The SEN reforms: what parents need to know
On 1 September, the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force. Part 3 of this Act changes the way in which children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities receive support. The new legislation is intended to create a system which is better integrated, more responsive and which leads to better life outcomes for our children and young people. It is accompanied by a new SEN Code of Practice, which everyone – schools, nurseries, colleges, local authorities, health services – must have regard to.
Overall, the reforms are an improvement on the old system – particularly for young people in further education and training. The timing, however, couldn’t be worse. Fears have been raised that austerity-stricken councils could use the reforms to raise thresholds, reducing the number of children who qualify for support. The Department for Education has responded to these worries by categorically stating that “no-one should lose their statement and not have it replaced with an EHC plan simply because the system is changing”.
Councils have been given extra funding to help with the implementation of the reforms. For Sheffield, this equates to just over £1m in 2014/15, with further funding to be made available next year.
Education Health and Care Plans
Statements of SEN and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs) are being replaced by Education Health and Care Plans (EHC) plans, which are intended to be more holistic and person-centred. An EHC plan describes a child’s educational, health and social care needs and sets out the provision required to meet those needs and achieve agreed long-term outcomes.
Like statements, EHC plans are formal legal documents, and any provision specified in the relevant sections must be provided. EHC plans can be maintained up to the age of 25 provided the young person remains in education or training (whereas statements cease when a young person leaves school or turns 19).
All new statutory assessments must now be carried out under the new legislation. The EHC assessment process will involve more face-to-face discussions with the family and will take a maximum of 20 weeks (previously 26 weeks).
The threshold for EHC plans is the same as for statements, that is, where “the special educational provision necessary to meet the child or young person’s needs cannot be reasonably provided within the resources normally available to mainstream settings”. This is not the same as the threshold for “top-up” or “banded” funding. There are circumstances where it would be appropriate for a child or young person to have a plan but no top-up funding, or occasions where a child who receives top-up funding might not need a plan – it depends on what is best to meet the needs of the child or young person in question and help them achieve their outcomes.
Conversion of existing statements
Existing statements will gradually be converted into EHC plans during the next three and a half years. This will be done in cohorts, starting with children who have multi-agency funding arrangements and those who are due to transfer to a different setting in 2015. Dowload Sheffield’s transition plan
Transfers will happen via a transfer review that will take the place of the normal annual review. This must involve an EHC needs assessment; however, existing assessment information within the statement can be used if everyone agrees that it is sufficient.
Until your child has had their transfer review, their statement will retain its legal force, and reviews and appeals will be dealt with under the old system.
Conversion of existing LDAs
LDAs were issued when a young person with a statement left school and moved into further education or training. An LDA does not confer the same rights as a statement. This is why young people who currently receive support as a result of an LDA are a priority group for the conversion. They can request an EHC needs assessment at any time during the next two years, provided they are still in education or training. Any such request will be treated as a request from a new entrant.
For those young people with LDAs who don’t request an assessment, the council must consider at the end of the transition period whether they may need an EHC plan. This is likely if they will remain in further education or training after April 2016.
Any child or young person with an EHC plan is eligible for a personal budget. This is an amount of money identified by the local authority that can be used to deliver some or all of the provision set out in their plan. It can be provided as a notional budget or as a direct payment (cash payment), or a combination of both. Direct payments for educational provision are subject to a number of restrictions.
The government is funding a range of private, voluntary and community sector organisations to provide support to families during the EHC planning process (both for new entrants and those transferring from statements or LDAs), over the next two years. In Sheffield, the Independent Support programme will be delivered by Core Assets.
Between September 2014 and September 2015, the support categories School Action and School Action Plus (and their Early Years equivalents) will be replaced by a single category called “SEN Support”. SEN Support is also being introduced into further education colleges and sixth forms.
Having just one category instead of two does not mean that everybody will get the same level of support. Settings still need to adopt a graduated approach, tailoring provision to learners’ needs.
Schools no longer have to issue IEPs (Individual Education Plans), but they must still keep a record of the interventions and support put in place, and document their effectiveness. They also have to meet with parents at least three times a year to review progress.
The Local Offer
The new legislation requires local authorities to publish a “local offer” – that is, a website with information about the services available to children and young people with SEN/disabilities aged 0-25 in their area.
You can access Sheffield’s local offer at www.sheffield.gov.uk/localoffer. The website consists of two main parts: a directory of service providers, and information and guidance pages. It is maintained by SSENDIAS (formerly Parent Partnership), who will also support parents without internet to access the local offer.
Members of the Forum were involved in drawing up an initial specification for the website and helped to compile templates with questions for schools and service providers.
Schools were encouraged to complete these templates in partnership with parents, but many found this difficult due to the tight timescales. However, schools are free to amend their local offer profiles at any time, and we hope that they will involve parents in future reviews.
We are delighted that Sheffield’s local offer includes a “rate and review” feature which enables users to give star ratings and post comments. We believe that this has the potential to increase accountability and help parents make informed decisions. However, it will only be helpful if lots of people use it. So log on, find your child’s school, nursery or short breaks provider, and post a review today!
A word of caution: Sheffield’s local offer website is by no means a finished product. Both the functionality and the content still need a lot of work. However, we think that the site has a lot of potential, and we are committed to keep working with the council until we get it right. If you’d like to get involved in this work, please get in touch.
Information sessions for parents
We are running a series of information sessions for parents to help them prepare for the changes. Sessions will be tailored to the needs of specific groups, i.e. parents of children with statements, parents of children on School Action/School Action Plus, and parents of young people aged 16+. Please refer to our calendar for dates. We also have limited funding to run sessions at schools or clusters of schools; please contact us for more information.
For an overview of the reforms, a summary published by the Council for Disabled Children is a good place to start.
The Department for Education has published a parent-friendly version of the new SEN Code of Practice, which includes all the key information, but is significantly shorter than the full version.
Special Needs Jungle have published a series of helpful flowcharts.