To break into our two parter about "The Story So Far in the SEN Reforms", the Department for Education yesterday published two reports by SQW, the organisation that is evaluating how the changes are proceeding and developing inside those local authorities that are testing the reforms - known as pathfinders. One covered Key Working and workforce Development and we will be covering this again soon because we have spoken recently plans for independent supporters and a lot about culture change.
But this report is about how the path to applying for an EHCP is developing inside five of the 'pathfinder' or trial local authorities. This means the route parents will take through the new system to secure statutory SEN help, replacing the statement.
A child who successfully navigates through this will end up with a single, coordinated (allegedly) Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). The SQW report was only looking at those who will be coming into the SEN system for the first time, not those children moving from an existing statement.
The Key Findings
The headlines are SQW's, the italics are mine that raise questions to be answered.
- Areas appear to be retaining their previous approaches to eligibility. So those who were eligible for an SEN Statement are expected to be eligible for an EHC plan. This means that the EHCP is, in effect, a Statement in a pretty dress.
BUT: The word 'Disability' has recently been included in the Bill, after intense lobbying by voluntary groups. So, the question is, if it had been included from the beginning, would that have changed the local authorities' approach? and if so, how?
- The largest change in eligibility is around 19-25 year olds. As covered in the legislation, young people in this age band may now be eligible for support.
BUT: This of course DOESN'T include you if you're headed for higher education. Yes, yes, I know you can access the Disabled Student's Allowance. But unless I missed something, the DSA is NOT statutory so if it all goes pear-shaped, you'd better hope you're going to a university where they actually care enough to make sure you and your needs are being monitored.
- The five pathfinder areas that contributed to the report- Darlington, Greenwich, Southampton, West Sussex and Wigan – have developed similar EHC planning pathways which included five stages: referral; considering if an assessment is required; co-ordinated assessment; planning; and sign-off.
- However, There are differing approaches to some key elements of the pathway in terms of:
a) the amount of information that is gathered at the referral stage; the extent of choice a family has over who will be their EHC plan co-ordinator; (read independent supporter, something else recently announced that may have superseded the report's findings).
b) whether the EHC plan is written by a "multi-disciplinary" team made up of professionals relevant to that particular child or drafted by the co-ordinator/independent supporter based on the assessment.
BUT: how keen will a local authority be to allow an independent person to draft a plan that it therefore has less control over?
c) how plans are signed-off and approved; and the step down process used for children and young people that were not felt to require an EHC plan, which in some cases meant using the EHC planning template on a non-statutory basis as a means of extending the new way of working to all families.
BUT: Who decides what the financial cut-off point is for the amount of support when someone doesn't have a statutory plan but are accessing the same services from the "Local Offer" on the same template? Will services be "banded" with some only accessible to those with a statutory document?
- The EHC planning pathway is different to the SEN Statementing process. There are three main points of difference: there is more emphasis on gathering information from across services at the point of referral; the family is much more involved through the co-ordinated assessment and planning stages; and it produces a plan which is more outcome focused and family centred, having involved the family much more.
[Phew! DfE wipes collective sweaty brow] Of course the real test of this will be when the changes are scaled up. Will the local authorities have the resources and the staff, re-trained and fully conversant with co-production, to cope?
- There remain a number of challenges in implementing the EHC planning pathway. These centre around proper co-ordination/co-operation between agencies (such as health and social care), and ensuring that the EHC plan co-ordinator has sufficient time to deliver a meaningful plan for each family.
Yes, and that's only the tip of the iceberg!
- The (new) family-centred way of working can lead to better quality plans as it enables professionals to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the child or young person.
BUT: The vision is sound and a fine ideal that we all welcome. The problem remains that the government is trying to funnel a MASSIVE amount of change in thinking, processes, procedures and legal changes through a small timeframe.
The rush is, of course, entirely political to fit inside the legislative window before the next election looms. This is understandable on one level, but when seen in the context of putting politics before people, it makes you *wonder* whose best interests the government really has at heart.
As they are finding with the pathfinder learning, there are so many implications emerging from the changes that need to be carefully and thoroughly thought through. And that's before they even get around to thinking about the changes to the appeals process if/when some ungrateful parent decides they still haven't got what they need for their child and decided to appeal.
Of course with true co-production and the offer of mediation this should be less likely to happen, but those parents are a tricky breed. Heck, some of them just go and get a lawyer because they have so much money they can't think what else to do with it. [Note: This is sarcasm.]
And the pathfinders themselves are trialling with one of their eyes covered because the Bill isn't finalised and neither is the new SEN Code of Practice so while they may be able to get the big picture, the small details are subject to sudden change.
And don't forget, we're talking about people's jobs here - different rules mean different job roles and so SEN staff are living in a growing state of uncertainty.
The image here is how the new process will look. Click on it for the larger image you can actually read. It was prepared by SQW. Don't forget, this is not set in stone, it is still developing but shouldn't be too different from this from the looks of it.
The good news is that Ed Timpson, the Minister does seem to be listening although he has a big ol' pair of ear mufflers on so you have to shout REALLY REALLY LOUD. Luckily, there are lots of people doing that.
The bad news is that time is running out as the Bill steams its way through the venerable Lords report stage. The question that has been there since the very beginning is why would they want to spend so much money and effort changing something without making completely sure that it is as good as good can be?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the government actually co-produced the entire Part 3 of the bill with the people it's affecting - parents?
Now there's a thought. What do you think of the pathway?
- EXCLUSIVE: DfE answers further questions on “targets” for EHCP cuts, removing children from specialist provision and plans to boost SEND in schools - October 2, 2023
- Dame Christine Lenehan: a career advocating for disabled children’s rights - September 27, 2023
- SEND Minister denies the Government is aiming to cut EHCPs by 20% with an emphatic, but unconvincing, explanation - September 22, 2023