Our son has a severe physical disability and a longstanding diagnosis. He had a statutory Statement of Special Educational Needs issued by our local authority almost 18 months ago, in order for him to be able to attend a preschool. Securing the statement was a brutalising process, so brutalising, in fact, that our LA has used our example in training, to illustrate how it has got things wrong in the past in order to help them get them right in the future.
I wish we could say that allowing his case to be used in training had made any difference to the process of transferring his statement to a new Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
Because he is due to start school in reception this September, our son was a priority for transfer at the point of his statement’s annual review. Given that his six-month review hadn’t actually happened by the time the annual transfer was due, we didn’t have high hopes that things would start smoothly. But we persisted in reminding the LA about the need to move to an EHCP. We are now well over 20 weeks into a process that started 8 weeks late. We still only have a draft EHCP. Our experience of receiving the first draft of the EHCP shows that, sadly, in our LA at least nothing has changed for the better since EHCPs came in.
Here are the six issues that most concern me most about the process.
Reluctance to review:
We fought for a statement for our son 2 years ago despite our LA telling us (untruthfully) that statements were not intended for children under 5. We did this, in part, because we anticipated that the implementation of the new EHCP process was likely to have teething troubles. Sadly, we were right. We know disabled children who are not yet even in the EHCP system and will not have Plans in place before they start school this September because caseworkers in our LA told them the EHCP process could not be initiated until after their third birthdays. When those birthdays came and went, the LA was too behind to start the process.
Even once in the system, the reluctance to review is deep-seated. Our LA was seemingly shocked by our request that professionals produced new reports for our son’s EHCP, as if the toddler-who-couldn’t toddle they wrote about in reports for his statement nearly 2 years ago is exactly the same child as our preschooler now. In particular, we had to argue the case for obtaining a review and report from an Educational Psychologist, despite the fact that our son had never been assessed by an EP in an educational setting, not even for his statement. (That’s a whole other story.) We won the argument, but I fail to see why we had to have it in the first place.
Our LA routinely presents misinformation as fact. Friends and I have been told it is our LA's 'policy' not to quantify or specify provision on draft EHCPs (they once said the same about statements). I know people who have, understandably, signed ECHPs on this basis only to realise later that they have signed whatever the opposite of a blank cheque is for the educational provision of their disabled children. None of these parents (my friends) yet know, for sure, where their children will attend school in September as a consequence. How can this be right?
Caseworkers have unmanageable workloads and it is not in the least bit surprising that the legal timeframes LA websites remind us of cannot be met. I genuinely feel sorry for people trying to do their best and working their hardest in a vital yet underresourced department. But let’s not lose sight of the real effect of excessive workloads. Our son will likely have a final ECHP before he starts school in September; many other children will not. At a recent appointment with our son’s physio, she expressed grave concern about patients’ families who have been told their children will not have EHCPs in place when they start school and who have been assigned inappropriate schools in terms of support and access via the conventional schools admissions policies. This is, to my mind, outrageous.
Errors and inefficiencies:
Workload overload, of course, leads to mistakes. But the level of administrative incompetence that we and some of our friends have experienced in the statementing and EHCP systems is so egregious as to seem strategic. Our son’s draft ECHP did not include the text we had provided on more than one occasion to describe our son’s aspirations for his future or, indeed, our aspirations for him. These boxes were simply left blank. Blank.
When people cannot even cut and paste as well as our son’s older sister can, what faith can we have in the LA’s ability to make finer judgement calls?
None, it turns out. The all important box outlining the provision our son required to meet the needs and smart objectives listed by his wonderful team of healthcare professionals mentioned only that: professionals should be involved in setting targets in ISPs; and that everyone in whatever school he ended up in should know he is disabled, something which is immediately apparent upon meeting our son or seeing his wheelchair from several hundred yards away. The provision box contained no mention of the 1:1 (at times 2:1) stipulated on practically every one of the many pages of reports produced for the ECHP. In other words, our son’s draft EHCP was little more than glorified toilet paper. It committed the LA to absolutely nothing.
Our case is not an isolated one. I know people in our LA whose agreed draft EHCPs have lost content in final form even. How can this happen?
Luck of the draw:
The utterly inadequate draft EHCP we received for our son arrived by email late on a Friday. We nearly lost our minds over the weekend wondering what our LA had in mind for our son (nothing at all?) and had no one to talk to about it or explain. But we were lucky. On Monday morning we knew exactly who to talk to, thanks to knowing Tania, and a very senior person in the SEND department she had previously put us in touch with. (That didn’t make the weekend any better, let me tell you.) Our son’s draft EHCP is being revised to reflect fully the reports, outcomes and recommendations of his healthcare professionals. The errors in the draft, we have been told, were simply a mistake. We are relieved and we feel lucky.
Luck should be no part of this, though, should it? And this is what genuinely keeps me awake at night. Resolving problems with EHCPs too often seems to depend entirely on what and who parents or carers happen to know. I have no doubt that if I didn’t have the right mobile phone numbers, if we weren’t active on social media and know several lawyers, our son’s draft EHCP would not be being revised and we would be headed for Tribunal. Children’s needs should not depend on the networking, knowledge or energy levels of their exhausted parents. I cannot believe I have to even type these words.
Failure of aspiration:
My final point is my shortest. EHCPs were, at their most ambitious, supposed to expand the horizon of opportunities for our children. At their most basic, they were just supposed just to meet their needs better. Two years after our statementing debacle, the consequences of which we are still living with, here we are again. Our LA’s inability to meet deadlines, their administrative oversights, their unlawful ‘policies’ and their unfeeling treatment of children with disabilities and their families runs through it like a stick of rock. I believe and hope things are changing.
But let me tell you: they haven’t yet.
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