Firstly, let me say Happy New Year and wish you a good and peaceful 2017.
This is my first update for the chronological year 2017 - in this update, you find sections entitled:
As I always say, I know how busy everyone is, so please feel free to either just read the sections that are of interest to you or read everything; the choice is always yours.
Don’t forget, to ensure that you never miss out on one, you can get my SEN updates personally by completing your email details below, using our App ‘SEN.fyi’, or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use at the bottom of this page.
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WE’RE WATCHING YOU (JOINT OFSTED/CQC INSPECTIONS)
From April last year, Ofsted and CQC (the Care Quality Commission) now jointly inspect local areas, to see how well they are fulfilling their responsibilities to children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).
This was following the Government issuing a document entitled: ‘The Framework for the Inspection of Local Areas’ Effectiveness in Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Children and Young People Who Have Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities’.
It is a fairly short document, running to just 12 pages and, aside from explaining about ‘Inspections of Local Areas and Providers’, it also explains other things, including chapters entitled: ‘The Purpose of Inspections’, ‘The Focus of Inspections’ and ‘Conduct During Inspections’.
It states that:
“The inspection leads to a published report that:
“It is important to note that these inspections will evaluate how effectively the local area meets its responsibilities, and not just the local authority. The local area includes the local authority, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), public health, NHS England for specialist services, early year’s settings, schools and further education providers.”
During an inspection, inspectors are supposed to visit providers (e.g. nurseries, schools, colleges and specialist services, such as Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services [CAMHS]). Inspections are supposed to be constructive for local areas, as well as to be able to hold them to account.
Inspectors will provide a ‘Written Statement Of Action’ if they find that something is ‘not fit for purpose’, which will make recommendations as to how to improve things. The local area should then make these changes.
Things that inspections look at include (this is not an exhaustive list):
One of the things that inspections focus on are how well the local area communicates with children & young people and their parents or carers, to ensure that these primary users are clear about the identification and assessment process and the criteria used to make decisions.
In my last update for Autumn (Half) Term 2016/17, which was published on 4th November 2016, I explained how the day before I had attended a conference held by the Westminster Education Forum entitled: ‘Policy priorities for SEND - implementing local area inspections, raising educational outcomes and extending support for families’.
There were two main sessions. The first session was a joint presentation entitled ‘Implementing the new joint Ofsted-CQC local area inspections’, which was given by Joanna Hall, from Ofsted/HMI and Nigel Thompson, from the CQC.
They both made it clear to the audience that they want to get as many people involved as possible when inspecting areas, because they want to look at the way people work together to improve outcomes as they want everyone now to work in partnership. (They also made the point that they were not inspecting individual institutions)
I understand that there have so far been 13 reports issued thus far (as of 13th December 2016), but you can find out more here.
WORD ON THE STREET (LEE SCOTT REPORT)
Which leads me on nicely to this section.
I know that many years ago there was widespread media attention over the publication of the Scott report (about the Government selling arms to Iraq), but there was also another lesser-publicised Scott report published last year (by the Government) written by Lee Scott, published in November 2016, entitled: ‘SEND: The Schools and Colleges Experience (A Report to the Secretary of State for Education)’.
This was also a short report, running to just 13 pages. In his introduction, Lee Scott (an ex-MP and well-known advocate about SEND for many years) said that he had spent 2½ months speaking to parents, young people, schools and colleges and had also met with a range of individuals who provide services and support directly to families.
‘It is important that this report is seen clearly for what it is. I have not undertaken a long-term, scientific study of the national landscape, nor can I claim that I have heard from a representative sample of parents and young people. Discussion did not follow a set structure, but was deliberately open to allow people to express themselves without constraint, which I believe helped to ensure that what I heard was frank and real. The nature of the work that I did, and the time I was able to devote to it, necessarily meant I had to rely on a limited sample. That said, it was apparent that some of the same themes arose in a number of discussions and written representations I received, and my report focuses on these.’
His key themes covered ‘Communication’,’ The Right Level Of Support’, ‘Funding’, ‘Legislation’, ‘The Voluntary And Community Sector’, ‘The Link Between Education And Health’, and ‘Age 19 Upwards’.
The best summary that I could find was on the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) website, which stated:
‘Lee Scott has years of experience working with young people with SEND and has been an advocate for disability campaigns, including the UK Autism Foundation. His fieldwork put him in touch with more than 200 parents and young people. In summary, his findings were:
When reading the report myself, I was most struck by what Scott said about ‘Communication’, so I have quoted some of it here, as follows:
I think this lies at the heart of things. I was pleased to hear several examples of families who had had good experiences of the system. A common theme was that, when families were properly engaged, this often led to trust and understanding. Where that was achieved, the quality of support for children and young people was higher, and families had a more realistic understanding of what a school, college, or local authority could provide. In some ways, this is even more important for children and young people with SEND who did not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans. For those children and young people, who are on SEN support (i.e. support provided by schools and colleges where needs are not severe enough to warrant an EHC plan) sometimes it’s less clear what the child’s or young people’s needs are, or schools and colleges may not always identify and understand their needs in the same way their parents do.
