The SEN System - 1 year on...
What were the main changes introduced by the SEND Code of practice?
The main changes were that:
- Statements of SEN would be replaced with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)
- EHCPs would run from birth to 25 years (instead of from 2 to 19 as with Statements)
- The two school-based stages in mainstream schools for the majority of children without a Statement (School Action and School Action Plus) would be replaced by just one stage, known as SEN Support.
One of the main themes behind the changes was to seek better integration of education, health and care provision. Many parents also hoped that it would now be easier to get a preferred placement named in an EHCP as, apart from maintained schools, there were also new rights to request non-maintained schools, academies and colleges. In addition, as well as every Local Authority (LA) having to produce a Local Offer, there were also personal budgets.
Most importantly, it called for children and young people with SEN (and their parents/families) to be put at the heart of the process.
What seems to have worked?
All in all, most parents of children with SEN and young people with SEN themselves (who now automatically are transferred legal rights when they turn 16, provided they are deemed to have “mental capacity”) have been pleased overall with the changes, as they now focus more holistically on the child or young person’s needs.
Both parents and professionals also say that they like the idea of working together towards mutually agreed outcomes, which now also take account of health and social care needs.
What does not seem to have worked?
Unfortunately, although the vast majority of LAs said that they were ready for the changes, it soon became apparent that many were not. This included, amongst other things, the need to now provide comprehensive information about SEN support available in their area (the Local Offer) and the process of transferring Statements to EHCPs. Some LA's Local Offers were also issued later than required and then found to be vague or missing relevant information; some LAs also found it hard to comply with timescales for transferring certain Statements to EHCPs.
What are/were the timescales for EHC assessments/transfers?
The EHC assessment process (from initial request through issuing an EHCP) is now 20 weeks instead of 26 weeks. Although LAs still have 6 weeks by law to respond to a request for an assessment, the timescales for an assessment, the issues of a proposed EHCP and finalising it, are left to the LA to determine within the full 20 weeks, as opposed to each step of the process being prescribed by law, as it was previously.
The transfer process to convert a Statement to an EHC plan was usually initiated by a meeting which started the process, known as a transfer review. The transfer process is supposed to take 14 weeks (20 weeks less the 6 weeks to request the assessment) and this was supposed to include sufficient time to conduct a proper reassessment of the child/young person, although it was open to the LA/parents/young person and the author of whatever report they are relying on, to use the same reports as previously, rather than having to seek new ones.
Have timescales been met?
Although many LAs tried/try to stick to timescales, some have not always been able to comply and said/say that they did not feel that they had enough time to get all the information that they needed, especially as they now had to get additional information from health and care services. This sometimes resulted in poor assessments being conducted too quickly, poor plans being produced or EHCPs being rushed out.
It was also noted that there now appeared to be more refusals to assess or make an EHCP after an assessment, and that transferred EHCPs were often just watered down Statements.
Are there common approaches?
Many LAs are really trying to integrate the spirit of “working together” when drafting EHCPs. However, some parents feel that there are now too many unnecessary meetings, which hold up the process. Some schools and/or parents are also being asked to complete “standard” application forms when making a request, but then they (and, in particular, schools who may have done a lot of the same work for many different children and young people for the LA) find that their request for assessment is either still turned down at the first hurdle, or when an assessment is agreed, the LA subsequently conducts the assessment and then says that there is no need for them to issue an EHCP. This obviously wastes a lot of time and manpower.
Are there any common problems?
The most common problem that I have noticed was to do with the transferring of Statements to EHCPs being used as an excuse to reduce provision, or to make it less specific. I have also seen a number of schools that seem to have been given all the hard work to do by the LA for an assessment/transfer, but then found that they have been doing all of this work for nothing (as the LA has not used it).
I have also seen LAs indicate to a parent that they will issue an EHCP after an assessment and will even name their preferred school in it, only for the parents to then be told that an EHCP will not be issued. Other parents have been told by LAs that their child’s needs are being met in the independent special school that they attend, which the parents are funding privately, so therefore there is no need for an assessment!
Is the system working?
My main concern is that we seem to have undertaken this massive task at a time of funding cuts. Currently, every LA seems to have a different way of doing things. Yet each LA seems to think that they are doing everything correctly and that it is the others who are doing it wrong, which does not make sense if they are all doing things differently.
On the whole, though, I do believe that we are moving in the right direction. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far one way and it will have to go back too far the other way before it can settle down in the middle. I remain hopeful, however, that subject to there being enough time to effect a proper cultural change (for both parents and LAs), things will sort themselves out in the near future.
adapted from original article by Douglas Silas for SEN Magazine