SEND Improvement: Supported internships without EHCPs, plus “incredible”, “unforgettable” disabled children’s short breaks

Yesterday, Matt looked at how local authorities have been spending the £2.6 billion pound SEND capital funding. Today, we have news of another funding announcement for SEND - this time £30 million for much-needed short breaks and to extend its woefully underutilised supported internships programme. It’s also announcing “better support” for people with Down syndrome. But wait…. it’s not “new” as in we’ve never heard about it before, it’s just new as in more of it is now being dished out..

In 2022, £93 million was announced, comprising £30 million for short breaks, £18 million for supported internships and £45 million for “targeted SEND Support”. So, this announcement is a new tranche of the very same £30 million. However, it’s not immediately clear how much (if anything) will be given to the other two aspects of the announcement. Here’s what Matt says…

"The £30 million for short breaks announcement is not new money: the money for the innovation fund was first announced in the 2022 SEND & AP Green Paper, and this is the third year of the programme. The extension of the supported internships programme to children and young people without EHCPs is new and welcome, but it's unclear from this announcement how much funding is being offered to the 12 local authorities that will be taking part.

"The extra data on children with Down Syndrome will be collected by school staff, and processed by DfE statisticians. It's unclear what data is being collected, and it's also unclear what (if any) new data is being collected on young people with Down syndrome who don't attend a school."

Matt Keer, SNJ accountability columnist

About the short breaks programme

In typical hyperbole, the short breaks innovation funding will provide “incredible experiences” and “unforgettable activities” for children with SEND. Presumably, these are experiences of the kind that children without SEND can access every day, so unless it’s accessible sky-diving or a week in the Maldives, calling it “incredible” is probably pushing it.

Short breaks are also sometimes known as respite. For those families who can access them, they can provide both activities for disabled children and a break for their parents/carers. Unfortunately, they have been severely cut back during the years of austerity, and many children are not able to access them. Even when they can, SNJ Director, Renata Blower, says in her area she doesn’t know anyone who has been able to utilise all the hours they’ve been allocated as there just isn’t enough on offer. They can also be hard to get to if you don’t have access to transport— with the kicker that if you don’t use all your funding allocation of hours it can be clawed back or removed altogether.

Experiences like these are presumably behind the Short Breaks Innovation Programme. It was announced in the SEND Improvement Plan, initially funding seven local authority projects to deliver “innovative approaches” to short breaks. The DfE said the funding bids ‘should be co-produced with families’ and ‘must be supported by the local parent carer forum’. Our columnist, Sharon Smith noted that fewer than one-third of parent carer forums are engaged in co-production with social care, so it’ll be interesting to see how that will pan out. Despite the DfE pledging to include a wider range of parents than just PCFs, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest this is happening.

The programme cites activities such as “cooking classes, theatre trips and craft workshops, providing children with SEND an opportunity to develop social skills and friendships, whilst offering parents a break from caring responsibilities.” However, our columnist, Catriona Moore, the parent of a young person with Rett syndrome, says activities are sometimes not what they seem when it comes to giving parents a break:

“The best short break, the ideal scenario, is where the child gets to do something interesting and fun that’s designed for their needs and lasts longer than an hour or two, while the parent gets a proper break. As a parent, you can’t relax or enjoy a break if you’re worrying about whether your child is safe and happy or if it’s only half an hour til you have to go and pick them up again. In my area, which has had short break funding from DfE for more than a year, some activities for children and young people with the most complex needs are being offered on the basis that a parent (or another carer organised by the parent) accompanies them. This may be fun for the child, but it’s not a break for the parent. Both aspects matter equally.”

Catriona Moore SNJ columnist

SEND Minister, David Johnson, said the innovation programme will provide LAs, “up to £1.5 million each to deliver and fund new activities and experiences for children and young people with SEND, which would otherwise be inaccessible. The first and second years of funding have helped pilot new approaches to build a body of evidence to inform practice nationally…. The supported internships pilot builds on our £18 million investment in supported internships, which aims to develop capacity in the system to double the number of supported internships per year to 4,500 by 2025.

Widening eligibility for Supported Internships

Supported Internships a “work-based study programme “ came in with the 2014 reforms to give disabled young people new skills and access to work experience. When they’ve been a success, and with luck, they can turn into permanent, paid roles. They’re a great idea, although mostly unpaid, but even several years in, they were pretty scarce and some LAs hadn’t established any at all. More recently, with the NDTi a leading light, they are becoming better known. We’ve written a few times about SIs:

At present, you can only go on a supported internship if you have an EHCP, but with many councils keen to strip plans from disabled young people as soon as they hit 16, many of those who could benefit miss out. In this pilot, 12 local authorities are participating to enable young people who don’t have an EHCP but who still need support to take part.

This does raise the question of why they don’t (still) have a plan, and how, without one, will they be identified as in need of an internship. And, why can’t they then have their plan resurrected to ensure their needs are met while on the SI? And of course, if they never had a plan but need a supported internship, they clearly should have had one to start off with. But hey ho, these are questions that will not be asked within LAs or a government that doesn’t like looking back at past mistakes.

Down syndrome data

The announcement covers plans to collect “…new data about the numbers of children with Down syndrome and where they are educated through changes to the School Census. This helps meet our commitment to improving the life outcomes and opportunities for people with Down syndrome, to identify good practice and shape long-term services. This follows on from the Down Syndrome Act 2022 aiming to raise the understanding and awareness of the specific needs of people with Down syndrome.”

This sounds basically just a computer tweak, hence another slice of hyperbole, but our columnist, Sharon Smith, a SEND expert and the mother of a young person with Down syndrome, will be looking in more detail at this next week.

Who will be getting the money?

Not every LA gets the Short Breaks money, or will be involved in the pilot for the supported internships. In fact, it’s not much more than a handful, but if you live in one of them, why not ask your LA to explain what they’ll be using it for, and if/how your disabled child can benefit? Some of these are the same LAs that have already had Short Breaks Innovation money last year, but some are new. Likewise, if you live in one of the 12 areas piloting the supported internship-without-EHCP pilot, and your 16-25 year old might be interested, speak to your LA’s Post-16 SEND team.

The 18 LAs who will get the Short Breaks funding are:

  • Bracknell Forest
  • Bristol City
  • Camden London Borough
  • Derby City
  • East Riding of Yorkshire 
  • Enfield London Borough 
  • Essex County 
  • Royal Borough of Greenwich 
  • Medway 
  • Norfolk County
  • Portsmouth and Southampton City 
  • Plymouth City
  • Rotherham Metropolitan Borough
  • Southwark London Borough
  • Suffolk County
  • Sunderland City
  • Surrey County
  • Wakefield

The local authorities selected as part of the Supported Internships Pilot with young people who don’t have EHCPs are:

  • Bristol City Council
  • Cheshire West & Chester Council
  • Hampshire County Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • Liverpool City Council
  • Manchester City Council
  • Middlesbrough Council
  • Norfolk County Council
  • North Tyneside Council
  • Somerset Council
  • Surrey County Council
  • Telford & Wrekin Council

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Tania Tirraoro
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