Research shows “critical information gaps” in most SEND local offer websites, including EHCP eligibility criteria

Research by Jacob Matthews, Kristine Black-Hawkins, Arina Basu, Andreea-Ioana Necula, Jonny Downs, Tamsin Ford, Jennifer Saxton

The Local Offer was a provision of the Children and Families Act, now a decade old. Every local authority is supposed to have one that lists what’s available for children and young people with SEND in their area. You can find yours here.

Back in 2020, Tania wrote a post looking at the law on SEND Local Offer websites and what they should include. We wondered at the time how many LAs’ sites would be compliant but we didn’t have the capacity (a never-ending issue) to find out. Happily, a team of researchers (named above) have done the legwork on this very thing.

The lead researcher, Jacob Matthews, very kindly has written about their research for us. And, what a shocker, it’s not especially good news…

Do England’s Local Offer websites meet the expectations of the SEND Code of Practice? by Jacob Matthews and team

The short answer is no, and throughout this article, we will highlight the findings from our research that support this statement and pinpoint key areas for development.

What is the Local Offer?

As stated in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Code of Practice the Local Offer is supposed to fulfil two purposes:

  1. Provide clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information about the available SEND provision and how to access it.
  2. Make provision more responsive to local needs and aspirations, which can be achieved by directly involving children, young people and their families in co-designing and reviewing their Local Offers with other key stakeholders.

Therefore, the Local Offer represents a potentially crucial information resource for families and practitioners, to aid decisions about the support that is available to them in their local authority.

Our research

We assessed whether all 151 local authorities in England responsible for providing SEND provision included clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information about available SEND provision on their Local Offer websites.

Assessing the Local Offer websites

We narrowed down the requirements of the Code of Practice to 51 unique pieces of information that could reliably be assessed via Local Offer websites, divided across six categories:

  1. Local offer development (12 items)
  2. Accountability (6 items)
  3. Health services (12 items)
  4. Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) (9 items)
  5. Financial support (6 items)
  6. Access to education (6 items)

We checked whether this information was included on the local offer websites, and how this differed across the 151 local authorities assessed. We also looked at whether each website included three common website accessibility functions:

  1. An accessibility statement
  2. A functioning accessibility options bar to increase readability and reach (e.g ReachDeck, ReciteMe)
  3. A language translation function

Our Local Offer compliance key findings

We found considerable variation in local offer sites. There were some excellent websites in terms of navigability and content, but also some that performed poorly. Scores range from as low as 29%, to an impressive 98% of information being included.

We also examined the differences between the information defined as ‘must’ and ‘should’ within the SEND Code of Practice. The key difference is that any criteria including the word ‘must’ are legal obligations, whereas the ‘should’ criteria are “expected” to be included. Local authorities were more likely to include “should” information, with scores ranging from 88-96% of information included, whereas the “must” scores ranged from 70-81%, which could suggest a misunderstanding of their obligations as set out in the SEND Code of Practice.

The England-wide lowest and highest percentages of SEND Code of Practice criteria met across the different categories were:

  • Local offer development = 67%-83%
  • Accountability = 67%-83%
  • Health services = 92%-100%
  • Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) = 86%-100%
  • Financial Support = 58%-100%
  • Access to Education = 83%-100%

What did the Local Offers do well?

All websites provided information about:

  • Available schools and colleges to young people
  • Mental health services
  • Links to other sources of information about SEND provision, or contact details for further information

What did the Local Offer perform poorly on?

Contrary to requirements, fewer than half of local authorities included:

  • Website user comments from the last 12 months (44%)
  • Clear and simple statements about EHCP eligibility criteria (46%)
  • Arrangements for those without internet access to get a copy of the Local Offer (30%)
  • A shockingly low 8% of websites referred to the Equality Act (2010) in preparation, development and/or review of the Local Offer, including specific and measurable objectives

How accessible were the Local Offer websites?

It is encouraging that nearly all (92%) of local offer websites included an accessibility statement, which is important as this demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity.

However, only 28% of local offer websites included all three accessibility functions. Only half included a language translation feature (51%) and even fewer offered an accessibility function bar (32%). This means that some parents/carers and young people whose first language is not English, or who struggle to read information with standard interfaces and colours, may not be able to access local offer websites effectively.

A concerning 9% of the local offer websites did not include any of the accessibility features we assessed.

What can we conclude from this research?

There was considerable variation in SEND-related information across the 151 local offer websites, which is evidence of the SEND ‘postcode lottery’1.

While local offer websites often did well at signposting to schools and health settings, they are intended to be much more than a ‘directory of existing services’2.

There are critical information gaps in the majority of local offer websites, including eligibility criteria for EHCPs. Additionally, many websites lacked basic accessibility features, which unnecessarily limits access to important information about SEND provision, particularly for those with certain disabilities or those for whom English is not their first language.

What next for the Local Offer?

We do not assume that local offer websites necessarily reflect the quality of SEND provision on the ground. However, there is an urgent need to upgrade and monitor these websites to ensure all SEND-related information is consistently available and accessible for those who need it. Poor quality or missing information may hinder creating provision that is truly responsive to local needs.

Future work should explore how the quality of information provided within the local offer relates to the experiences of those trying to navigate the SEND system and the outcomes for young people and their families.

Further information

We are unable to provide the information for how specific local authorities scored, but if you would like to see the full list of the information we assessed against, you can email hope21@medschl.cam.ac.uk to ask.

The full manuscript relating to this research can be found on the British Education Research journal under the title: “To what extent do England's local offer websites adhere to the statutory guidance as set out in the special educational needs and disabilities code of practice?”

Or for further details about the work we have completed as part of the HOPE study please follow us on X: @HOPEStudy_. You can also visit our UCL website

SNJ Editorial Note: This data was gathered in 2022, and as such, some LO sites will since have been updated, which is one of the reasons the researchers are not naming names

References

  1. Jo Hutchinson (2021) Identifying pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Education Policy Institute.
  2. SEND Code of Practice (2015)

Also read:

Don’t miss a thing!

Don’t miss any posts from SNJ - simply add your email address below. You must click the link in the confirmation email you’ll receive to activate your free subscription.

You can also keep up with us by following our WhatsApp Channel!

Want more? Be an SNJ Patron!

SNJ is a non-profit company and everyone who writes here does so voluntarily. We need your support to help us with costs by donating once or as a regular patron. Regular donors get an exclusive SEND update newsletter as thanks! Find out more here

Special Needs Jungle
Follow SNJ

We LOVE to hear what you think... please take a minute to add your views here, so your comment is seen by all!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

s2Member®
Close