Time for a quick update on what's happening in the world of SEND for you today.
A while ago, we told you that the services that support parents and young people through the SEND system were out for contract. The configuration of the services were being changed and you can read all about that in our post here.
The new contract, in essence, aims to combine the IASS (that supports parents with SEND matters, not just through the EHCP process) and the Independent Support programme (that was to help parents through the transfer from statements to EHPs). Additionally, the contract for the national SEND helpline, run by the charity, Contact, would also be up for grabs. These have now been awarded but we haven't had time to mention much about it, not least because nothing unexpected happened with the outcome of the tendering. They went to the expected bidders, the Council for Disabled Children and Contact, who already held these contracts. The charity KIDS has also got a look-in on the new partnership.
Yesterday, however, the Department for Education sent out a missive about it, entitled "Boost in support for children with additional needs" so I thought I'd just update you all on this. Of course anyone who watches SEND will know this isn't at all a "boost" as in something new that is just being announced. It's just the official announcement about who got what in the tendering process. Whether the provision for children and families is actually "boosted" is up to what the recipients of said contracts set up.
The contracts consist of:
- A contract worth £20million with the Council for Disabled Children, in partnership with Contact, to provide families and young people with SEND with impartial advice, support and information about the services and support on offer. (This would include the helpline). This means a continuation of the current Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS), currently provided by the IASS Network hosted by the Council for Disabled Children although this will presumably be given a refresh.
- A £3.8million contract with Contact, in partnership with KIDS and the Council for Disabled Children, to promote and develop strategic participation by young people and parent carers.
- A SEND school workforce contract with nasen and University College London (UCL), on behalf of the Whole School SEND consortium, worth £3.4million over two years - to bring together schools, voluntary organisations and experts so that schools can deliver high-quality SEND.
As well as this, the DfE has developed new tools in partnership with nasen and Action for Children to create a job description and specification for Level 3 Early Years Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs).
So the good news here is that the winners of the family support contracts, Contact, The Council for Disabled Children and KIDS are all experienced, solid charitable organisations who know what they're doing and are, as mentioned, already doing the work. It remains to be seen how they will reconstitute parent support services. Provision of IAS services are actually a local authority duty (which is why some parents distrust them, despite the 'I' standing for impartial) and this doesn't change here; it's still incumbent on the LA to ensure there is a service, but now it will be provided by this new partnership of three. I am intrigued as to how this will work out in practice.
I know that of the parents who had support from the Independent Supporter program for their transfers, most really appreciated it. It was far more support than would be possible to provide by IASS for an EHCP application for all parents who wanted it - although some IAS services did hold this additional IS contract during the transfer process. A good deal of IAS work is providing advice to parents just starting to hack through the SEN Jungle (see what I did there? 🙂 ) and many parents never need to apply for statutory support. The other big difference (I am told) between the two is that IASS can go to Tribunal with a parent, whereas Independent Support stopped at the point of a final plan being issued (If I'm wrong here, I'm sure they'll tell me. They usually do).
It would be brilliant if the way the two services are combined is:
- Advice and signposting about all aspects of the SEND system.
- Every parent still being legally entitled to IS-level individual practical and emotional support throughout their child's EHCP application to final plan.
- That this support can continue through to mediation and Tribunal, if needed.
- That LAs MUST make it clear that this service is available to them free of charge.
- That the contract allows for this financially, and if it's clear the service is becoming too overwhelmed, that the contract holders are given additional funding to bolster the service where needed.
- That local IAS heads MUST sit on LA SEND Boards and advise (and be listened to) when SEND departments or caseworkers or social care departments and local NHS are getting it wrong (they already do this in some places, I don't know about all)
- That the new service is a real step away from any "perception" of being under LA influence. By this I mean branding, email addresses and whose name is on their payslips all comes from the new partnership of Contact/CDC/KIDS. This would be a huge step forward.
Transfer to EHCPs
The missive was actually a chance for the DfE to tell us all how well LAs were doing with moving children from statements to EHCPs. As you will know, the deadline for the transfer to EHCPs from the old SEN statements passed on 31 March. You can read Matt Keer's analysis of what we were concerned about when he discovered that 21,000 were still outstanding.
Almost miraculously, according to these new figures reported by the DfE, the numbers outstanding on the deadline date were 3,873, meaning 98.4% of children with disabilities who had statements of SEN had been carefully and holistically re-assessed and transferred to beautifully-crafted Education, Health and Care Plans.
So I’d like to congratulate local authorities up and down the land for this sterling effort. Yeah, I would like to, but I won't.
Is that a bit harsh? Oh, alright.... So: if you work in an LA SEND department and your transfers included a thorough educational assessment, health advice and CAMHS input (as needed), and the child was offered a social care assessment, well done to you. If every family was offered an Independent Supporter to help them through the process and were fully-involved throughout, another well done. If the EHCP was fully-filled out, quantified and specified, well done again. Please continue like this.
If, however, you finalised a woefully incomplete EHCP that contained no placement, or gaps in the provision, or didn't record all the needs, or the child didn't get any new assessments, or the parents were forced to take you to the SEND Tribunal to get what their child needs, then please stand in the 'shame on you' corner. I understand that this may not how you wanted to do it, but you were told to by a superior and you were scared for your job if you didn't comply. If, as an LA, you took the parent right to the Tribunal and pulled out at the last minute, or lost (as 86% do) double shame on you.
Unfortunately, from the many, many parents I have contact with, I know that these examples of rotten practice are far too common, if not almost the norm.
What does Matt say?
I asked Matt Keer for his opinion of the figure. He said: "That number is terrifyingly small. Terrifying, because the corners that LAs will have cut to get to that number don't bear thinking about."
My thoughts exactly. In fact, he said a lot more on Twitter. I know you want to read his full thoughts. You're welcome: (PS, if you can't see the embedded Twitter stream, click here)
Just a few thousand SEN statements left.. what does @captaink77 say?
Good experience? Tell us
If this isn't your experience, and your are proud of the EHCPs your LA produces, or you're a parent who is in receipt of such a document, please let us know. We want to shout about good practice where we find it, as well as highlight areas that leave much to be desired.
I invite anyone in a local authority SEND department to please get in touch and give me an example or two of how they followed the law and the SEND Code of Practice AND the spirit of the reforms. I know there are some out there.
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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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