Non-Independent Support Programme

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The government announced earlier this year that it had set aside £30 million until 2016 to recruit, train and implement an independent supporter programme. We were told that 12 independent supporters would be trained per area who would take on a "key working approach" providing advice and support to parents during the transition to EHC plans. The charity, Council for Disabled Children (CDC) was appointed by the DfE to develop the programme.

Further information about the programme is available on the CDC website.

So How is the Programme Progressing?

Since our post on 25 June, the CDC have published a list of the organisations which will be running the Independent Support (IS) service; details of who will provide the legal training for IS advocates; and the Independent Support Evidence and Build Report.

Parent Carer Involvement

Shortly after the CDC published the latest details of the programme, The National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF) dropped 'a bit of a bombshell' as it released a position statement, expressing disappointment that "parent carers have not been involved in strategically developing" the Independent Support Programme or "in the co-production of the ultimate design as originally thought" and raising concerns about "the level of local knowledge that Independent Supporters will have and how effectively they will be able to deliver the service to Young People and Families in any local area."

The NNPCF rightly 'suggest that Parent Carer Forums establish a useful and effective relationship with their own group of Independent Supporters (ISs)' and 'that ISs work closely with Local Parent Carer Forums to ensure that everyone works together to maintain a balanced and knowledgeable approach to the evolving landscape in their areas." But, NNPCF raise concerns about the capacity of over-stretched Parent Carer Forums to help. NNPCF are not the only organisation to be raising concerns about the development of the independent support programme and the role of independent supporters.

Non-Independent Support Advocates

This week the CDC revealed the names of the 142 Parent Partnership Services (Information, Advice and Support Services) which will deliver Independent Support (IS) from 1 September 2014. In addition, CDC is now entering a contract negotiation phase with voluntary, community sector and private (VCS&P) organisations. This apparently includes 39 local organisations and 8 national or regional organisations.

IS Training and Experience

The CDC state that 'all independent Supporters will be trained to national standards with online training expected to commence from 18 August 2014 and face-2-face training from 25 August 2014 onwards.' This is as much information as has been shared so far about the training. As it stands, it is unclear who exactly these independent supporters will be, how much prior experience and knowledge they will have of SEN and the legal framework.

The Educational Rights Alliance, a national campaign group, have sought answers to a number of questions regarding the IS training and IS qualifications and experience. As and when we learn more we will of course share. Both the recent Evidence and Build Report and the position statement by NNPCF refer to volunteers being used as part of the programme and raise concerns about the effectiveness and sustainability of an IS service which is reliant on volunteers.

Independence and Role

Parent Partnership Services, which are being relied upon to provide the bulk of independent support, are a statutory service funded via the Local Authority. The National Parent Partnership Network (NPPN) which provides training, promotion and support to Parent Partnership Services across the country is funded by the Department for Education (DfE). Whilst many parents benefit from Parent Partnership services, they cannot be said to be independent of the local authority or the DfE.

Whilst the voluntary, community sector and private organisations which are awarded an IS contract will in theory have greater independence from the LA, the suggestion is that they will work with LAs rather than supporting parents to challenge. For example, CDC state that they 'will be required to work closely with the local authority, Parent Partnership Service, Parent Carer Forums and other supportive local delivery partners to agree a local referral protocol and draft a local 'memorandum of understanding'.

The Evidence and Build report published by CDC earlier this week states,

"The nature and duration of the Independent Support offer will be based on individual need but is likely to include:

  • Helping the parent or young person to transfer a Statement into an EHC plan
  • Helping the parent or young person understand the Local Offer
  • Acting as a named contact person for the parent or young person throughout the assessment and planning process
  • Liaising across a range of agencies with the parent or young person to help gather the information required for an EHC plan
  • Providing information to parents and young people on personal budgets
  • Supporting the parent or young person in contributing to an EHC plan that is then ready to be signed off by a designated professional that has been agreed as part of a local referral protocol process
  • Signposting parents and young people to PPSs or local information advice and support (IAS) services, when the issue is outside the remit of an Independent Supporter.

