My son’s transition to an Apprenticeship is a mess, please help!

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Parent's Question:

We are in a situation that our LA have made an error, whether mistakenly or purposefully they have issued the transfer from statement to EHCP final document while still in consultation. 

On the 2nd November 2015 we had our transfer meeting for our son (born late 1999). We had not received any documents before the meeting. No one from the SEN department was at the meeting, no one from the transfer team. Admittedly, I didn't totally understand the process and what had to go into the document. I was also submitting his change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment at the same time given his 16th birthday was close and my other son's EHCP transfer meeting was also around then. This was an incredibly stressful time.

The next we heard from the LA was a request to name the post-16 placement by 31st December. Unfortunately we were in no position to do this as our son really had no idea what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. We were advised that we didn't need to return that document until the EHCP had been finalised. 

We continued to look at colleges and options available to him. We visited colleges and events and during one of these events the options of apprenticeships was mentioned. We approached school and other people to ask if the EHCP could support an apprenticeship - no one knew.  

We did some digging and were given a small piece of information from someone at the LA that the SEND Code of Practice states the EHCP could support an apprenticeship and he was going to find more. We contacted school to say we needed more put into the EHCP document. 

Coincidently, we found the dream apprenticeship job for our son - a football coach at our local Football club. We were already looking at that area's college so it tied in brilliantly and was not too far away that I could assist him with travel (as that was another big part of what was missing from his EHCP!!). We applied for the apprenticeship and we phoned the service provider if they thought they could support him,  she said yes and asked for a copy of his supporting documents of which we could only send the first document across and applied for the apprenticeship.

School were about to arrange a meeting when the draft document turned up. We contacted the LA to say we did not accept the draft,  there were many flaws, no preparing for adulthood, nothing to support an apprenticeship,  no hours stated, no contingency plans and several other issues. When they returned my call they asked for amendments over the phone, but we requested a meeting. 

During the meeting we went through the whole document (even though they tried to railroad me into just giving the amendments).  They agreed they would be making changes, but said they did not know about how the EHCP would support an apprenticeship and would seek advice.   I also asked where all the preparation for adulthood info was, both people from the LA looked blank and said they didn't understand what preparation for adulthood meant! 

On reading the new draft sent through, they had made the changes as suggested by parent partnership. They had added one sentence in part b saying my son would like to do an apprenticeship - nothing else! Nothing had been added about Preparing for Adulthood. Then, we received the 'final' document which was, in fact, a copy of the initial draft without the subsequent amendments!

Many thanks for any forthcoming advice.

Helen Gifford replies

Helen answers:

This is a horrible mess, as you know, and you are absolutely right to be challenging it. 

I think that the biggest issues are:

  1. The local authority not running a proper transfer process to the EHCP so that you and George were fully involved and informed.
  2. The local authority not issuing a final EHCP indicating George's post 16 placement, or at least the type of placement that would be suitable, by 31 March.
  3. Not having a focus on preparing for adulthood in the EHCP. (With the caveat, that although this is a statutory deadline, lots of authorities missed it this year.)
  4. Discussing changes to the first draft EHCP with you, then issuing a second draft EHCP with some in, and then issuing a final EHCP that removes all those changes.
  5. Following on from all these points above, not supporting a planned transition to his next placement.

As your son is due to leave school this summer, the new EHCP was required to be issued by 31 March 2016, which would allow plenty time of time for an appeal to the SEND Tribunal against its contents if needed, and for a detailed transition plan to be drawn up between school, college and all other relevant people, and then put into action.

The local authority are required to inform you that they are starting the transfer process and to provide you with information and signposting to services that support you so that you understand the process. It is not up to you to find it all out on your own.

Also, reports to support the transfer meeting should have been circulated in advance. It is not fundamentally unreasonable for the local authority to request an indication of your choice of post 16 placement by 31 December 2015 as that would have supported moving towards a final EHCP by 31 March 2016. However, that request should have been in the context of working with you on the transfer to the EHCP, and not an isolated request as you report it was. It is not unusual for young people still be to be undecided at the Christmas before they leave school after all.

I would expect the authority to have a post 16 placement in mind for your son, or at least a type of placement by now, as they should have done so by 31 March. As he is transferring from school, it is not lawful for the authority to issue an EHCP that only refers to his secondary school, so they must address that now, and I would advise you to follow that up with them. I understand that your son has his apprenticeship interview soon. If that is very soon, it may be worth waiting for that outcome before pressing the authority on this point. If not, I would push them on it now, so that at least plans can start to be made for this September. In the Code of Practice, paragraph 9.182 specifically refers to the possibility that young people may change their minds about their post 16 destination and how to deal with that, so George not yet having a firm and settled choice is not a barrier to moving things forward now.

For the avoidance of doubt as your authority appears to be confused by apprenticeships, paragraph 8.32 of the Code of Practice clearly states: Young people with EHCPs can retain their plan when on an apprenticeship.

To turn to the significant issue of the final EHCP being the first draft with none of your amendments included. This really is a serious failure of administration. When a new draft of an EHCP is issued with changes agreed, it has to the one that becomes the final document as otherwise the whole process of discussion with you is pointless. This is so startling, I really do assume it was a mistake, so at the very least, it would be reasonable to insist that the final EHCP is reissued including the agreed changes. However, the absence of a focus on preparation for adulthood remains a serious issue too. 

I understand that the Head of Service has offered an investigation into what has gone wrong here, which is good, but I don't think it is enough. I think that you are absolutely within your rights to be demanding a comprehensive action plan to get things sorted out as a matter of extreme urgency.

As you now have a final EHCP, this does at least give you (or your son if he is now over 16) the right of appealing to the SEND Tribunal over the contents of section B (his special educational needs), section F (special educational provision) and section I (placement).

You will need to at least consider mediation first, but I do think it is worth thinking about making an appeal to the SEND Tribunal, and asking for an expedited process as your son starting his new provision in September. Putting an appeal in does not mean that you have to go all the way through the process - it is always open to the person making the appeal to withdraw it.

If you are not convinced by the actions so far of the Head of Service, it may be worth putting an appeal in, just to ensure that you have that potential approach to resolve things running. Having said that, an appeal process will not be hugely helpful in getting a more preparation for adulthood focused EHCP unless you already have supporting evidence that covers this that has simply not been included in the EHCP. From what you have said about the whole transfer process, I suspect you do not. In this case, liaising with the authority, and/or formal mediation may be more helpful in getting that evidence collected to support a rewrite of the EHCP. Don't forget that Parent Partnership/ IAS Service and IPSEA can help with all this.