As I always like to say at this point of the year at the start of the summer term, we are already now nearly at the end of another academic year once more.
In this SEN Update, you will find sections entitled:
As I always say, I know how busy everyone is, so please feel free to read just 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, or by following me on one of the Social Media platforms that I use, at the top of this page.
You can also share this update with others (please only do so if it may be relevant to them) by using one of the icons usually to the right or at the bottom of this page.
(please note that this section is longer than usual,
as there is so much information that I need to pack in here)
ITS ALL ABOUT...TIMING! (PHASE TRANSFERS)
At this time of year, many parents of children with SEN, or young people with SEN themselves often get very anxious and worried.
This is because, in September (just 4 months away – or just 3, if you discount August/the Summer holidays), many children with SEN are due to be starting primary/infant school or transferring from primary/middle school to secondary school.
Also, many young people with SEN are due to be transferring from secondary school to post-16 placements (e.g. colleges, as well as schools), or from post-16 placements to post-18/19 placements.
This is also because, if they have not been given their preferred choice of school/placement, then they now start to realise that they only have a very limited time left to do something to, for example, challenge an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan (if they have one) through an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal.
The law about EHC plans (quoting the SEND Code of Practice 2015) states as follows:
‘Transfer between phases of education
An EHC plan must be reviewed and amended in sufficient time prior to a child or young person moving between key phases of education, such as:
· Early years provider to school
· Infant school to junior school
· Primary school to middle school
· Primary school to secondary school, and
· Middle school to secondary school
Reviews and amendments must be completed by 15 February in the calendar year of the transfer at the latest for transfers into or between schools.
For young people moving from secondary school to post-16 institutions or apprenticeships, the review and any amendments to the EHC plan (including specifying the post-16 provision/naming the institution) must be completed by 31 March in the calendar year of the transfer.
Where it is proposed that a young person is to transfer from one post-16 institution to another within the following 12 months, the LA must review and amend (where necessary) the young person’s EHC plan at least five months before the transfer takes place in all cases.’
So, for children coming to the end of Year 6 and starting Year 7/secondary school in September 2019, or children who are starting their primary schooling in September 2019, their next placements should have been determined and their EHC Plans finalised by 15 February 2019.
This is, theoretically, enough time to give parents the right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal and have their cases heard by the end of the academic year in July 2019.
(Following a 12 week timetable from registration to hearing, with 2 additional weeks set aside at the beginning for registration [after an appeal is lodged] and 2 weeks set aside at the end after the hearing [to produce a written decision]).
For young people with SEN who are transferring to post-16/18/19 placements, their next placements should have been determined and their EHC Plans finalised by 31 March 2019.
This is, again, to allow them the right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal and have their cases heard by the end of the academic year in July 2019. (This is often with their parents supporting them, provided they have 'mental capacity', otherwise it is often their parents who bring the appeal for them).
Well, that’s the theory…
However, there is an appeal window of 2 months from the date of the issue of the final EHC Plan to bring an appeal (i.e. by 14 April 2019 or 30 May 2019) and there is also a requirement (since the new SEN framework was brought into effect from September 2014) only to be able to appeal against the contents of an EHC plan after they have obtained a Certificate of Mediation before they can lodge an appeal.
They then need to appeal within one month of a certificate being issued following mediation, or the parent or young person being given mediation information.
You do not have to be a genius to work out that, if you do not appeal quickly (in relation to secondary transfer and especially in appeals for post-16 provision), then with a 12-week (+4) timetable, the need to get a mediation certificate and the 2-month (potentially +) window to appeal, you are very lucky to get an appeal listed for hearing before the end of the academic year in primary/secondary cases and even more so in post-16/18/19 cases).
In previous years, this has unfortunately led to situations sometimes where parents or young people have had their appeals listed for hearing in September (or even October/November), in relation to where they should go to in September.
Unless parents of children/young people agree to (or let them) have an extended summer holiday, are home-educated, or decide to in the meantime go to the school/placement put forward by the Local Authority (LA) then, unless it can be shown clearly that the school/placement that they are appealing against is inappropriate, the LA/their proposed school may then argue that the child/young person is doing well/has settled in and should not be moved.
If this happens, the person bringing the appeal may then end up undermining their own appeal for a different school/placement.
To be as fair as possible, I should also say that many LAs also find themselves in difficulties with sometimes no previous notice of a potential dispute until they receive an appeal (with then less time to prepare) and being faced with an increasing number of appeals from parents/young people who wish to challenge a future placement and lodge appeals, sometimes at the last minute, so that the LA often find themselves on the back foot and under pressure of dealing with many appeals at the same time, at the very end of the academic year.
I am afraid that both sides can’t win.
These issues can lead to a number of difficulties, especially because, as I said in my last SEN Update, the current number of appeals to the Tribunal has risen considerably in the last few years from an average of about 3,500 a year to last year being about 5,500 a year (and this looks to be increasing this year, although we will not know actual figures until next year probably).
Fortunately, the Tribunal has recognised these difficulties in recent years and, some years ago, pulled down the (then) 20-week normal timetable to 12 weeks for secondary transfer appeals from registering the appeal to hearing (they tried coming down further to 7 weeks in the first year for post-16 cases, but this proved unsatisfactory).
I am also pleased to report that the Tribunal has recently brought on about 20 new Tribunal Judges to help them deal with the ever-increasing workload.
And, this year for the first time, the Tribunal has said that they will be willing to hold hearings ‘on the papers’ (i.e. without a hearing in person) in August (which is usually the month when people are away on their summer holidays, so the Tribunal does not usually hold hearings during that time, as people are generally away and not able to come as witnesses to give evidence in person), but only if both parties agree and the LA has already served its response to the appeal.
