all too many cases – we recently came across one where their case officer became positively indignant at the suggestion that they should get a SALT assessment for a child with obvious communication difficulties just because the parents asked for it. Another LA claimed that it had complied with the transfer time limit simply by issuing a letter saying what the new school would be, and didn’t start the transfer process itself until after the deadline had gone by. The DfE should really be exploring the statistics and asking for evidence that LAs have actually carried out transfer reviews lawfully.