When was the last time you checked out your local authority's Local Offer website? Some are attached to the LA website, while others are stand-alone sites. Some have really useful information, others are very patchy, with information hard to find and out of date. And more than a few don't meet legal requirements.
Let's be clear - the Local Offer website is not optional. It is a statutory duty to have, and to keep updated. The Department for Education were always at pains to insist, during the pathfinder trials pre 2014, that it was not a "directory" of services. But in many, if not most, cases, that's all it is and often, not a very good one.
So if it isn't a directory, what's it supposed to be?
Local Offer & its purpose
The Local Offer was intended as a driving force for change as part of the Children and Families Act. As mentioned, the DfE at the time reiterated it was not to be merely a directory of local services, but to be used as a strategic tool to understand what provision was available locally. This, in turn, should reveal what and where there were gaps in local SEND provision that needed to be filled.
But knowing what's missing and being able to afford to fill what's missing is fine in theory. Without the money, or indeed, often the will, to use it for its strategic purpose, it's all just a load of words buried inside a long document gathering dust. That document is the SEND Code of Practice 2015 and chapter four sets out the aims, purpose and what should be on the Local Offer. I've pulled out a number of relevant paragraphs from the SEND CoP and the regulations in this article to help you check out your own site.
The LO should set out in one place, information about SEND provision expected to be available locally across education, health and social care for children and young people.
“The Local Offer should not simply be a directory of existing services. Its success depends as much upon full engagement with children, young people and their parents as on the information it contains. The process of developing the Local Offer will help local authorities and their health partners to improve provision.”SEND Code of Practice 4.3
The requirements for the Local Offer are laid out in the SEND Code of Practice 2015. This is to be reviewed in 2020, pending the outcome of the SEND Review.
The relevant legislation is as follows:
- Children & Families Act 2014: Sections 27, 28, 30, 32, 41, 49, and 51-57
- Equality Act 2010
- The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (Part 4)
- The SEND Code of Practice 2015 Chapter Four.
The aims of the Local Offer
The Local Offer has two key purposes:
- To provide clear, comprehensive, accessible and up-to-date information about the available provision and how to access it, and
- To make provision more responsive to local needs and aspirations by directly involving disabled children and those with SEN and their parents, and disabled young people and those with SEN, and service providers in its development and review
Does your Local Offer meet legal requirements?
Does your local offer do the following:
- The Local Offer must include provision in the local authority’s area. It must also include provision outside the local area that the local authority expects is likely to be used by children and young people with SEN for whom they are responsible and disabled children and young people. It should include relevant regional and national specialist provision, such as provision for children and young people with low-incidence and more complex SEN.
- Local authorities and those who are required to co-operate with them need to comply with the Equality Act 2010, including when preparing, developing and reviewing the Local Offer. This includes parents and young people. There is a list here of who to include in reviewing the LO. So check out when the last time your LO was reviewed and who was involved.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 provide a common framework for the Local Offer. They specify the requirements that all local authorities must meet in developing, publishing and reviewing their Local Offer, and cover:
- the information to be included
- how the Local Offer is to be published
- who is to be consulted about the Local Offer
- how children with SEN or disabilities and their parents and young people with SEN or disabilities will be involved in the preparation and review of the Local Offer, and
- the publication of comments on the Local Offer and the local authority’s response, including any action it intends to take in relation to those comments
Regulation 55. A local authority must consult children and young people with special educational needs or a disability and the parents of children with special educational needs or a disability in their area about—
- the services children and young people with special educational needs or a disability require;
- how the information in the local offer is to be set out when published;
- how the information in the local offer will be available for those people without access to the Internet;
- how the information in the local offer will be accessible to those with special educational needs or a disability;
- how they can provide comments on the local offer.
Publication of comments on the local offer
Does your Local Offer publish comments? Does it even survey you for what you think of the Local Offer and how it can be improved? It should be doing this every year and clearly publishing the results - and then, hopefully, acting upon them.
Regulation 56 says feedback should be sought from children and young people with SEND and their parents about the content, accessibility and how the LO has been developed or reviewed. They're also supposed to be included in reviewing it.
Tenets of the Local Offer
(CoP 4.7) The Local Offer should be:
- collaborative: local authorities must involve parents, children and young people in developing and reviewing the Local Offer. They must also co-operate with those providing services
- accessible: the published Local Offer should be easy to understand, factual and jargon-free. It should be structured in a way that relates to young people’s and parents’ needs (for example by broad age group or type of special educational provision). It should be well signposted and well publicised
- comprehensive: parents and young people should know what support is expected to be available across education, health and social care from age 0 to 25 and how to access it. The Local Offer must include eligibility criteria for services where relevant and make it clear where to go for information, advice and support, as well as how to make complaints about provision or appeal against decisions
- up-to-date: when parents and young people access the Local Offer, it is important that the information is up to date
- transparent: the Local Offer should be clear about how decisions are made and who is accountable and responsible for them
How well does your local offer website do?
