The surprising and extremely welcome news today from the Department for Education (DfE) is that there will, after all, be a legal duty on health providers to deliver the provision detailed in the health part of the Education, Health and Care Plan that's currently being developed under the SEN reforms.
Clinical Commissioning Groups are GP groups who, under the new health changes, will plan local health services and who will be called on to organise the health requirements of an EHCP, including specialist services such as physiotherapy, and speech and language therapy.
Since the first draft legislation was published for the Children and Families Bill, parents, charities, SEN legal experts and local authorities themselves have been expressing concern that there was no duty on health to provide the services in the EHCPs. There was only a duty to "jointly commission" - the 'abracadabra approach' - which everyone knew was never going to be enough.
The government has bowed to this weight of expert opinion and today, in a press statement, the SEN Minister, Edward Timpson said,
"We are putting health at the centre of our reforms in bringing in this legal duty. It is a significant step forward for children and young adults with special educational needs, and I know that many parents will welcome it.
The duty will mean that parents, and children and young adults with complex special educational needs, will get the health services that are right for them."
Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children said,
"Many children and young adults with special educational needs depend on health services. I am really pleased that their needs are being taken seriously. This legal duty should help to improve their lives."
However, Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:
"We are determined that children and young people should be put at the heart of the new health and social care system. That is why we and many other organisations with the power to make a difference recently pledged to do everything possible to improve children's health. This is an example of that pledge becoming a reality."
Dr Poulter is the only one who does not make the specification "with special educational needs". He instead refers to the recent pledge "Better Health Outcomes for Children and Young People"
A quarter of all children with disability do NOT have special educational needs but do have significant health needs. They will not be covered under this announcement under the current way the Children and Families bill is worded.
Views on health from the House of Commons Children & families Bill Committee
In today's HOC Children & Families Bill committee hearing, Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact A Family, said that including disabled children has the potential to cost less to provide provision because it will be more coordinated and simplified. She said that this is where working with parent-carer forums is beneficial because by involving parents at a strategic level designing services you end up with better targetted services.
In her evidence, IPSEA chief executive, Jane McConnell acknowledged the work that had gone into bringing about a duty on health as it had been previously said it wouldn't be possible. However, she went on to say that that although now it seemed there would be an Education & Health plan, if put under scrutiy by the Trades Description Act, the proposed EHCP would fail because there is still not a duty on social care.
Mrs McConnell said that this should not be a big step as social care is administered from within the local authority, so it should not be as big a challenge to achieve. If there is, she said, a single entrance into the plan then there should be a a single path to redress.
Mrs McConnell explained that she had been told that the current Tribunal already has the expertise to oversee all three strands of a plan in a dispute over provision so it should be given the power to do just that. Otherwise, there would be a reliance on parents to go to three different points for redress, which, if it is a single plan, does not make sense.
So, a huge step forward, acknowledged on all sides but:
1. Still no duty on social care
2. Still no inclusion of children with disabilities who do not have special educational needs.
What do you think?