This month, the Children and Families Act officially came into force. It contains significant measures aimed at children and young people aged 0 to 25 with SEND and has the potential to significantly improve their lives. Section 19 sets out its principles:
Children, young people and parents should be put at the centre of decision-making.
Children, young people and parents should be properly supported to participate.
There should be a focus on achieving the best possible outcomes.
The biggest change for schools is that there is a new SEND Code of Practice to which all state-funded schools must have regard. This includes academies and free schools. The definition of SEND is extended to include young people up to the age of 25 and includes “learning difficulties” and “disabilities”, so the Act also brings post-16 institutions into the new SEND legal framework.
The Code details how the new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) will replace statements of SEN and Learning Difficulty Assessments. EHCPs will be available to children and young people whose schools cannot be expected to meet their SEN out of their own resources. EHCPs should reflect the young person’s aspirations for the future as well as their current needs and should fully involve children and parents in decisions about how their needs will be met.
To help children and parents, all local authorities must publish a clearly written “local offer” telling them what support is available. This includes what the local authority expects schools to provide from their notional SEN budgets. Schools must cooperate with the local authority in this process.
The Code proposes that the two current levels of school-based intervention, School Action and School Action Plus, be replaced with a single school stage known as “SEND Support”. Under the old system, at School Action Plus, schools were expected to involve specialist input from beyond the school, for example, a specialist teacher or psychologist. The new system will expect schools to involve people with particular expertise at any stage where a child or young person is not making expected progress.
The government has published statutory guidance on transferring children and young people from the old framework to the new one. Local authorities must transfer all children and young people with statements of SEN to the new system by April 2018.
Between now and September 1, 2015, local authorities must transfer all children and young people with statements if they transfer from school (including school 6th forms) to a post-16 establishment or Apprenticeship.
Children and young people with statements of SEN must receive a transfer review. This requires a local authority to undertake an EHC needs assessment which must be person-centred and focused on outcomes. From this month, local authorities should also publish a local plan to ensure that parents and young people can access information about when they will be transferred to the new system and how the transfer process will work. The transition to the new system will require hard work, but the new way of working should bring considerable benefits to this often-neglected group of children and young people.
We should not forget that those with SEND consistently underperform in education and are far more likely to be not in education, employment or training after they leave school. With this in mind, September 1 was an important date. But rather than seeing it as a big bang, it should be seen as the landmark, mapping out a new way of working that extends across the country, ensuring that a right to the best outcomes is set in legislation for all children and young people.
Further informationFor details/resources about the SEND reforms, visit www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/resources
Annamarie Hassall is interim chief executive and director of programmes at National Children’s Bureau.