Are Families Happy with the SEN reforms?

During the Christmas break, as we struggled with the chaos that changes to routine can bring to our homes, the Department for Education put out a statement saying "Parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) are happier than ever with the new support available and have much more control over the services they are receiving."

Now, my New Year resolution is to be "impeccable with my word" but this statement makes it very difficult for me to keep such a resolution.  It is made even more of a challenge when I then read:

"Findings from the pilots of the measures - being test-driven by over 2,000 families across 31 councils - show that:

  • parents feel more empowered and supported and are happier with the services they are receiving, with 88% saying their views had been taken into consideration
  • professionals are overwhelmingly supportive of the new approaches and feel they bring about a more family-centred way of working
  • councils are gearing up for the introduction of the reforms in September 2014, with the majority laying the groundwork for the new system"

These figures were taken from an evaluation by SQW wherein they surveyed 237 families (out of the 2000) and compared them to 226 families who were not part of the pathfinder process.

boy in hard hat88% of the pathfinder families did feel that their views had been taken into consideration; compared to 73% of those who were not part of the pathfinder.  So, yes, a 15% increase is positive.  However, as the average pathfinder family was only surveyed 11 weeks after their Educational Health & Care Plan was signed off (compared to 8 months for non-pathfinder families), the chances are that they have not had the chance to try to appeal any of the decisions yet if they feel that is necessary - good luck with that if/when they do.  Those would be stats we would really like to see.

What the DfE press release also doesn't address is that the same report shows that only a third (34%) of those pathfinder families surveyed felt their child's views had been taken into account.  In the non-pathfinder families, this was 32%; barely an increase at all.  As the reforms are supposed to be about making the process, "person centred", how can families be "happier than ever" when the person about whom the process is supposed to help is not necessarily having their views listened to?

Additionally, the statement from the Department for Education doesn't mention that in the same report, it is apparent that families involved with the pathfinder had an average of 42 hours used to complete the process, compared to only 30 hours for those who were not involved with the pathfinder.   How realistic is an additional 12 hours per family going to be in the real world?  If you look at Kent, where we have approximately 6500 children with statements and Essex, where there are approximately 7500 families, who is going to fund an additional 78-90,000 hours at a time when huge cuts are being made by central Government to the local authority funding?

The Government has also announced that there will be an additional £70m for the 121 non-pathfinder local authorities to help them "catch up". Will this money make a difference, do you think?

Again, I am going to harp back to "culture change".  The changes being recommended (whether we agree with them or not) can be achieved but only if the culture of "doing to" and not "doing with" changes.

In the "Inner Game of Tennis", the author Timothy Galloway produced an equation relating to tennis players but I believe, it can also be used for the SEN reforms.

Performance = Potential - Interference    (P=p-i)

Performance is how well you actually do something

Potential is what we are capable of

1425846_19209376Interference is the various factors that block the release of the potential.  Interference comes in various shapes and sizes and can include lack of commitment, lack of knowledge, personalities, personal experiences, bad leadership, lack of experience and so on and so forth.

The DfE is talking about the 'potential' of the SEN reforms, whereas we are living in the real world and having experienced this process ourselves on more than one occasion, we are thinking about the 'interferences' or barriers.  Our experience means that we are very conscious of the interferences within local authorities and NHS.  We are also aware that the reforms won't change a thing for families like ours if the 'interferences' are not blocked or removed.

In the world where the DfE appear to be living, there are no 'interferences' and the performance of the reforms will totally match the potential.  However, families (and a lot of local authority and NHS staff) will know that the interferences play the largest part of the equation.

So, I again implore the Minister in charge of the reforms, Edward Timpson and his crew, to look again at the Intereferences/Culture Change or whatever you wish to call it.  Without this being addressed, then there is an awful lot of money likely to be wasted.


Debs Aspland
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  1. I totally agree with what you say. I have been accused of being cynical about provision from Local Authorities but my cynicism is merely a reflection of my experience. It is extremely frustrating and adds to the feeling of helplessness when all we get told by everyone is what the LA “should” be doing or are “obligated” to do. I am already aware of their statutory duties. I don`t need to be told this again and again. There needs to be a simple process of accountability. A shift in culture would be a start, at least.

