Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Children and Families Bill: a Senco speaks

I posted recently about my concerns about the Children and Families Bill and what it is going to mean in practice for our children.

These are not idle or theoretical concerns. The Bill brings the hope of greater parental choice over SEN provision which is very welcome. However, its promise is made in an unchanging administrative context of severe financial constraint and widespread disregard for the law on the part of some LAs. My concern is that LAs will recognise fewer children as having needs which warrant one of the new Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and that children applying post the implementation of the Act, who may well have had statements previously, will now be told to look to school to have their needs met - all out of already pressurized school budgets. This affects ALL schools.

I am also concerned that it appears the Government, its auditors Mott MacDonald and LAs are vigorously pursuing the piloting of EHCPs for September 2013. Where is the law which permits this? The Education Act 1996 has not been amended as it was to allow for the piloting of SEN DPs. The charities involved don't appear to have questioned it. The result will be that, even if optional, EHCPs are, at this stage, unrecognised in law because they are not statements as required by the Education Act.

Of course, without a statement, a child's needs will not be legally protected and the provision s/he needs will not be enforceable. They will be no better off than if they were on SA+.

The problem with this is, as we know, that delegated funding to schools for SEN (which is what non-statemented children rely on) is not ring-fenced and can be spent on anything the school chooses. Further, schools' duty to support the child is only one to make their 'best endeavours'.

This Bill, and current Pathfinder practice, doesn't just need a few tweaks: it requires a wholesale rethink to enable it to address the realities of the SEN world. 

I am starting to conclude that its primary intention is in fact to reduce SEN costs. This week, my fears in that regard grew further when an experienced and very committed SENCO shared her thoughts with me about the impending changes and what it is already doing to practice on the ground. She says:
“When I recommended two statements continue in their current form at two recent Annual Reviews the LA decided at the panel meeting to cease them because the funding for support is now in schools for children who require less than 20 hours 1:1 TA time. We are not a Pathfinder authority. We have been told that there will be no more statements after April 2014 and that the Government want only 1.6% of children with the new EHCPs. This is what our LA have advised us.
So, presently, although the law has not changed, our LA is refusing to issue any statements they don’t think will convert to EHCPs (so must have an educational AND health component) and are ceasing all statements under 20 hours. Schools have to deal in-house with children they would normally have recommended for up to 15 hours statementing support because we have the (very notional ) funding to supply it. It’s a very large step back in time and it’s all about saving money.
The authorities we border with have continued the statements. Parents are confused as they have been told nothing. The changes are being rushed through with no proper foundation and despite the failure of Pathfinder authorities even with an 18 month extension to find a path.
The worrying thing is that saying schools have the cash means there is now no legally enforceable right to provision for these children. Also, this affects children who can’t get a place in a special school without a statement
As a SENCO the weight on my shoulders has reached new levels. Now I have to decide how much support to give where the LA used to assess and then put their wise heads together to make the decision. And I am an experienced teacher and SENCO. What decisions will all the new younger SENCOs still gaining experience make? Apparently this was what SENCOs said they wanted from the government consultation...I certainly did not."

 I am really grateful to this teacher for speaking out like this because what is being said is deeply   concerning and needs to be put to the Government for comment. Please contact me if you have been provided with similar advice in your LA area.

NB: The only valid reason for removing a statement is that the child no longer needs it. If any council is removing them solely because of an internal policy, that is illegal and could be challenged through the courts. A case could probably be brought in the name of the child so legal aid may be available

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