This is all well and good I hear you say, but if we are a parent of a child with SEN/young person with SEN, or a professional doing this work, what do you suggest we do?
Well, over the years, whilst I have noticed an increasing number of parents who come to see me early for help in relation to what they believe will be a forthcoming dispute/appeal about an EHC plan, unfortunately, I am also conscious that I have noticed an increasing number of people only coming to see me at the last minute, who want me to help them as much as I can, even at a late stage (again, to be fair, lawyers who work for LAs also tell me that they only get approached sometimes at the last minute).
Obviously, it is always easier for me (and others) to help people when they come to me/others as early as possible (the irony is that it is not actually just about having the appeals heard earlier, but it is often possible to help them avoid an appeal in the first place).
But, unless this may be a position you now realise that you find yourself in next year and therefore still have time to do something, the most important thing I can really say to you here, if you find yourself in a predicament and with your back against the wall, is not to give up hope...
This is because every year, I/others can still help people, even at a late stage, by either taking over their appeal for them (usually before the Further Evidence stage/deadline), or supporting them themselves to bring an appeal, by showing them what to do and helping them ‘tighten up’ their appeal as much as possible.
In fact, this year things are slightly easier (and cheaper to do), because the Tribunal has agreed to hear appeals ‘on the papers’ (i.e. without a hearing) during August, so it may still be possible for a parent/young people to get decisions on their school/placement and where they should go, in time for the start of the new academic year in September 2019 .
(It is more difficult for me to help people if they come to me after a Further Evidence deadline, whose appeal will be dealt with without a personal hearing, because there may be very little I can then do. However, if they are having a hearing in person, then I can still help them prepare for it).
The point that I am really trying to make here is that, there is always hope and it is always possible to do something often, but it is extremely important that somebody recognises a problem first and then does something about it as soon as possible.
I am afraid it is probably like telling a good joke, it is all about …timing!
NOT EVERYONE HAS AN EHC PLAN THOUGH
I know I have referred to above about there being increasing appeals to the SEND Tribunal about EHC plans, it is also important for me to point out that not all children and young people with SEN have an EHC plan.
So this leads me nicely on to talking to you about other difficulties I have noticed in the SEN world recently. The new SEN framework, which was brought into effect from September 2014, had a number of goals, including reducing the number of children with EHC plans (which replaced Statements of SEN).
But, unfortunately, this seems to have had unintended consequences and, actually, there seems to be more children (and now young people) with EHC plans.
As I see it, this problem seems to have come about in two ways:
This latter argument is a bit circular since, the logic dictates, that the more people who seek an EHC Plan, the less money there is available to make provision in maintained mainstream or special schools (or academies) and this has definitely not been helped when we have had funding cuts and austerity measures now for almost a decade and every year schools and LAs (and others) seem to be being asked to do more with less!
It is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes.
It strikes me as a bit sad that a lot of disputes cannot be resolved earlier and at a more amicable and local level, because I have noticed that the longer a dispute goes on, the more polarised and fixed in their beliefs people become and that they are then less willing to compromise on things, including their principles.
I am also a bit concerned that I sometimes see advisers/representatives (on both sides and both legal and otherwise) taking or defending appeals, and having unnecessary hearings, which do not really have appropriate chances of success.
This just ends up causing more difficulties for everyone emotionally, financially and practically than it should have done and, often, it is the child or young person with SEN who suffers in the end (with less money available to the school/LA or parents finding themselves lighter in the pocket and without money that could have been better spent on getting support (including therapy) for them.
I believe that many of these disputes could probably be resolved with better communication between the parties at an earlier stage.
FORTHCOMING SEN EVENTS
In terms of forthcoming SEN events that I think might be worth going to are:
A NAME, NOT A NUMBER!
Although I am physically disabled and a wheelchair user, as you may already know from reading this last section in my previous SEN Updates, I have done a number of international bike rides for charity over the past years (I am doing my 10th one later this year!)
I therefore keep myself as physically fit as possible, which requires me now to train 4-5 times a week with a trainer, usually in the gym. As I have a neurological and degenerative condition, which also affects other things like my sight and fine motor skills, as well as it affecting my mobility and coordination, I do not drive any longer (I gave up being behind the wheel of a car in 2011, because I was noticing a deterioration in my co-ordination and eyesight).
So, my wife, Erica, generally takes me to and from the gym in her (large) car, which also fits in it my wheelchair. As, I have been training in the gym for about 15 years, although people there now know me well as a regular by name, the gym that I go to (Pure Gym) requires members to go in and go out using a Pin Code, which they have to punch into a keyboard panel before a ‘pod’ door opens to let them in or out.
As I am not able to use my wheelchair to get in and out through the normal ‘pods’, I always have to use the more accessible (and normal, but still electronically locked) door to get in and out.
However, I am still required to punch my number in, before the door opens or closes and because it can be sometimes be quite difficult for me to punch in the right numbers (remember that I have fine motor and visual difficulties), so that they are recognised properly.
So, Erica usually does this for me using her Pin Code (she also goes to the gym herself once or twice a week). She says it often takes up a lot of her time waiting for me to enter my Pin Code, as it sometimes takes me a few attempts to enter it successfully and this can then last for three to five minutes, (which is, understandably, difficult to have to wait for, if she is rushing somewhere else.)
The funny thing here is that, over the years, Erica has been noted by Pure Gym as putting her number in quite regularly. So it always amuses me when she tells me that, she gets regular emails from Pure Gym now congratulating her on going to the gym so often and being so fit!
As I like to say to her now sometimes, she is taking the credit, without doing the work!
With good wishes
P.S. I always find it helpful to find out what people think about my updates, so please take a few seconds to tell me what you think by going to 'Summer Term 2018/19 'SEN Update – Your Thoughts’.
There are just 3 quick questions.