Communication works both ways – it’s not just about being nice to each other, it’s about being clear, honest, and assertive. It’s also about empathy – something that isn’t always easy to achieve, if, for example, you’ve had no personal experience of caring for a child with SEND, or if you have little understanding of the issues faced by children who are adopted and their parents.
The fact that some people are getting this right means that it’s possible for others too. It’s not really about funding – it’s about culture and systems. It would be good to find ways of capturing and replicating good practice in this area. I also feel that it’s important that the government, and other leadership agencies, continue to send out strong messages about the importance of good communication with families. Improvement in this area, across all agencies and in every area, would go a long way to making a reality of the ‘person- centred’ approach the SEND system is trying to achieve. It has the power to be transformative.’
The report has received both praise and criticism. For example, the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) said:
‘This is a useful addition to the information we have about the lives of children and their families and the recommendations should be taken seriously.’
However, I also read one criticism, which stated:
“Anyone who thinks that dialogue alone is now the way to resolve our problems should reconsider, in the same terms with which Oscar Wilde viewed marriage: if the Children and Families Act was the triumph of imagination over intelligence, the Code of Practice is the triumph of hope over experience”
ADLZ Insight Blog
For my part, I see this new SEND framework (can I call it ‘new’ still, given that we are now in 2017 and it came into force in September 2014?), as still a ‘Work In Progress’…
JOIN MY TEAM (SOLICITOR VACANCY)
People often compliment me about the fact that I always keep a very dedicated team around me, albeit a small one - by choice, as I like to keep it that way, as it allows me to continue to provide a highly personal and specialised service to people.
I am hoping this year to add another solicitor to my team to help me with our ever increasing, exciting and varied casework. This will be a fantastic opportunity for someone with ambition who wants to develop their potential and will ideally suit someone who has already worked for one or two firms (maybe in other areas of law), but who now wishes to settle at our firm for the long-term and develop a name for themselves in our highly specialist area of law.
If you, or somebody you know, may be a suitable candidate then I would be pleased to hear from you or them. I have listed on our Vacancy Page the skills that are required, together with other details.
RECENT/FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
I have discussed above the topic of ‘Inspections’ that was raised at the Westminster Education Forum in early November 2016; but, at the end of November, as I was at a hearing that day, a colleague of mine attended the annual Education Law Conference, run by 11KBW, a set of Barrister’s Chambers.
I understand that one part of the conference focused on SEND issues and I believe that there was discussion at one point about whether or not it was right for EHC plans for 19-25 year olds to be allowed to overlap issues of education with social care, particularly for young people with learning difficulties in care who may seem to fall into both categories.
I am not going to spend time here expanding on this, as I was not there personally; but I am sure that this is an issue for many people coming at it from differing perspectives and therefore I just wanted to mention it here.
In terms of forthcoming SEN events, the only things that I have noticed coming up in the next couple of months are the:
I will be speaking again this year for Jordans (for the 13th time!) so if you are there, or at the CDC conference in Leeds, and see me, please stop by and say ‘hello’ if you can.
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
In November 2016, I successfully completed my 7th annual 5-day international bike ride to raise funds for Norwood, a charity that supports children and young people with disabilities, using my specially modified recumbent trike.
As you probably already know, I have a degenerative, neurological condition (Cerebellar Ataxia). Five years ago, my life was changed, as with my friends, Paul (Tuhrim) and Stephen (Harrison), to support me, I went on my first (and I thought last) international bike ride across southern Israel.
Since then, I have cycled with (various flavours of) ‘Team Douglas’ across Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Israel (twice) and then twice more across Israel with my son, Zachi; something that I never dreamed of. By doing this, we have now raised well over £150,000 for Norwood.
This time we (including Zachi) cycled across northern Israel again, up the steep climbs of Golan Heights, over Mount Tabor and across the spectacular mountain pass from Ein Herod to Nordia.
But this time was a very special ride for me as, not only did I do it again with Zachi, but I was joined this time also by my friend Sam (Cohen), who also has a degenerative condition called Usher Syndrome. This means that Sam was born with partial-hearing, but has progressively also lost all of his sight over the years, so that he is now totally blind.
Imagine cycling blindfolded on the back of a tandem controlled by someone else, but also having a pair of earplugs in so you can’t hear very well. Frightening, isn’t it?
It took a little while for us to convince Sam that he could and should do this ride (he cycled with another friend of ours called Ashley [Fulton]). I warned him from the start that it would be one of the best experiences that he would ever have in life and that, once he had done it, his life would never be the same again.
Well, I can happily confirm to you now that, having seen it with my own eyes, Sam’s life has been totally transformed, first in the few months leading up to the ride, then the week of the ride itself.
Although there is no doubting the effort he put in, the sense of achievement it gave him and the great week he had, for me, one of the nicest things was that, as a surprise, Paul and Stephen also flew Sam’s wife out to see him come in at the end.
In fact, Sam has now got a very busy social life, going to the gym and also ‘Spinning’ classes every week; he is now even signed up and preparing to run a half-marathon next year, tethered to Stephen!
As I put it at the end of our fundraising page, this time entitled ‘Team Sam and Douglas’:
“Two teams, two disabilities, two people on two bikes …
This time we are making twice the effort!”
So you see, it’s better when you do it twice…
With best wishes
by Douglas Silas, specialist SEN Solicitor