A period of great change is coming to special needs education. It's quite probable that many parents of children with statements or those who are considering applying for one, are feeling somewhat confused at the moment.
If it's any comfort, so are a large proportion of people involved in bringing in the new system as well. No, I don't suppose that is much comfort at all.
However, here are a few questions you might have and my best answers.
Can I still apply for a statement now?
Yes, in fact, unless you are part of a Pathfinder trial, it's the only way forward to get legally binding provision for a child's special educational needs.
If you are a pathfinder family, the DfE has clarified the legality of an EHCP issued under the Pathfinder, saying it should be treated as if it was a legal document already.
The Children & Families Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent around Easter time and no more statements can be applied for after the start of the autumn term 2014.
If you are planning the journey, take a look at the SNJ statementing checklist. If you have six quid or so to spare, you can also buy my handy guide, Special Educational Needs - Getting Started With Statements available on Kindle too.
Is it better to wait for the new system?
Definitely not! The current system is still in operation, and if you wait for the new one your child will be missing vital support. Apart from this, do you really want to wait for a brand new, possibly rough at the edges, process that might not even be fully-functioning in time in your area? New things always have teething problems - do you want it to be your child that gets bitten?
Will my statemented child be moved to an EHCP right away after Sept 2014?
Nope. The expectation is that new applicants will go for an EHCP, those already with statements will wait until the next transition point when their statement may need changing. In fact, the transitional arrangements are also out for consultation
My bet (and this is just an opinion) is if your statement is still valid, your local authority is unlikely to rush into changing it while they're still getting to grips with how the EHCP is working. Why make their lives more difficult?
However, if your child is rising 16, you will have no choice as their statement would previously finish if they were not staying on at school. Sixth form college is not classed as staying on at school. Now the young person has the chance for continued statutory protection and also to be involved with the decision making about themselves, if they are able.
What's this about a key worker and will we get one?
It's now in the draft Code of Practice, that families coming into the system will get a liaison to help them through the process. Whether this will be a dedicated Key Worker role, or someone who may already be involved with your child such as an Educational Psychologist, Social Worker or Early Years practitioner, etc, depends on how your LA decides to do it.
In theory, a dedicated Key Worker with a number of cases is the most suitable option as they will be trained in the new role and employed for their empathy, organisational and practical talents. But there may just not be the resources for that. Big ideas need big funding to make it happen. Unfortunately, that's where everything falls apart and theories become consigned to the 'not going to happen' deep, dark desk drawer.
Will I have time to learn about the new system before we apply for or are moved to an EHCP?
There's nothing stopping you from starting now to read up on the principles. You can find information on this site and from the SEND Pathfinder site and from the government's Children & Families Bill site. Also have a look at your local authority's website and see if they have information published.
What if my child only has educational needs and not Health or Care needs.
An Education, Health and Care plan is sort of statement plus in that it is education based. Therefore if they only have education needs, you should be covered, provided they fit the criteria. The criteria is still under discussion in the draft Code of Practice.
If, however, your child is one of the 25% of disabled children who don't have an educational need, they won't be eligible for an EHCP.
To cover that 25%, who it seems the government are determined not to include, it has instead, added an amendment in the Children and Families Bill. This requires schools by law to make appropriate arrangements for supporting pupils with long-term health needs. This will be supported by new statutory guidance that will be issued next year. The amendment applies to maintained schools, Academies, alternative provision Academies and a pupil referral units.
The government insists that this, along with existing equalities legislation means that all children will be covered. I'm not sure that this one has been laid to rest though...
Will everyone in every LA be ready for Sept 14?
No. Possibly not even Pathfinder authorities. This is why you should not delay applying for a statement in the current system.
How can I influence the code of practice?
Glad you asked. The draft Code of Practice is currently out for public (i.e you) consultation. There is also one for young people under 16 to take part in. And one for 16-25 year olds. Read up on it, read the views of others such as IPSEA, and then submit your own views.
How do I know my SENCo will know about the changes and will be ready to put them into practice?
Hopefully, training will be put in place to educate everyone concerned, including and especially SENCos, in the intricacies of the EHCP and the new Code of Practice.
The draft Code has a detailed section about SENCOs in it, There is tons of information available online as well that they should be reading up on. The draft Code says that SENCos should be qualified in the role within a certain time period of taking up the job. So this may put an end to the infant headtacher taking on the mantle of SENCo because the school doesn't take the role seriously. The message is clear: an SEN Coordinator is an important role and should ideally be part of the senior management team.
There are many truly fab SENCos and also some truly awful ones. Let's hope the changes mean we will end up with many more of the former and none of the latter.
I don't believe my LA will be able to put parents and children at the heart. What can I do?
Oo, you little cynic, you! Well, you are certainly not alone in your scepticism, that's for sure.
So, what can you do? Well, one voice is unlikely to be heard, but you can join your local parent-carer forum and contribute to the work they will be doing with your local authority.
What, you mean work with them? I hear you ask. Yes, that's what I mean. We all know some individuals in SEN departments who have been less than helpful in the past. Hideous, scheming, uncaring, colluding, anti-parent and so it seemed, anti-children too. Quite possibly many employees are still carrying on as if a Tsunami of change isn't about to sweep them out of their office standard swivel chairs.
But change is a-coming and if your SEN department is to get with the programme (because of course, it has no option) then those within who cannot change their ways may find themselves moved elsewhere or out altogether. They MUST work with parents and families in the new system. It's going to be the law.
So why not get in there (if you have the capacity) and make a difference to all those parents who have yet to experience the joys of special needs parenting? It might have been shit for you, but you can help make it better for those to come.
All those leaders within LAs who thought the whole thing would get kicked into the long grass have, by now it's hoped, realised it is definitely going to happen. The smart leaders actually now understand it's a very, very good idea to have parents and children at the heart of the system.
There is plenty about the Bill and the draft Code that still needs to be challenged and put right, and some of those are very big issues indeed. Please read IPSEA's view here
The consultation ends on December 9th. That's not far away and it would be quite nice if the DfE could extend it for a couple of weeks because it's a lot to digest and turn around if you've only just realised its import.
I haven't started on ours yet. This is mainly because I have a life that includes... special needs children, a chronic pain illness and a lot of work to do that I can only do a bit at a time. I will, could just use a bit of extra time though.
Someone emailed me the other day and asked if I'd considered writing about the special needs reforms (tee hee). For this lady and any others who want to read our past posts on the subject, find them here.
Have you read any of the Draft CoP? What did you think?
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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