Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS) (CF 47)

NASS and the Children and Families Bill

1. NASS, the only national umbrella body for special schools outside Local Authority control, is delighted to provide this briefing for members of the Children and Families Bill Public Bill Committee. NASS welcomes the proposals in the Bill which extend parent choice and give help to some of the most vulnerable children and young people, many of whom have very complex needs.

2. However, we would like to focus our comments on a couple areas of the Bill which we feel could be improved. NASS feels that the impact of proposals to increase parental choice could be limited because of the procurement obligations which local authorities currently perceive they face. We would also like to outline some concerns around the impact of the SEN Provisions on young people with complex needs who are aged between 19 and 25, particularly supported in the non-maintained and independent  special schools sector.


Parental Choice and Procurement

3. NASS is delighted that the Government have updated the SEN Clauses so that Independent Special Schools are included in the list of schools parents can express a preference for, alongside Independent Specialist Colleges. The initial draft SEN Clauses of the Bill confirmed that the law would be changed to give parents of children with statements of SEN (and in future Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans) identical rights to express a preference for any state-funded school, including Non-Maintained Special Schools. However, this was not extended to Independent Special Schools, making it harder for parents to send their children to get the support they require

4. NASS is grateful that that the Government has listened to significant concern from the sector and will now allow schools to self-select as "Approved Independent Special Schools". We understand that schools will be approved by the Secretary of State in a "light touch" process and are looking forward to feeding into the development of this process.

5. However, NASS would like to alert members of the Public Bill Committee to concerns we have around conflicts between the perceived procurement obligations of local authorities and the need to provide pupil and parental choice in SEN provision. We fear that the proposals to increase parental choice will be limited because of the way that local authorities currently approach procurement of school places for children and young people with complex SEN.

6. Our members have found that because of the current trend in Local Authority procurement to place all non-maintained and independent  special schools within framework agreements they need to comply with numerous bureaucratic procedures which take up a considerable amount of time. This is in contrast to maintained special schools and academies who are not asked to comply with such procedures.

7. Local authorities have argued that procuring via a framework agreement gives them the cheapest deals with a quality assurance and that this allows placements of children and young people with SEN to be placed in non-maintained (including independent) schools with least impact on resources all round. However, it is clear to NASS that block purchasing and framework procurements involve administrative burdens which maintained schools do not have to go through. This is discriminatory, and, reduces choice for SEN pupils meaning that children and young people are often excluded from the personalised teaching and learning that non-maintained and independent  special schools can bring. NASS fully recognises that procurement law has to be followed but how it is applied can be relatively flexible in relation to SEN provision so we can see no reason why local authorities are making it harder for children and young people to attend non-maintained and independent  special schools.

8. Last year NASS worked with the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) and the Independent Children’s Home Association (ICHA) to undertake a survey on the impact of local authority procurement on voluntary and independent children’s services providers. This survey found that providers are spending increasing time on procurement-related activity and that some local authorities are more focused on costs than the needs of the child when making placements. Although for education and care placements authorities are not required to do more than have regard to EU procurement law when considering placements, many authorities are running full procurement activities, most usually seen when procuring Type A services under EU Procurement rules.

9. NASS is concerned that because of the existing procedures in place there will be significant challenges in future for a local authority to properly consider efficiency when considering the attendance of a child or young person at its requested school if such a placement is from the non-maintained and independent  special schools sector.

10. In order to tackle this problem NASS would like to see some minor changes made to Clauses 26 (Joint Commissioning Arrangements) and 39 (Finalising EHC plans) to ensure that local authorities do not discriminate between maintained schools and non-maintained schools. We will be seeking to table amendments to the Bill and would be grateful for any support you can offer.

Education, Health and Care Plans – post-16

11. NASS supports plans   to   replace   SEN   statements with   a   single plan from   birth   to   25   years and hope this will result in a stronger focus on preparing young people for adulthood. In recent years an increasing number of NASS members have developed services to young people with complex needs. This support is sometimes delivered through Independent Specialist College Provision but many of our members deliver adult social care plus a variety of health, social enterprise and employment services. Often, this provision has no formally recognised education component and is funded through adult social services or continuing care support.

12. NASS has concerns about the potential impact of the Children and Families Bill on young people with complex needs who are aged between 19 and 25. We support the proposal to provide an EHC plan to young people but are concerned that we are yet receive clarification that those with profound and complex needs aged 19-25 would be eligible for continuation of their plans. This is concerning for our members because, for many of the young people we support, there are few clear cut educational opportunities and they are the ones who are most likely to benefit from the continued protection of the plan. Development for these young people is not about being educated in a (more expensive) provision but is about targeted transitional activities which can be delivered as part of their day to day programmes. As you might be aware, many of the young people in our sector have profound and multiple learning difficulties and benefit from continued learning past the age of 19, especially as they generally learn much more slowly than their mainstream peers.

13. NASS believes that many young adults with complex needs require a period of time, after their formal schooling, in a transition service. For example some of our young adults may have very limited life experiences and might need to continue to experience such things as going to the supermarket, choosing which film to watch at the cinema, going to local restaurants etc. The period of time they spend in such a service will mark the transition from childhood to adulthood and be a type of "social apprenticeship" – a period in life which helps them develop as an adult and prepare for a more independent life.

14. NASS believes that young adults with complex needs cannot navigate these transition years as other young adults can. The years between 19 and 25 are socially accepted as a time of experimentation and of finding limits and boundaries; we do not expect non-disabled young adults at the age of 19 to settle down in to adult life or go into an adult home environment where they stay for the rest of their life. Young adults with complex needs require support to make sense of the transition years and to develop a sense of themselves as adults and what it means to be an adult. It is not possible to train young adults with complex needs (who may well find it very hard to generalise) to be adults until they are actually old enough to take part in adult activities. Creating the right environment to achieve an understanding of adult life is an important part of supporting development.

15. Children with complex needs have an entitlement to education and this entitlement should be extended to them when they become young adults and not stop at this crucial stage in their lives. A considerable time and effort has been put into their education as children but in order to ensure that the social and financial investment that has been made during these school years is protected we feel that the Government must guarantee that young people with complex needs have continued support past the age of 19.

16. NASS is encouraged by the Edward Timpson MP’s commitment that the Government will shortly table an amendment to the Bill which will result in a duty being placed on Clinical Commissioning Groups to secure the provision of health services as agreed under the EHC plans. We will wait to see if this duty will support the children who are currently being supported in our sector.

17. NASS recognises that regulations will make clear proposals around maintaining an EHC Plan, however, we would like clarification that under proposals children and young people with complex needs will have the same transition opportunities as their mainstream peers and that help them find suitable longer term adult placements

About NASS

18. The National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools is a membership organisation catering for approximately 10000 very vulnerable children and young people. It provides information, support and training to its members in order to benefit and advance the education of children and young people with SEN.

19. NASS is the only national organisation representing special schools in the voluntary and private sectors. NASS works in partnership with key national and regional organisations and acts as the voice for Non Maintained and Independent Special Schools (NMISS). NASS has 215 members, spread over the whole of England and Wales. Non-maintained and Independent Special Schools cater for around 13000 of the most vulnerable children in the country with very wide ranging, but complex, needs. Over 99 per cent of places in NMISS are funded indirectly by the public purse, through Local Authorities making placements.

March 2013

Prepared 20th March 2013