    1. Debs Aspland

      Unfortunately, culture change takes time and with the changes being rushed through, time is something we don’t have much of. The new reforms seem to have more of “should” rather than “must” and with that comes a postcode lottery.

    2. Jayne

      Hi William – many (if fact all) of the meetings I have attended as a forum rep – locally, regionally and nationally have all had the headline message of ‘culture change’ but as you say rightly, this goes hand in hand with accountability.

      The culture towards inclusion of the whole family – the parents, the carers, the wider family, indeed the children and young people themselves is moving forward and the message is been given out.

    1. Debs Aspland

      Thanks for commenting. I don’t think “doing with” rather than “doing to” will save 12 hours but it will help to ensure that the process is actually person centred which is what the reforms were supposed to be about. The 15% improvement mentioned (families happier with process, etc) is possibly due to the fact that they had additional hours used on them during the pathfinder process but that is highly unlikely to be replicated once it is rolled out.

  2. Jayne

    I don’t think parents are any happier than Local authorities (or indeed CCGs) to be honest….. Just starting to get to grips now and although many meetings re Local Offer have taken place there is still considerable confusion around eligibility etc with each council making up their own rules as fit local policies etc…..

    I personally believe there will be a great divide between statement and moving to EHCP vs statement moving to a ‘black hole’ !!

    And those without a statement been promised support via schools…. Well if the parents can and are willing to fight then great but what about the ones who can’t or won’t??

    If this sounds cynical I apologise but also know that forums up and down the country are working extremely hard and some of those early comments in this blog/report are possibly correct.

    1. Debs Aspland

      Jayne, I agree – I don’t think anyone should ever under-estimate the hours of commitment that some forums have given to the Pathfinder and also the hours some parents who are not part of forums have also given. However, we also know that parents’ influence and input varies from authority to authority – one comment we had recently was “we do challenge, but we are not listened to in the main”. This is not an unheard of comment and as long as these comments are coming forth, then it is going to be difficult for the reforms to meet their potential.

  3. Edith

    Thank you for the update on SEN changes. I live in a Pathfinder area and have attended meetings with local authority staff but they do not take any notice of parents’ views. They seem to think we are some sort of decoration at meetings! This is frustrating during the Pathfinder stage, but more worrying as a sign of how they will behave once the new law comes in. In the past parents have been ignored and tricked by our LA-and I can’t see any change as a result of the new law. The main need is for government to enforce parent and child rights-not leave it up to the individual parent to battle it out as we already have.

  4. Lex

    Sorry to get political but they have already made up their minds, the self fulfilling statements are the beginning of mantras of change which will pass into history. As so many point out, the endless re-scripting of how provision is metered out is not the same nor has ever been in terms of what actually helps or is there. The ‘pilot’ area notion was in itself an example of this. The reforms were being set up and rolled out long before any early pilot results were being obtained, it was a foregone conclusion. I’m not knocking the principle of quasi empowerment and personalisation however the reality of it can be very little or no change or even change for the worse. In my area we have been a pilot area, we are now in top gear to roll out to all families. My LA is a well known avoider of whatever it can get away with. Obfuscating needs and provision under newly framed documents and processes which look like they tick all boxes does not change a bean in terms of are they doing what they are supposed to. Local services (health) have been slashed and this is having a heavy impact upon many resources eg therapies (OT / physio) – with the best will in the world pretendy empowerment (appeasement and selling of a better sounding more all-stakeholders-equal-partners-here model) does not better service make. I watched with horror as my child had a PCP ‘done’ in which the views of himself and his family were glossed over, re written as happy positive speak of meaningless actions, aims and future dreams of unlikely proportions – which have changed nothing of course but which also left the child speechless and upset, later tearful sobbing ‘why didn’t they what I wanted down on the board?’ Because my darling son it wasn’t in the script I say inside and on the outside I suggest this ‘I think it didn’t really line up with what they want it to say, what they’ve written is more their style..’

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