SEND Reforms – There is Still Such a Long Way to Go...


We have seen big changes to the framework for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) over the last year following the introduction of the Children and Families Act in September 2014. New government statistics show that local authorities still have a long way to go to implement the SEND reforms and that many are failing to comply with the new statutory timeframes.

SEND Reforms

The government statistics released on 21 May identify a number of key themes:

Relatively Few Transfers from Statement or LDA to EHC plan

As of 15 January 2015 only 2,765 statements of SEN or Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs) had been transferred into the new Education, Health and Care plans (EHC). Only 30 of these were transfers from LDAs. As of 15 January there were still 235, 980 statements left to be transferred. Timescales for the transfer of statements and LDAs to EHC plans are set out in Transition to the new 0 to 25 special educational needs and disability system: Departmental advice for local authorities and their partners (March 2015) - Duties and timescales – what you must do and when. Local authorities have then published their own timescales in the light of this guidance, which should be accessible via their websites.

Difficulties Securing a Statement or EHC Plan in 2014?

There were 1,360 new EHC plans and 25,780 new statements issued in 2014. The combined total of 27,140 is down on previous years. There could be a number of reasons for this, but our experience in 2014 suggested that many parents had to fight particularly hard to secure a statement as some local authorities wrongly advised that parents should wait until 1 September before submitting requests for statutory assessment or pursuing a statement or EHC plan. Other local authorities sought to raise the benchmark for issuing a statement, without legal merit and contrary to advice from the DfE.

Poor Compliance with Statutory Timeframes

Our experience so far has suggested that most local authorities are still grappling with the new reforms and officers in charge of SEN are yet to really understand exactly what it is they are meant to be doing, and when, let alone how to do it in practice in the context of tight budgets and limited resources. Many struggle to get what is meant by ‘outcomes’ and in trying to get that right, they then forget the need to still ensure the level of specificity and detail that is required to make EHC plans enforceable.

The recent statists suggest that our client’s are not alone in their battle to ensure that the new processes and guidance are properly followed. Of the new statements issued in 2014, 79.1% were issued within the 26 week time limit (Including exception cases) compared to 81.8% in 2013. Of the new EHC plans issued in 2014, only 61.35% were within the 20 week time limit (when including exception cases). These figures obviously cover EHC plans issued in the first four months of the transitional period where local authorities. Hopefully the statistics will have continued to improve since then as local authorities have a better grip on the reforms.

Concerns Regarding Oversight and Accountability

The lack of any framework to ensure that implementation of the reforms was properly overseen and failing authorities held to account, has been a key concern for all of us in the SEN world. Accountability was the main focus for a twitter chat we took part in, back in September, with the Stephen Kingdom who was then leading the SEND reforms on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE).

New Accountability Framework

Following concerns around the implementation of the reforms by local authorities and schools, and criticism about a lack of oversight, the Coalition government announced in December 2014 that they were inviting Ofsted to formally inspect local areas for their effectiveness in fulfilling their new duties.

Six months after implementation of the reforms, the DfE published a policy paper setting out their proposed new accountability framework for SEND. A consultation on the proposals should be published soon and we would urge you all to respond.

It is up to All of Us to Get it Right!

It is up to all of us to ensure that the system works for the benefit of our children and young people. To do this we have to continue to review and share what is and isn’t working. There are examples of good practice out there. If you come across them, let people know and pass on! And if something isn’t working, question it and seek advise from us or from the various SEN charities and advocates out there, such as IPSEA and SOS!SEN.

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