Publicising the Local Offer
Local authorities should publicise in their Local Offer the ways in which they will involve children, young people and parents in developing and reviewing it. Local authorities should ensure that they provide support that enables children, young people and parents to contribute to decision-making at this strategic level and the Local Offer should include details of this support, which should include Parent Carer Forums and local voluntary organisations.SEND Code of Practice, (4.10)
So, this could include a SEND newsletter, and should certainly include the positive use of social media. As someone who set up and runs the Surrey Local Offer social media, I can testify that this is an excellent way to tell people not only about what's on the Local Offer but also upcoming SEND events and useful information. If you are an LA and want to improve your Local Offer and its social media, it's something we're experts at - so you should definitely get in touch. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to meet parents where they are.
The LA should also be creating A5 or DL leaflets about the LO to send to schools, doctors’ surgeries, children’s centres, children’s hospital wards and clinics, CAMHS and so on. Parents won't find it as if by magic.
Ideally, the website should also have a news feed/blog to publish local SEND news stories and updates. It should use imagery well and ensure that it has social media sharing buttons. A number of websites are built using a system that I won't name, but that is wholly inadequate for the task. A sustainable system should be built using a robust content management system (CMS), of which there are numerous around. After all, if you build it using a pure database, that's what you're going to get out of it. And that ain't what it's supposed to be, is it?
Yes, that's the collaborative bit. As far as young people, the CoP says,
Local authorities must engage young people directly in developing and reviewing the Local Offer and should consider setting up a forum, or a range of forums, to do so. Local authorities should make every effort to engage a cross-section of young people with a range of SEN and disabilities, in a variety of settings and circumstances and at different ages within the 16–25 age range. Local authorities should make every effort to establish the issues on which young people most want to be engaged. They should also consider using a variety of methods to engage young people. These could include surveys and social media or young people’s forums, and making existing consultation groups, such as a local youth council, accessible to young people with SEN or disabilities. Young people should also have opportunities to be engaged independently of their parents.SEND CoP 4.11
Lots of LAs have thriving SEND young people's groups - use them. And it's not like they don't know how to find every child with an EHCP, so there's really no excuse for not having meaningful communication with young people with SEND
When it comes to parents, the CoP stresses:
..."Effective parent participation can lead to a better fit between families’ needs and the services provided, higher satisfaction with services, reduced costs (as long-term benefits emerge), better value for money and better relationships between those providing services and those using them. Local authorities and parents should work together to establish the aims of parent participation, to mark progress and build trust. "
And it's not just parents and young people. When reviewing the Local Offer there is a whole range of bodies who should be consulted. Check 4.15 of the SEND Code of Practice for more.
What must be included in the Local Offer?
Some Local Offers I've looked at are seriously lacking in what is supposed to be on them. Some contain the bare minimum. Others have SEND information scattered across a number of council websites, making is far more difficult for families to find the right information. LOs must include information about all the areas specified in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 as a minimum.
4.30 The Local Offer must include information about:
- special educational, health and social care provision for children and young people with SEN or disabilities – this should include online and blended learning
- details of how parents and young people can request an assessment for an EHC plan
- arrangements for identifying and assessing children and young people’s SEN – this should include arrangements for EHC needs assessments
- other educational provision, for example sports or arts provision, paired reading schemes
- post-16 education and training provision
- apprenticeships, traineeships and supported internships
- information about provision to assist in preparing children and young people for adulthood (see paragraphs 4.52 to 4.56)
- arrangements for travel to and from schools, post-16 institutions and early years providers
- support to help children and young people move between phases of education (for example from early years to school, from primary to secondary)
- sources of information, advice and support in the local authority’s area relating to SEN and disabilities including information and advice provided under Section 32 of the Children and Families Act 2014, forums for parents and carers and support groups
- childcare, including suitable provision for disabled children and those with SEN
- leisure activities
- support available to young people in higher education, particularly the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and the process and timescales for making an application for DSA
- arrangements for resolving disagreements and for mediation, and details about making complaints
- parents’ and young people’s rights to appeal a decision of the local authority to the First-tier Tribunal (SEN and disability) in respect of SEN and provision
- the local authority’s accessibility strategy (under paragraph 1 Schedule 10 to the Equality Act 2010)
- institutions approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014
4.33 The above will include arrangements for supporting children who are looked after by the local authority and have SEN.
What about Schools' Local Offer?
