We’re almost there, aren’t we!
It’s not long to go now before the end of the academic year for 2016/17. I know that some people working in the education sector are already starting to slow down, but I also know for others that this is the busiest time of the year; for example, with exams.
(I have two daughters who are currently taking exams – one who is about half-way through her ‘O’ Levels/’GCSEs’ and another starting her ‘A’ Levels (it’s all very confusing though this year with new Grades).
As I always say at this time of year, the next couple of months are the busiest time of the year for me every year, as I am helping with lots of cases/appeals to the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) Tribunal, trying to get children and young people into appropriate school and college placements for this coming September.
In this Update you will find sections entitled:
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HOW ARE WE DOING… (SEN STATS)
When I said that ‘We’re Almost There!’ in the title of this update, it actually had a double-meaning to it, because this phrase not only applies to the end of the academic year, but it could also be said to apply to the change that we have been undertaking during the past few years to the new SEN framework with the introduction of the Children & Families Act 2014 and the ongoing requirement to transfer Statements of SEN to Education, Health & Care (EHC) Plans, by 1 April 2018.
My anecdotal evidence, as I have said before, is varied. I do realise that often a parent only comes to see me when they are already having difficulties usually with their Local Authorities (LA), for failing to do things properly or to stick to legal timescales.
Fortunately for me, at around this time of year, the Department for Education/Government usually produces their annual statistics and analysis about Statements and EHC Plans (most recently) in England.
The latest version was issued on their website at the end of May 2017 and there are a number of different versions that you can find here.
The webpage states:
‘This statistical first release (SFR) includes information on:
It is based on the statutory SEN2 data collection.’
I would mainly like to refer here to the last of these 4 bullet points by referring to the document entitled ‘SFR 22/2017’ which runs to just 4 pages. It makes for very interesting reading.
However, I need to initially give you some background context as well.
The opening section is entitled: ‘The total number of statements and EHC plans has continued to increase…’ and states as follows:
'There were 175,233 children and young people with statutory Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans and 112,057 children and young people with statements of special educational needs (SEN) maintained by local authorities as at January 2017. This gives a combined total of 287,290, an increase of 30,975 (12.1%) from 256,315 as at January 2016.
The combined number of children and young people with statements and EHC plans has increased each year since 2010.’
Alongside this, the document has a graph/table dating back to 2010 which shows that, although there has was a year by year increase slightly on, initially Statements, and then, from 2015, EHC Plans, the most significant increase has been during the past year.
The document then has a second (alongside another graph/table) with statements such as:
There then are 11 sections in the report dealing with things like:
There is also information about things like ‘Personal Budgets’ and ‘Mediation Cases’.
However, I would like to concentrate here on the section entitled ‘Transfers from statements of SEN and learning difficulty assessments (LDAs) to EHC Plans’, which states as follows:
Transferring children and young people with statements and young people receiving support as a result of a learning difficulty assessment (LDA) to EHC plans will be phased. Timescales are set out in Special educational needs and disability: managing the September 2014 changes to the system.
Every local authority has published a Local Transition Plan setting out the timings for transfers to the new system.
There were 182,106 children and young people with statements as at January 2016. By January 2017, there were 59,545 children and young people transferred from statements to EHC plans; this is equal to 32.7% of the statements that were in place as at January 2016. By January 2017, 1,824 children and young people with statements were assessed and a decision was made not to issue an EHC plan.
Between January 2016 and August 2016, there were 5,283 young people transferred from LDAs to EHC plans and 887 young people with LDAs assessed and a decision was made not to issue an EHC plan.’
I know that I have discussed the difficulties with transfers from Statements to EHC plans in my previous updates, but it does concern me to read that now, with less than a year to go until the legal deadline for children and young people to be transferred from statements to EHC Plans, we still seem to be not as far along as we should be?
I do wonder whether people in the Department for Education/Government, are, metaphorically, ‘sticking their heads in the sand’, because it may be unrealistic to expect LAs to be able to properly transfer all of their statements to EHC Plans by next April 2018, without just rushing through things as ‘tick-box’ exercises, or just not being able to do them within legal timescales/in time.
Is it just me that thinks like this? (If so, I apologise for taking up your time). I am sorry to go on about this issue, but it really does cause me some concern and, if not, it is only fair that I share my concerns with you.
I guess we will just have to wait to see what happens…
CAN THIS HELP YOU? (SEND BOOK)
I was delighted to recently attend a book launch for ‘Special educational needs and disability discrimination in schools - a legal handbook’, written by Sarah Hannett, Aileen McColgan and Elizabeth Prochaska (who are all barristers at Matrix) and published by the Legal Action Group (LAG).
It runs to 450 pages (including appendices) and concentrates on the new SEN framework brought about by the Children and Families Act in 2014 and talks in details about the legal requirements of EHC assessments & plans and other things such as school transport and appealing to the SEND Tribunal.
‘The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced the biggest changes to the SEN legislative framework in over 30 years. Statements of SEN have been replaced by EHC plans to recognise that a child’s education, health and social needs should be viewed holistically and the framework now includes children and young people up to the age of 25.
This practical guide covers the law and policy of SEN and disability discrimination in schools with detailed step-by-step guidance on the process for obtaining EHC plans and SEN appeals. Aimed primarily at the parents of children and young people with SEN, it is an accessible guide to the complex web of education legislation, policy and procedure. It will also be an invaluable resource for legal advisers, local authority SEN officers, teachers and professionals working in the field of education.’