Under the SEN Code of Practice, which provides statutory guidance, independent supporters will help guide parents through the new system, from assessment application through to helping them manage an appeal to the First SEND Tribunal yet there is no mention of support with potential appeals in the report or in other recent documentation from the CDC. The minutes of a recent Early Support and Independent Support Programme Board Meeting states that "Independent Supporters will be working with and not against LAs and that legal training is provided to give Independent Supporters an understanding of the legal framework of the reforms, not advice on how to challenge LAs on the law."

The proposed role of independent supporters; their ability to provide independent advice and support; and how far they will help parents challenge LA decisions in the event of an appeal is therefore unclear.

IS Local Knowledge and Capacity

Independent supporters are expected to provide local services and to have local knowledge of parent carer issues and the local support. Yet, as the NNPCF point out in their position statement, in certain areas of the country, the IS contract has been awarded to organisations from a completely different part of country. Whilst it may be possible in time to build up relevant knowledge and partnerships within the local area, it is hard to see how this will now be done by 1 September.

Each IS service provider has to determine its own delivery model and referral procedure. We were initially advised that IS providers should be able to provide "help from an independent supporter to as many families as possible who require it". We now understand that there are expected to be 12 ISs per local authority area. It is hard to see how this will be sufficient to provide support to all those 'who require it'. NPCF questioned in their position statement whether every area will even be able to fund 12 ISs.

The Evidence and Build Report suggests that different providers may adopt wildly different delivery models and referral procedures. The number of ISs within each area, their status (as paid or volunteer workers), their role and local knowledge are therefore likely to differ significantly across difference areas as will the referral process and criteria determining which parents will get the benefit of an Independent Supporter.

What Happens in 2016?

Whilst the SEN reforms are to be gradually implemented over a three year transition period the government has only committed funding for the IS programme for two years, until 2016, and no reassurances have been given that support will continue after that date.

Independent Support Evidence and Build Report

The CDC published a report earlier this week, they procured services with 13 Voluntary, Community Sector and Private (VCS&P) organisations and 12 Parent Partnership Services (PPSs) to help gather evidence and report on potential practice models for delivering an independent support offer.

The delivery models, protocols and practices put forward by the different organisations involved vary substantially. Whilst the report outlines some of the pros and cons of the various models discussed, no conclusion is made as to which should be more widely promoted and adopted; this is left for the individual organisations to choose. It seems clear therefore that people will not be able to expect any consistency in practice from one area to another and someone who may easily access support and advice from an independent supporter in one local authority may have struggled to have accessed support in another authority.

Our Advice

Familiarise yourself with the Code. Once it is clear that the Code has been finalised look out for training materials on IPSEA's website. You can also access regular updates and Q&A's on this website and via www.specialneedsjungle.com and www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk. If you are concerned that your LA are not complying with the Code and the Act get in touch.

If you, or your child, receives an EHC plan, don't forget to compare against the EHC checklist and any good examples which are shared. If you are unsure about anything in the plan you can contact us.

If you are seeking an EHC plan or you have a Statement or Learning Difficulty Assessment (s139 Assessment) which is being transferred into an EHC plan, and you feel you would benefit from advice and support on the process you can contact your local Independent Support (IS) provider. Details should be made easily available via your local authority, local parent partnership service. If are unclear Council for Disabled Children should be able to tell you who your local provider is. We suggest that you also seek information via SEN charities, such as IPSEA, and read up as much as is possible. If you have difficulties accessing the advice and support you need from an IS do let us know.

If you want to challenge a decision by your local authority we suggest you seek legal advice as soon as possible; strict time limits can apply and independent supporters may not be well placed to assist.


To find out how we could help you please make a no-obligation enquiry or call freephone: 0808 129 3320.




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