I’ve seen a fair few EHC Plans now – those of the pupils at Bright Futures School (BFS), those of children whose parents are seeking a place for them at BFS, and those of children whose parents who seek me out for help, usually via word of mouth through other parents. The majority of the Plans are from my authority, Oldham, but I have seen several Plans from neighbouring authorities.
I honestly haven’t seen one EHC Plan across all these authorities that isn’t a dog’s breakfast. As far as Oldham is concerned, this is no surprise when you take into account the findings from the recent SEND Ofsted/CQC inspection, which were published on 28thNovember 2017.
Lowlights from the Oldham SEN Ofsted/CQC Inspection report
- The implementation of the SEN reforms has been slow and fragmented. Leaders have not approached the implementation as a joint partnership between education, health and social care.
- The lack of accountability at all levels is endemic. The absence of joint working means that leaders of education, health and social care are not holding each other to account for the effectiveness of their work.
- The CCG has only recently appointed to the role of the designated clinical officer (DCO). It is too soon to comment on the effectiveness of the role. The lack of oversight on both the strategic and operational impact of the reforms has contributed to the weaknesses identified in the local area.
- Leaders do not have an accurate view of the strengths and weaknesses of the local area. While acknowledging that there are challenges, leaders are unaware of the extent of the weaknesses which the inspectors found.
- Performance information is not accurately evaluated and used to inform and drive improvements. Leaders do not routinely evaluate the difference that their actions make to the lives of children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities. Too often during the inspection, inspectors were provided with erroneous and misleading information.
- The local area has struggled with a constant churn of leadership in pivotal positions. This has hampered the implementation of the SEN reforms and has slowed the pace of improvements.
- Leaders have no mechanisms to check the quality of documentation, processes and systems within the local area. There are inconsistencies in how officers carry out their work and their understanding of what they are statutorily required to do.
- Leaders do not demonstrate the capacity to implement future plans. For example, they were unable to provide secure and reliable evidence of the difference their actions have made to children and young people and their families to date.
- The education, health and care (EHC) process in Oldham is fundamentally flawed, does not comply with the Code of Practice and there is possible illegal practice.
- The quality of EHC plans is unacceptable. Outcomes for pupils are often meaningless and the level of input made by professionals can be shoddy and inaccurate. Not all professionals routinely contribute to the plans.
- The children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities in Oldham do not make strong academic progress. Oldham is one of the worst-achieving areas nationally for educational achievement for this group of children. This prevalent poor achievement is exacerbated by high levels of fixed-term exclusions and persistent absences from school for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities, especially at the secondary phase.
Following the SEN Ofsted report, I wrote to the local authority’s Head of SEN and the Children’s Commissioner in the CCG to share my own observations – from experience at the coal face – of what might lie behind some of the above criticisms in respect of provision for children with autism.
Observations of what might contribute to poor autism-related practice in Oldham
- The condition of autism itself and the impact it has on a person’s ability: to make and maintain friendships and relationships; to regulate their emotions; to understand and use the perspectives of others; to manage (and enjoy) uncertainty and unpredictability (and subsequently respond adaptively to ongoing change) – all competencies that are crucial to living independently and holding down meaningful employment - is poorly understood in Oldham
- Even where the description of autism-related need is good, the reports tend to make general recommendations for provision which do not clearly correspond to the individual needs that have been identified.
- There appears to be a trend for making recommendations that are based on ‘received wisdom’ that has little or no evidential basis in ppeer-reviewed research or evidence-based practice
- Autism is a condition that results in developmental gaps yet recommendations for provision are not informed by a detailed assessment of the child/young person’s developmental gaps
- Recommendations for provision are not quantified and specified as required by the SEN Code of Practice
- Recommendations are compensatory in nature – they do not directly target any of the child/young person’s difficulties by helping him/her to master the competencies s/he needs to address the areas of weakness.
- There are no success criteria and no proposed methods of measuring progress
- None of the provision outlined by expert professionals takes account of what is recommended in the NICE guidelines CG170 for autism interventions that seek to work on the core difficulties at the heart of autism.
The letter went on to give specific examples, derived from real life EHCPs that illustrated the above points. There were 13 appendices and it took me a long time to put all that information together. I knew it was a mistake to invest my time and energy in it even whilst I was writing it but I couldn’t leave it alone. There is still a (naïve, foolish, hopelessly optimistic) part of me that thinks that service providers will do the right thing if they are told the truth.
Their response – nada. Well...smoke and mirrors, deflection, dismissal……in effect, nada.
Complaints to Commissioners
So, I am now writing a series of complaint letters that will eventually (I predict) end up in the hands of the Health Service and/or Local Authority Ombudsman. Because there’s no point mucking about, is there? Co-bloody-production, my arse. Just call the poor practice out for what it is, challenge it and send it up the line through the complaints (and possibly, judicial review) process asap.
And challenging via SEN tribunals…..in that arena, heavily weighted against parents or the young person (age 16+) themselves when the local authority can use public money to employ a barrister and the parent/young person has no legal representation because they can’t afford it…..my experience of seeking provision to address the core difficulties at the heart of autism is that common sense does not prevail and the law is an ass.
In the next instalment on Friday, I share one example of what I’ve done to call the poor provision out. The information is actual information from a real EHCP but the name of the young person has been changed and other names anonymised. The EHCP belongs to a 15-year-old young man who is not a pupil at BFS, who has recently been diagnosed with autism, and who has some very serious mental health difficulties.