I recommended it highly and can do better than to quote from the 5 out of 5 star Amazon review that I found online which states:
‘UNPICKING A TANGLED WEB:
AN AUTHORITATIVE, EASY TO READ HANDBOOK FROM LAG ON A DIFFICULT AREA OF LAW
Lawyers, teachers and other professionals dealing with children and young people with special educational needs will welcome this latest publication from the highly regarded Legal Action Group (LAG).
True to their well-known stated aims, LAG continue to produce authoritative and meticulously researched legal texts and handbooks written by experts who actually insist that such publications should be clearly written and, ideally, understandable to lay readers as well as professionals.
This new handbook is no exception. It deals with education law in the wake of the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, which, as far as this area of education law is concerned, has created a new legal landscape in which the ‘old’ concept of SEN, “Special Educational Needs”, in place under the Education Act 1996, has been replaced by EHC: education, health and care. Where formerly these three elements of support were dealt with separately -- compartmentalized in effect -- the concept of EHC recognizes that a child’s educational and health needs should be viewed holistically.
Writing in the foreword, Tribunal Judge Jane McConnell refers to this conceptual shift as the biggest change in the legislative framework in over thirty years. The aim for local authorities (by 2018 it is hoped) will, in her words, ‘bring the process closer to the original goal of a child or young person being considered as a whole individual.’
As she further explains, the book is not intended as a simple guide to this area of practice. It is a legal handbook offering in-depth legal research and comment provided by three editors who are experts in this field. This is a reliable resource, she adds, which can be relied upon ‘to help you unpick what might be otherwise considered a tangled web of legal rights, policy and practice.’
The editors explain further that this is a book for representatives who appear on behalf of children and young people (to age 25) in the First Tier Tribunal (FTT). It meets an urgent need for a specialist text in this area of law -- one that’s as useful to parents as it is to specialist practitioners.’
So, if you or someone you know is professionally or personally involved with a child or young person with SEND, then I would urge you to purchase this and make it your ‘bible’.
The book ordinarily retails for £45, I believe, but I see that on Amazon they are selling it in the paperback version for £38.43 and as a Kindle edition for £36.51 currently.
Personally, I have already bought the paperback version and have also got hold of the Kindle edition as well! This is because I am still old school where I like to stick labels on to pages to look at later, but I also appreciate access to new technology with eBook versions, where I can instantly search and find a word or phrase, or have the text read out loud to me, which I can do on my Kindle or Kindle App for my phone/tablet/PC.
I have also been in touch with the good people at LAG, who have kindly offered me a £10 discount to a special price of £35 for readers of my ‘SEN Updates’ and users of www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk if you order by 31 July 2017 using their flyer which you can find here.
They have also put a sample chapter up on their website which is free of charge, which you can find here (it is chapter two and can be downloaded by clicking the sample chapter button).
I know that the price of law texts are expensive, but this may be useful for you now, or in the future, and I know they have had also many sales of another legal handbook called: ‘Disabled Children’ through a number of parent forums and third sector groups.
But for the lawyer and adviser market, I think that still remains very good value!
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
In my last update I highlighted three events coming up, and I am glad to say that there is still enough time (just, in some) for you to attend one of these first two events below.
I would recommend the following:
As I said in my last update, I hope to be at the Autism Show in London next week, so if you see me there, please stop me and say ‘hello’ if you can.
(I have also found that the Centre for Child Mental Health run another 1 day event on mental health training for teachers which you can find on their website at www.childmentalhealthcentre.org).
“THEY’RE THE ONLY ONES I COULD REACH!”
As you may know, I have only been using a wheelchair for about 7 years now and, therefore, can often provide insights as both a non-disabled and disabled person.
To end this update today, I would like to tell you a story about the day that I took possession of my electric wheelchair for the first time, which gave me a lot more independence (it is actually quite a strain to have to push yourself in a wheelchair, even for someone like me who considers himself to be quite physically fit!)
I was quite excited to take possession of my electric wheelchair for the first time and to get some of my independence back again, so I decided to immediately go down to the local high street and visit Tesco to buy some flowers for my wife, Erica, something which I had not been able to do for a long while by then.
So, I soon set off by myself along the pavement but, although I found a safe place to cross our road, from one pavement’s dropped kerb to one on the other side, I did not realise that I had forgotten to put on the anti-tip wheels at the back of my new chair (which are there, as they imply, to prevent you from tipping backwards).
So, as I was about to roll up on to the other side (and unfortunately, as you may know from my previous updates, dropped kerbs are not always as flat as they should be), my chair tipped backwards and I immediately fell in the same way and out of my chair. Thankfully, I instinctively raised my head as I was falling, so that although I did knock my head going down, it was not as bad as it could have been.
But then, to my embarrassment, I found myself the centre of attention and was helped by a number of people who came to my assistance and to find out if I was alright. They helpfully got me back into my wheelchair (I wanted to scurry away as quickly as possible, as I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest) and I carried on my with my mission to get to Tesco and buy Erica the flowers.
I eventually got to Tesco and bought the flowers but then returned in my wheelchair trying to hold them without damaging them. I ultimately got back home where I presented them to Erica when she opened the door.
Of course, with the intervening fall and my getting to learn how to operate the wheelchair and how to manoeuvre it, as well as time taken around Tesco (I’m afraid that since it was on my first time out by myself like this for a few years, I also took the opportunity to have a little look at other things along some of the aisles), so I only arrived back about an hour later.
Erica immediately expressed some concern as to why I had taken so long. However, she saw the flowers in my hands which I then presented to her and so she immediately smiled at me and said:
“These are nice; why did you buy these for me?”
But exhaustedly I simply replied:
“They’re the only ones I could reach!”
With good wishes
by Douglas Silas, specialist SEN Solicitor