Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by a Consortium of National Specialist Colleges
(CF 52)


Evidence relating to Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill: Children and Young People in England with Special Educational Needs


About the Consortium

· The Consortium’s membership consists of:

o Derwen College, Oswestry

o Doncaster College for the Deaf, Doncaster

o Hereward College, Coventry

o National Star College, Cheltenham

o Portland College, Mansfield

o Queen Alexandra College, Birmingham

o RNIB College, Loughborough

o Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford

· We are an informal grouping of National Specialist Colleges who provide a wide range of specialist educational, training and residential care and support services for young people with special educational needs (SEN) up to the age of 25 at a local, regional and national level. Our decades of experience and expertise, built on foundations of highly skilled staff and first class resources and facilities, place us at the forefront of SEN provision for thousands of young people in the UK. As centres of excellence for disabilities that require high levels of support and in many cases are low incidence, our services cannot be duplicated in every local area.

· Our ultimate ambition is to see young people with SEN given the greatest opportunity to design their education, chose their career path and achieve their ambitions. We want to enable them to live as independent and self-sustaining a life as possible.

· Members of the Consortium are also members of The Association of National Specialist Colleges (Natspec) and we endorse the evidence submitted by Natspec to the Public Bill Committee. Natspec is a member of the Special Education Consortium (SEC) and works closely with the Association of Colleges (AoC) on matters of shared interest. The Consortium also works closely with the AoC and SEC, whose interests in the Children and Families Bill are closely aligned.


Summary

1. Overall we welcome the Government’s intention to introduce substantial reform of the provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN). We particularly support the broad ambitions of the Children and Families Bill to extend a greater level of choice, participation and long term integrated support for young people with SEN and their families. This will help to maximise their access to education and training up to the age of 25 and to give them enhanced opportunities to pursue fulfilling and independent lives.

2. We also appreciate positive changes to the Bill following the recommendations of the Education Select Committee published in December 2012. In particular, we welcome the new right for young people and their families to request that Independent Specialist Providers (ISPs), such as members of our consortium, are listed on their Education and Health Care Plans (EHC Plans), and the creation of the Secretary of State-approved Section 41 list of providers. We are also pleased to see a stronger focus on involving and including young people in decisions governing their future, greater recognition of the importance of joint commissioning and integrated services and the inclusion of information on independent living (such as finding employment and obtaining accommodation) in the Local Offer.

3. We find, however, that there are still several elements of the SEN reforms that would benefit from clarification and development before the Bill concludes its passage through Parliament. These are:

o Greater clarity on the composition and functioning of the Section 41 list of providers that young people will be able to request for inclusion on their EHC Plan

o Ensuring that those providers approved under Section 41 are strongly represented in the composition and review of the Local Offer

o Establishing a common framework for the composition of Local Offers across the country

o Ensuring the Code of Practice is regularly reviewed through consultation and approved via Parliament under the affirmative procedure

o Ensuring there is a positive affirmation in the Bill that young people are entitled to an EHC Plan up to the age of 25 and ensuring that local authorities will not end plans too early

4. Alongside these particular issues we also encourage the Government to closely consider the design and impact of the proposed SEN reforms alongside the major changes to education funding across the country. It is essential that both sets of reforms work in a complementary fashion and that one is not allowed to undermine the other. It must be ensured that expectations established by the Bill can be funded and delivered by local authorities. The Government is already aware of the serious difficulties that our members are facing in the transition to the new funding arrangements. Local authorities’ proposed processes are confusing and inconsistent, while projected student numbers are well below financially sustainable levels. We will continue to seek reassurances that through the overall process of reforms our sector’s essential skills base, services and expertise will remain secure.


Section 41

5. Clause 41: The proposed Section 41 list of Independent Specialist providers (ISPs), due to be compiled by the Secretary of State, is critical to our members’ future and to ensuring that young people can choose to access our outstanding services and facilities. To give confidence and clarity to these young people, and to ISPs, we would like to see greater detail on what timetable the Section 41 list will operate on, what criteria providers must meet for inclusion, what recourse they will have to review or appeal selection decisions and what relationship the list will have to the Local Offer and the regulations that will govern it.


The Local Offer

6. Clauses 27-30: We would like to see clarification on what central foundations the Government will provide for the provision of Local Offers across the country. A common framework would ensure that a strong basic level of information for young people and their families is made available in all local areas, and that local authorities can be held to account in relation to the services they outline. We seek to avoid regional inconsistencies and to ensure that young people and their families have access to the fullest range of information from which to make decisions about their future.

7. We would also like to ensure that there is specific reference to Section 41 providers in Clauses 27 and 30 requiring local authorities to both consult and list these providers as part of the composition and publication of their Local Offers. We are concerned that without specific reference to Section 41 providers local authorities may avoid presenting ISPs as an option on a wrongly informed basis of high costs, as well as failing to appreciate the strong range and extent of services and support ISPs provide beyond that available in mainstream college settings.

The Code of Practice

8. Clauses 66 & 67: We would like to ensure that the Bill makes provision for the Code of Practice to be regularly reviewed by the Secretary of State in full consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. Whilst we welcome the Code being ratified by Parliament, we believe it should done so via the affirmative procedure, so that each new code or revision of a code is properly approved by Parliament, giving MPs the opportunity to ensure their constituents’ needs are properly represented and secured in relation to the provision for special educational needs.

9. In particular, the Code should ensure that it effectively meets the needs of young people aged 16-25, to whom it will apply for the first time. The current LDA guidance is very clear about the importance of person centred planning; it sets clear guidance about timescales and emphasises the need for those who undertake the assessment and planning to be suitably qualified and skilled. We trust the new Code will match these standards.

EHC Plans for over 18 year olds

10. Clause 36, 37, 44 & 45: The current draft of the Bill states that in reviewing EHC Plans for young people over 18 a local authority ‘must have regard to his or her age’. We have concerns as to whether this wording will unintentionally incentivise local authorities not to set educational outcomes for a young person beyond their 18th birthday. It is important that young people are given sufficient time to learn, develop skills and prepare for independent lives and careers. Our members support many older students who often need a longer period to complete their studies or training. Many ISPs have significant numbers of students who become disabled or experience a trauma as they near adulthood, thus delaying their educational progress. It is important that young people in this age group can undertake their studies in age appropriate settings, for example in specialist colleges, instead of being forced to continue in mainstream schools without the correct level of support.

11. We would like to see the ‘must have regard to his or her age’ wording replaced with a positive statement that affirms the right of young people to have an EHC plan maintained up until the age of 25, and confirmation that they will be allowed to continue their education or training courses or programmes in age-appropriate learning settings.

March 2013

Prepared 20th March 2013