The special educational needs and disabilities reforms two years on

With the beginning of a new academic year, we also see the second anniversary of the Children and Families Act 2014 (CFA). The CFA changed how children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are supported. Edward Duff wrote for the Brain Injury Hub previously about these changes. As we reach the second anniversary, in this latest blog Edward Duff reviews the situation and considers what the changes have meant for children and young people with SEND, their families and professionals supporting them.
Teens at school

What is happening?

In our experience, local authorities are struggling to cope with the SEND reforms. There are many possible reasons. A lack of funding has been highlighted, although half a billion has already been spent on the SEND reforms. It seems that the fundamental issue may be lack of skilled personnel. Some Local authorities are recruiting heavily, but ‘new’ staff appear to receive limited training, potentially extending no further than the local authorities’ policies.  

Why is this?

One reason could be that local authorities are having to run two systems at the same time. Children and young people still have Statements of Special Educational Needs, some of which are continuing as they are, and some of which need to be converted to Education Health and Care Plans. For those with Statements, local authorities must do everything that they previously did. In addition, except in exceptional cases, local authorities have to reassess all children when they move to EHCP and then draft the new EHCP. The EHCP system also extends support to 25. The previous maximum age was 19. That is many thousand ‘new’ young people who are covered by the system. I am seeing the following very frequently:
  • EHCPs are a ‘cut and paste’ of old Statements
  • Very old expert advice being used when writing EHCPs
  • EHCPs containing little or no detail about the precise support the child or young person should receive
  • Social care and Health sections in the EHCP are blank
  • Significant delays in finding school placements
Even just a few weeks before the beginning of the academic year, I was speaking with families whose child or young person did not have  placements arranged for September 2016.  

Is this it?

The SEND reforms were brought in following concern that the system of Statements of Special Educational Needs had become too complex, oppositional and was not helping children and young people achieve to their best. What is happening is that Statements are being replaced by inadequate EHCPs that contain little or no enforceable provision. Those EHCPs are causing significant expense and loss of time, meaning that existing services are deteriorating. The concern is that this is just the beginning of the problem. Schools Week reported in July that only 18% of SSENs had been converted to EHCPs. This should be closer to 40% given that all Statements must be made into EHCPs by March 2018. The means that there are two options:
  1. The law is changed so that the implementation of the SEND reforms is given more time
  1. The process of converting to EHCPs is rushed in order to avoid thousands of EHCPs being due in the last few months leading up to April 2018.
Extending the timetable to 2020 may enable local authorities to clear the backlog. However, there is a concern that it will only extend the period of difficulty. Giving more time will not actually relieve any pressure. The extra time will help to process the backlog, but not the ongoing workload. Alternatively, sticking with the current deadline only means that a crisis is looming.  

What can we do?

Parents, advocates, solicitors and case managers assisting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities need to be familiar with these issues. Families, and the professionals supporting them, need to know their rights, which means that they need to know the law. This is not the outcome we wanted as the new system was supposed to relieve families of this pressure. Ultimately, local authorities need to ensure their personnel are experts in the SEND process, this requires cooperation, training, time and resources. Without all of them, the implementation of the SEND reforms will continue to fail. Top tips for parents:
  • Actively chase time limits and ensure your local authority is dealing withyour case.
  • Find out the routes to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal in case you need it.
  • Understand the local authority’s obligations so that you can use negotiation effectively.
This summer has shown just how much local authorities are struggling with the new system. Without significant changes, next year will be the same. You can find out more on Boyes Turner website here.
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