In September 2014, the special needs system will undergo the biggest overhaul in 30 years. Since much of the legislative framework is yet to be finalised, we can only give you a brief overview at this stage.
Education Health and Care Plans
Statements of SEN and Learning Difficulty Assessments will be replaced with Education Health and Care (EHC) plans. Unlike statements, which lapse when a young person leaves school or turns 19, EHC plans will remain in place when a young person goes to college or starts an apprenticeship, and they can go up to age 25. This should help to make the transition to adulthood less of a “cliff-edge”.
EHC plans will be more holistic than statements and cover health and social care as well as education. However, they will still only be available to children and young people with significant educational needs.
This is because the legal thresholds for triggering an assessment and issuing an EHC plan will be the same as for statements; namely, that the child has special educational needs which cannot be met from the resources “normally available” to mainstream settings. However, recent national changes to the school funding system mean that what is “normally available” is now defined as special educational provision costing up to £6,000 per year. In Sheffield, this financial threshold will be one of the criteria used to determine whether an EHC plan is required; however, it will NOT be the only one, and pupils needing less expensive provision may also qualify.
The government has said that it expects the “overwhelming majority“ of children and young people who currently have a statement/LDA to move to an EHC plan. Transitional arrangements have yet to be finalised; however, it looks likely that this will be a gradual process, with groups of children transferring from statements to EHC plans when they reach a key transition stage. We expect that the transfer will be done as part of the annual review, and without a reassessment.
The new legislation will bring in some major cultural changes. By placing a strong emphasis on involving children, young people and their parents as equal partners in the assessment process, it has the potential to turn what is often a faceless paper exercise into a genuine collaboration. A new focus on “outcomes” means that it will no longer be acceptable to just allocate x hours of provision, and leave it at that. Instead, schools and service providers will need to show how they are supporting the child or young person towards achieving meaningful long-term and short-term goals.
School Action, School Action Plus and IEPs to be scrapped
School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced with a single SEN category. At the time of writing, very little information was available as to which pupils would be included in this category.
The guidance on IEPs (Individual Education Plans) has been removed from the Code of Practice and replaced by a “cycle” approach of assess/plan/do/review. Although schools will still have to record what they are doing and the impact this is having, they will no longer need to follow a standardised national system.
Improved information through a “local offer”
From September 2014, every local authority will have to publish a “local offer” – a website with information about the range of support and services available for children and young people (aged 0-25) with special educational needs and/or disabilities in the area. Importantly, this must include information about eligibility criteria and referral routes. Schools and service providers will also have to set out their own “offers” for this group of youngsters.
The local offer has two purposes: to make it easier for families to find the information they require, and to make provision more responsive to local need. This will be achieved through a new duty on local authorities to publish, and respond to, comments on their local offer.
How the Forum is involved
At the start of the year, we held two consultation workshops to find out what parents thought of the EHC plan template developed by council officers. The feedback was mixed; while parents liked the person-centred elements – such as the one-page profile with key information about the child – they also expressed concerns that a potential lack of detail could affect the enforceability of the plan.
We also worked with the council to organise a consultation on the local offer. Parents told us how they wanted the local offer website to be structured; the kind of features it should include; and what sort of information schools and services should be required to provide. They emphasized that written information could never be a substitute for face-to-face advice.
Our parent representatives, who sit on several local authority groups tasked with implementing the reforms in Sheffield, keep highlighting this feedback to ensure the views of parents are taken into account. For progress updates, please keep checking our website, or come to our Education subgroup meetings (see Events section of this website for dates).