Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (CF 105)

Introduction

1. The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames set up a Special Educational Needs and Disability ( SEND) Action Group in September 2012 following the publication of the draft Children and Families’ Bill. The group brings together local families, parent forums and key personnel in Health, Social Care and Education including early years, schools and colleges in the borough. Its remit is to make sure that Richmond is prepared and ready to implement the proposed changes when the Bill becomes law in 2014. The group’s function is strategic. It meets every three weeks to monitor and steer the activity of four operational sub-groups that have been established to achieve the outcomes set out in Richmond’s SEND project plan.

2. The Action Group welcomes the opportunity that the Bill offers of making children, young people and their parents/carers central to inclusive, person-centred and family-friendly processes and systems. In addition the Group has found the reported experience of the Pathfinder programme extremely helpful and informative as it has carried out its preparatory work in Richmond.

Summary

3. This submission focuses on Part 3 of the Bill – Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs Clauses 19 – 72. It captures the opinions, views and concerns of members of Richmond’s SEND Action Group and local authority colleagues in Early Years.

4. In addition to concerns about the lack of detail in the Bill the Group has specific questions relating to the transition from the current SEN statement to the new EHC plan, the assessment process and how it will affect children and young people who will not meet the criteria for an EHC plan, the funding for EHC plans, support in mainstream secondary schools for children and young people with special educational needs and the role of Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators ( SENCOs) in Early Years Private Voluntary and Independent ( PVIs) settings

Transition arrangements from SEN statements to EHC plans

5. The Bill does not include detail about how the transition from SEN statements to EHC plans will be managed. As the new EHC plan will be significantly different from existing SEN statements it is assumed that whilst transition arrangements will take into account the difference they will not require the reassessment of all children and young people with existing statements. Without detailed guidance on transition arrangements it is difficult to envisage how Local Authorities will be able to plan effectively and act consistently.

Assessment and EHC plans Clauses (36 – 40)

6. The clauses on the assessment of education, health and care needs( 36) and on Education, Health and Care plans ( clauses 37 – 40) do not explicitly state that there will be a requirement for mainstream schools to describe and publish how they assess and meet the needs of all children and young people with SEN needs regardless of whether or not they have an EHC plan. In addition, Clause 38 states that during the preparation of a draft of the EHC plan, the local authority must "consult with the child’s parent or the young person about the content of the plan". As the idea of the EHC plan is that it is consultative and involves children and young people and parents/ carers perhaps the focus should be more on local authorities "working" with parents/ carers and their child thus all input or submissions would have equal weight in the development and finalising of the plan.

7. The extended age range for EHC plans to 25 years raises concerns about the funding that will be available to Local Authorities for a possible additional 6 years.

8. A proportion of children and young people who at present have statements of SEN may not necessarily be offered EHC plans especially those with ADHD, dyslexia or Asperger’s syndrome. In light of the present financial cutbacks, local authorities have very limited resources and will need central government funding to be able to maintain the number of EHC plans at the same level as statements.

Support in mainstream schools for pupils with SEND

9 Historically, teaching assistants (TAs) have more responsibility for pupils with statements in a mainstream setting than teachers, including much of the planning for and teaching of these pupils. This observation is borne out by the report "The Making a Statement (MaSt) project - Final Report. A study of the teaching and support experienced by pupils with a statement of special educational needs in mainstream primary schools" by Rob Webster and Peter Blatchford from the Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, University of London.

10 This report raises concerns about the appropriateness and quality of pedagogy for statemented pupils, which is unlikely to close the attainment gap between themselves and their peers. It also states that there are considerable gaps in both teachers’ and TAs’ knowledge concerning meeting the needs of pupils with statements and there are also concerns about the ways in which schools prioritise the needs of pupils with statements.

11 The report states "In terms of EHCPs, a clear message from the MaSt project and the preceding Deployment and Impact of Support Staff project is that the conversion of the hours specified on a statement into hours of TA support leads to practices that are both unlikely to close the attainment gap, and separates pupils from their teacher and peers.

12 On the basis of the evidence from their research, the report’s authors suggest that the new EHCPs avoid expressing support for pupils in terms of hours, and instead specify the pedagogical processes and strategies that will help meet carefully defined outcomes. In addition, they recommend that "setting personal budgets is dependent on the outcomes specified in the EHCP in order to avoid schools making decisions about support based predominantly on the resources available".

13 The level of SEND training for staff working in mainstream settings needs to be substantially increased so that those staff have sufficient knowledge to work effectively with their pupils who have SEND. This has a cost implication for mainstream providers.

SEN Co-ordinators in Early Years Settings ( Clause 62)

14. There does not seem to be a duty to have an SEN co-ordinator in an Early Years setting. This would be a backward step in the sector. SENCOs are assumed in the Statutory Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage(EYFS) and there is increasing focus in this guidance on Early Identification and working with parents and the importance of having trained staff to deliver.

15. Key requirements in EYFS state that: Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development. Practitioners working with the youngest children are expected to focus strongly on the three prime areas, which are the basis for successful learning in the other four specific areas. The three prime areas reflect the key skills and capacities all children need to develop and learn effectively, and become ready for school. It is expected that the balance will shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learning as children grow in confidence and ability within the three prime areas.  But throughout the early years, if a child’s progress in any prime area gives cause for concern, practitioners must discuss this with the child’s parents and/or carers and agree how to support the child. Practitioners must consider whether a child may have a special educational need or disability which requires specialist support. They should link with, and help families to access, relevant services from other agencies as appropriate "

16. Whilst the Draft SEN Code of Practice published on 15th March states that the Governing bodies of maintained mainstream schools, maintained nursery schools and the proprietors of Academy schools (including free schools) must ensure that there is a qualified teacher designated as Special Educational Needs (SEN) co-ordinator (SENCO) for the school it is unclear whether this applies to Private, Voluntary and Independent settings..

April 2013

Prepared 24th April 2013