Special Educational Needs and Disability Pathfinder final report

In September 2014, most of the Pathfinder local authorities, testing the SEND reforms came to an end and the reality of the changes came into force. Yesterday, the Department for Education released the final Impact Research report, an evaluation of the second part of the Pathfinders. The evaluation consisted of 698 families who were part of the Pathfinder and a comparison group of 1000 families who were in receipt of either an SEN Statement or the post-16 equivalent (a Learning Difficulty Assessment, which is non-statutory) and had not yet received an EHC plan.

So were the Pathfinders a success?

The full evaluation provides us with 190 tables of comparison figures, but we wanted to focus on the results around the family experience, the role of the Key Worker and the services provided. Tania has put together a useful Infographic of the report's "headlines" at the bottom of this post, that you are welcome to share and use yourselves if you wish.

Family Experience:

  • Pathfinder families were more likely than comparison families to state that their views had been taken into consideration in assessment and reviews (84 per cent Pathfinder families; 73 per cent comparison)
  • The difference in Pathfinder and comparison families’ understanding of the process was not statistically significant, but it was for their understanding of the decisions made (up from 60 per cent to 65 per cent)
  • Pathfinder parents were more likely than comparison families to report that they: were encouraged to think about goals; felt their suggestions were listened to; and believed the decisions about their child’s support reflected the family’s views.
  • Although Pathfinder parents were significantly more likely than comparison group parents to agree that their child had a say in the support planning process, still only 37 per cent of Pathfinder parents and 29 per cent in the comparison group did so; implying room for improvement in relation to considering the views of young people
  • Pathfinder parents were more likely to agree that their process to get support had been straightforward – 52 versus 40 per cent of Pathfinder and comparator families agreed that it had been straightforward
  • Although Pathfinder families were significantly more likely than comparison families to report that planning had been undertaken jointly across services (45 per cent versus 33 per cent), substantial proportions (38 per cent) reported it being undertaken separately. In addition, the Pathfinder did not seem to have impacted on parents having to explain their child’s needs on multiple occasions
  • Pathfinder parents were statistically more likely than comparison group parents to feel that the various professionals involved in their child’s assessment had shared information well - 71 per cent of Pathfinder parents said this had been done well or very well compared to 63 per cent of comparison group families
  • Pathfinder parents were significantly more satisfied with the assessment and planning processes they had participated in than comparison parents - 33 versus 26 per cent of pathfinder and comparator families reported being very satisfied

Key Workers:

Key workers were an integral part of the Pathfinders but this has not continued into the reality.  Key working support – as a professional (or small group of professionals) is essentially charged with overseeing the sharing of information.  The Pathfinder evaluation has shown what a difference this role made to families.

  • The competency, consistency and knowledge of a ‘key worker’ (or those providing key working support) was seen as critical to the process feeling family- and child-centred
  • Pathfinder families were significantly more likely than comparison group families to say that they had at least one key worker working with their family
  • Pathfinder families were slightly more likely than comparison group families to say they had confidence in that person’s ability to help their family get support for their child’s needs

Key workers (or groups of professionals conducting key working) were felt by families to be most effective where they:

  • Provided advice, information and advocacy support – four main functions were identified for key workers: emotional and practical support; coordination; planning and assessment; and information and specialist support
  • Had knowledge of the child or young person – although some participants also talked about the value of having a key worker who did not know their case previously, as it allowed for fresh perspectives to be applied
  • Were able to draw on their understanding of the system, including provision options and who to go to get things done
  • Used their professional status and knowledge to influence others
  • Exercised their judgement, tailoring their approach to different needs and family dynamics, e.g. taking a collaborative role vs a clear lead
  • Were fair and impartial throughout the process, bringing a fresh perspective

Where key workers were less effective at the initial assessment and planning stage, they were described as unresponsive or too stretched to provide sufficient support (e.g. undertaking key working ‘on top of their day job’).

Sufficiency and Suitability of Support

  • Just over half (54 per cent) of Pathfinder parents felt that their child gets ‘all’ or ‘most’ of what they think he or she needs, compared to 47 percent of comparison group
  • Pathfinder families were more likely than those from comparison groups to ‘strongly agree’ that support was suitable for the young person’s needs
  • Looking at the suitability of education, social care and health support specifically, positive feedback was also reported, with improvements in the suitability of social care support most marked.

Local Offer

  • Only a minority of parents, in both the Pathfinder and comparison groups, had heard of the Local Offer, with no statistically significant differences between them
  • Only around half of the families who had looked at the Local Offer reporting it as being useful

It was common for families to report that lack of information and advice on local provision had impacted on how much the young person could benefit from any improvements in confidence or independence.  Information and guidance was specifically seen to be lacking in the following areas:

  • Options for young people aged 19+, for example, day centres and short breaks provision in their area
  • Information on how to find a personal assistant
  • Leisure and social activities (outside school)
  • Entitlements to personal budgets, direct payments or welfare benefits.

