As regular readers will know I think that it is well worth following what’s going on in England with the implementation of the SEN reforms there and drawing as many lessons as we can possibly learn from how it’s panning out. September 1 saw the first anniversary of the reforms coming into force. The reforms are very ambitious and are intended to introduce long term change with the transfer from statements to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) being phased in over three years so it is probably too early to draw any definite conclusions with regard to success and failure but I would like to draw your attention to three reports which have been produced recently. The first was commissioned by the Department for Education and is called The Special Educational Needs and Disability Pathfinder Programme Evaluation Final Impact Research Report: July 2015. The authors compared families from pilot ‘Pathfinder’ local authorities and who has received EHCPs with families who had received statements or the post-16 equivalent. It is worth noting that the families with EHCPs received them between August 2013 and April 2014 so before the reforms themselves came into force but it does provide a comparison of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ systems.
The authors’ initial key findings (p. 4) are pretty positive:
The data suggest that the process has improved for families, often in ways that are incremental but still statistically significant. The family survey found improvement across a wide range of variables relating to the process of getting an EHC plan. This was in line with the feedback from the qualitative research. Families who had received an EHC plan were statistically more likely to report that their views had been taken in to account and their views had been sought and listened to. This suggests a more family-centred approach, as was intended. There is also evidence to indicate that the process was more joined up and integrated, and that the plan was delivered in a more acceptable timescale. These types of improvement feed in to higher overall satisfaction with the process.
But they also noted some caveats:
- Despite the improvement around the process, there was no statistical change in the extent to which families thought the decisions reached were fair…
- Moreover, on some issues even where there has been improvement, there remain a significant percentage of families who are not satisfied.
- Similarly, while the study found some positive improvement in relation to choice and the sufficiency of provision there is further work to do. Forty three per cent said that there was not enough choice of provider and 39 per cent were receiving only some of [sic] support that they thought they were entitled to.
So, some positives and some negatives and there are more negatives to be found in two reports from the third sector: namely, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and The National Autistic Society (NAS).
The NDCS’s key findings were:
The quality of Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessments and plans. Of the relatively few parents that had experience of being assessed for an EHC plan, there were mixed views on the extent to which their views were sought, disruption was minimised and the support was provided.
- The content of Local Offers. An NDCS audit found that Local Offers are variable in the information they provide. In several areas, local authorities are acting unlawfully in, for example, failing to provide information about specialist provision for deaf children within and/or outside their local authority. More generally, awareness among parents of the Local Offer is very low. Where parents of deaf children have seen their Local Offer, only a quarter say it was easy to find the information they were looking for.
- The full involvement of parents and children and young people in the changes. Few parents of deaf children have been involved in the development of the Local Offer. Even fewer deaf young people have been involved directly.
- Access to the services that make a difference to the progress of deaf children and young people. Few parents of deaf children are yet to feel the promised benefits of SEN reform in terms of better services, more choice and control and joined up working between services, across health, education and social care.
- Overall, there is widespread doubt among parents on the ground that local authorities are ready to implement these changes, that they have the funding to do so effectively or that they will be held to account for failing to do so.
While the NAS found:
- just 23% of those who have been through the system (36% of those surveyed) are satisfied; almost half are dissatisfied (48%)
- many feel let down by the new process of applying for statutory support, which they say is extremely stressful and in many cases takes longer than the 20 week legal limit
- only 36% have looked at their local offer; fewer than 4 in 10 of those found it easy to access information in it about support for children on the autism spectrum and roughly half found it difficult
- once parents get an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, they are generally satisfied with it.
As I said earlier, it may be early days but we can still look and learn.