The Local Offer website is the duty of the local authority but the SEND Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 say schools must publish their own detailed information about their arrangements for identifying, assessing and making provision for pupils with SEN (see Chapter 6, Schools). It must also include information about arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils, the steps taken to prevent disabled pupils from being treated less favourably than other pupils, the facilities provided to assist access for disabled pupils and the schools’ accessibility plans. The school-specific information should relate to the schools’ arrangements for providing a graduated response to children’s SEN. It should elaborate on the information provided at a local authority wide level in the Local Offer. Check out our post here about school websites and the law
Health and social care
There is also a requirement for the LO to include information about the health and social care services available to children with disabilities. LAs must work with health bodies to ensure everything is included:
- services assisting relevant early years providers, schools and post-16 institutions to support children and young people with medical conditions, and
- arrangements for making those services which are available to all children and young people in the area accessible to those with SEN or disabilities
- It should also include:
- speech and language therapy and other therapies such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy and services relating to mental health (these must be treated as special educational provision where they educate or train a child or young person (see Chapter 9 paragraphs 9.73 to 9.76)
- wheelchair services and community equipment, children’s community nursing, continence services
- palliative and respite care and other provision for children with complex health needs
- other services, such as emergency care provision and habilitation support
- provision for children and young people’s continuing care arrangements (including information on how these are aligned with the local process for developing EHC plans, which is described in Chapter 3), and
- support for young people when moving between healthcare services for children to healthcare services for adults
- leisure activities
- support for young people when moving between social care services for children to social care services for adults, including information on how and when the transfer is made
- support for young people in living independently and finding appropriate accommodation and employment
Local authorities must provide a range of short breaks for disabled children, young people and their families, and prepare a short breaks duty statement giving details of the local range of services and how they can be accessed, including any eligibility criteria (The Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011). Local authorities must publish a short breaks statement on their website and review it on a regular basis, taking account of the needs of local parents and carers. The statement will therefore form a core part of the Local Offer.SEND CoP 4.44
The Care Act
(4.56) The Care Act 2014 requires local authorities to establish and maintain a service for providing people in its area with information and advice about the adult care and support system.
When young people reach 18, they fall under the Care Act, if they are eligible for social care services. As such, the Local Offer website needs to include all the information needed about the adult care and support system. This should include information on types of care and support, local provision and how to access it, accessing financial advice in relation to it and how to raise concerns. LAs must indicate in their Local Offer where this information can be found.
And make it easy to understand too, with easy-read, animations, or video so young disabled adults can help themselves as well.
Parent carers of disabled children often have significant needs for support, to enable them to support their children effectively. It is important that children’s and adult services work together to ensure needs are met. The Local Offer must set out the support groups and others who can support parent carers of disabled children and how to contact them. Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 gives individuals with parental responsibility for a disabled child the right to an assessment of their needs by a local authority.
Local authorities must assess on the appearance of need, as well as on request, and must explicitly have regard to the wellbeing of parent carers in v undertaking an assessment of their needs. Following a parent carer’s needs assessment, the local authority must decide whether the parent carer needs support to enable them to support their disabled child and, if so, decide whether to provide services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Relevant services may include short breaks provision and support in the home.SEND CoP 4.45
I've included this here because while many LOs will have the relevant information, parents find getting a carer's assessment is as rare as finding a functioning British coronavirus track and trace app.
Information about EHCPs & how to appeal
4.57 The Local Offer must include information about how to request a needs assessment for an EHC plan. A request is likely to happen where special educational provision currently being made for them by their early years setting, school or college from their own resources, is not enabling the child or young person to make adequate progress.
The Local Offer must provide information for children, parents and young people about where to get information and advice, such as information about the SEND Information, Advice and Support service (IAS)
(4.58) The information should include:
- how the local authority will consider a request for an assessment and inform parents and young people of their decision
- how parents, children and young people will be involved in the assessment process
- what support is available to help families during the needs assessment process and the development of an EHC plan
- the timescales involved in the assessment process
- the process for making an EHC plan and must include:
- information about the option of having a Personal Budget, including a local policy for Personal Budgets, produced with parents and young people. This should provide:
- a description of the services across education, health and social care that currently lend themselves to the use of Personal Budgets
- the mechanisms of control for funding available to parents and young people including direct payments, arrangements and third party arrangements (see Chapter 9, Education, Health and Care needs assessments and plans)
- clear and simple statements setting out eligibility criteria and the decision-making processes that underpin them
- the support available to help families manage a Personal Budget
- arrangements for complaints, mediation, disagreement resolution and appeals
How well does your do?
Is it accessible?
Not only should it be accessible for disabled people, but it should also be mobile-friendly. Many parents do not have access to computers and rely on their smartphones to use the internet. Your local offer should take this into account, including search facilities and ways to save information.
As well as this, where most fail is that the information isn't also provided in other formats such as easy read. Ways to do this are readily available so there's no excuse. They should be including disabled people's organisations to ensure that this information is available.
How do I find my area's local offer website?
We've put together an up-to-date list, as of June 2020, of all the Local Offer websites in England. You can download it as a PDF here, and as a webpage here
What LAs should be doing now
Local authorities should be working with families, young people, and representatives from education, health and social care to review its local offer website. They should also be conducting audits of their LO website as a whole. A full audit should find any gaps, areas that are not legally compliant, out-of-date content, check for broken links, incorrect information, accessibility, mobile-friendliness and how easy it is to understand at first glance.
This is just a shortened version of the whole chapter and regs. LAs should be ensuring it's read in its entirety and then acted upon. Again, this isn't a nice-to-have, it's the law.
Again, if you'd like to find out about how we can help you with any of this, get in touch.
- Improving SEND provision: Co-produced resources for the whole school
- How a parent held her council to account for its SEND failures
- Using the Monitoring Officer to hold councils to account for housing, education and social services
- Does your school’s website break the law?
- Naming Independent Special schools in a new EHCP: All about Section 41
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