Other interesting findings:

  • The Pathfinder was not found to have had an impact on parents’ ratings of their child’s health or quality of life
  • There were no statistically significant differences in the confidence and independence of young people in the Pathfinder and comparison groups.
  • There was no significant evidence of the Pathfinder having had an impact on the extent to which their child enjoyed their educational setting
  • The impact of the Pathfinder on parental health and quality of life appears limited.
  • There was little evidence to suggest that Pathfinder families’ experiences differed according to whether they were in receipt of a personal budget, although differences were reported for direct payments

SNJ thoughts....

Erm, did we expect anything different?  The Pathfinder families had access to a Key worker and the number of families engaged in the Pathfinder was a tiny percentage of those who go through the SEND process.  So, we wouldn't expect there to be a different result particularly as all eyes were on the Pathfinders and their progress.

However, how successful is the new process NOW in reality?  It would be interesting to see this evaluation repeated, now we are almost a year into the new system, with families who have not had the luxury of being a Pathfinder family.  How have they found the system?  Do they feel listened to?  Is their child listened to?  Is their child receiving almost all or most of the services they need?  Was the process explained?  Were decisions explained?

If we go right back to the Green Paper "Support and Aspiration" published in March 2011 and the goals it set out to achieve:

"We want to put in place a radically different system to support better life outcomes for young people; give parents confidence by giving them more control; and transfer power to professionals on the front line and to local communities."

The Green Paper proposed:

  • better life outcomes for young people
  • a new approach to identifying SEN
  • a new single assessment process and ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ by 2014
  • giving parents confidence by giving them more control
  • giving parents a real choice of school,
  • introducing greater independence to the assessment of children’s needs,
  • transferring power to professionals on the front line and to local communities
  • providing the option of a personal budget by 2014
  • a local offer of all services available

How successful has this original vision for a bright future for SEN and Disability really been in both the Children and Families' Act and the implementation? Let us know your views in the comments - don't be shy - and please copy any comments you make on Facebook or Twitter to the post comments too when you have time, for those who don't use these networks.

And now, Tania's infographic. We make our resources under the Creative Commons license, free to share, download and distribute, although a credit is always very nice. If you do want to use it elsewhere or the PDF below it, do let us know in the comments where you plan to use it, just because we're nosy.

pathfinder infographic
Click to enlarge. Feel free to share or save with credit: Special Needs Jungle

You can also download this as a PDF with copyable text

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  1. Rosemary Kew

    Firstly I would like to say how informative end enlightening your website is and that I direct all parents and professionals to it. Occasionally though there are the inevitable minor inaccuracies. In order to avoid any confusion by your readers and followers, please can I just clarify that Independent Supporters (IS) do not and should not assume the role of Key Workers. The key worker role extends beyond the remit and role of IS, although some of the key working functions may occur at times, as they should in a whole range of professionals involved in the EHCP process. Having delivered much of the IS training (on behalf of Council for Disabled Children) in London since last August, the IS role is to provide timely information and support to parents and young people throughout, and help them fully participate in, the transfer from statements to EHCPs process or new assessments. It is my understanding that the IS role came about due to the acknowledgement of the anticipated levels of support families would need with this process, and recognition that Parent Partnership Services, rebranded as Information and Advice Service, would not have the capacity to manage the volumes of requests for this support. IS role is to be impartial, to navigate and signpost families and they cannot, and should not, assume the role of advocates (taking on the families perspective as if it were their own) for families as this is in contradiction to the impartiality requirement.

    1. Thanks Rosemary, for the kind words. Actually the IS reference was my mistake, not Debs’ as I added to the paragraph about the infographic late last night, accidentally deleted something and must have put back the wrong thing. We don’t often make errors, but are happy to correct anything that is pointed out.
      If you’d like to write about Independent Supporters for us in a guest post, we’d be delighted to host you.

      1. Rosemary Kew

        No Problem and I appreciate that much of your writing, which I love and enjoy, happens at the more unusual”working” hours of the day/night. I’ll certainly consider writing something for you about IS but right now I can’t promise exactly when that may happen. What is the easiest way to get in touch with you to submit something? Please keep up the good work, you’ve obviously honed your juggling skills to a very high level in order to keep things so current. There’s probably a few lessons you could teach us novice jugglers!

  2. Lisa Dew

    I was part of a pathfinder process. I don’t even know where to start in telling how horrific the process was. Would love to send you guys a copy of my sons first plan. It really is beyond a joke. As for parent partnership. Well let me just say my hand is more independent from my wrist in my experience. To go into every lie mistake maladministration and piece of downright neglect would take to long. And to be honest I still get so upset and angry even thinking about how my little boy who was 8 and had an emotional breakdown was treated. by people who have no accountability. How this people sleep at night I will never know. I hope there job pays enough and the pension is good enough to have no morals.

  3. Vague

    So what this boils down to is a small improvement in experience during the pathfinder, while the LAs were being watched like hawks. I don’t feel this is enough improvement, given the massive amount of time, effort and money that has been expended. And who is to say things will remain there or improve once the focus relents? I wouldn’t put bets on it…

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