You may be aware of the recent launch of a Green paper on SEND and alternative provision. We really encourage all parents to fill out the consultation, but it’s also important that FVS also respond.

We have worked with partners in the Surrey SEND partnership to create a partnership response, but here you will find the parent carer forum response that we submitted on your behalf, collating all the input you gave us. We at FVS would like to thank all those of you who sent in your comments, questions and thoughts which allowed us to create a representative response.

Each question allowed 250 words for a response, so some of the more detailed or “operational” suggestions you had couldn’t be included in this piece of work. They will all be taken on by our participation managers in local projects and fed to the NNPCF as appropriate.

Question 1:

What key factors should be considered when developing national standards to ensure they deliver improved outcomes and experiences for children and young people with SEND and their families? This includes how the standards apply across education, health and care in a 0-25 system. (Chapter 2)

Consistency is crucial, and the idea of national standards might address this. BUT the existing legislation sets out national standards that have been interpreted in many different ways.

Parents are concerned that national standards will be rigid and fail to meet the needs of complex children who are then likely to fall through the net.

Will these national standards stretch to the earliest levels of support given the current inconsistencies.

Given the postcode lottery of much of the NHS, how can national standards be implemented within the health system. In the mental health system, we see such a lack of staff that waiting lists mount.

Implementation of standards is a key question – the failure of the 2014 project was to underestimate the resource needed to implement them leading to the is review. Asking the “why” of this question is critical now.

Parent carers are concerned that in developing national standards, the government is trying to limit the number of children eligible for help.

  • The system must ensure that EVERY child who has an additional need is given the necessary support and not squeezed out by rigid standards.
  • Individual co-production with children and families must be at the centre of any national standards, in strategy and implementation, with clear lines of accountability to ensure theory becomes practice.
  • We welcome a national template for EHCPs, but would like assurance that any EHCP can be transferred from one LA to another without needing to reapply for an assessment.

Question 2:

How should we develop the proposal for new local SEND partnerships to oversee the effective development of local inclusion plans whilst avoiding placing unnecessary burdens or duplicating current partnerships? (Chapter 2)

How is this proposal different to the existing strategic joint commissioning done by local authorities? (Children and Families Act 2014 section 26 and CoP ch 3)

Who will determine the makeup of this partnership, and how does government expect this work to be funded?

There is no specific mention of parent carer or young people’s representation in these partnerships. It seems imperative to ensure that lived experience is at the centre of this work.

To whom will these partnerships be accountable? The elected council, families, central government??

How does a local inclusion plan differ to the local offer?

In conclusion, we feel that the proposed partnerships and local inclusion plans are a duplication of existing work. It will be important to value and build existing partnerships, especially where these demonstrate multi-agency working and strong coproduction with parent carers and young people.

Question 3:

What factors would enable local authorities to successfully commission provision for low-incidence high cost need, and further education, across local authority boundaries? (Chapter 2)

Parents welcome the acknowledgement that sometimes there is no appropriate provision within their local authority. In those cases, it can sometimes be very difficult to ensure two authorities are communicating well for the benefit of the child especially when needs are not purely educational.

For the majority of families, a local provision is always preferred and they would like to see more inclusive schools and a better spread of specialist provision closer to home.

Access to specialist education post 16 becomes increasingly difficult and distant settings are more likely with increasing age. This is further complicated post 18 when young people enter adult services.

Could LAs work together in joint commissioning arrangements to meet this cohort’s needs?

Why are distant settings the only choice? What local commissioning arrangements should be considered as an alternative?

It will always be necessary to have the option of a cross boundary setting, especially for border families. This should be made as simple as possible for the families and agreements including education, health and care must be considered.

Question 4:

What components of the EHCP should we consider reviewing or amending as we move to a standardised and digitised version? (Chapter 2)

The proposal to introduce a standardised EHCP template is welcomed. We urge caution about a potential overuse of a digital format as this will exclude communities without access to such technology.

It will be crucial to clarify where accountability for the provision outlined in an EHCP lies.

The standard EHCP format must be coproduced with parent carer forums and should include:

  • A flexible and creative approach to allow the child to provide and edit their own Section A
  • Section A should be accessible to the family at each annual review for updating and editing to ensure it is kept relevant.
  • The new format should include a version that is accessible to the child as far as possible. Efforts such as “easy read” and alternative communication measures should be standard in this process.
  • The digital platform should provide access of information to families, including reports and drafts that are easy to notate.
  • The digital platform should allow communication between families and caseworkers to support dialogue and coproduction.
  • Education, health and care needs, outcomes and provision should be held in equal regard to ensure delivery and joint working will need to be central to this.
  • Amending an EHCP following an annual review must become the norm and made much simpler in order to maintain the relevance of plans.
  • There may be a strong need for an EHCP template to change with age. For example, the focus on Preparation for Adulthood from year 9 is not reflected in most current templates.

Question 5:

How can parents and local authorities most effectively work together to produce a tailored list of placements that is appropriate for their child, and gives parents confidence in the EHCP process? (Chapter 2)

We do not feel that a shortlist of settings created by the LA will benefit children with SEND.

We would urge government to consider the following:

  • Specialist provisions change in nature quite frequently. How could the LA shortlist be guaranteed to remain relevant and up to date.
  • In complex cases, parents are often the ones to find a setting that the LA was not aware of. By restricting the LA to a shortlist of its own making, children will miss out on appropriate education.
  • When “working with parents” to determine which setting can best meet need, how will the natural power imbalance be redressed to ensure parents’ voices are equally heard?
  • We would like to see a duty on LAs to communicate clearly and transparently the complete offer of specialist schools so that caseworkers and parents can make an informed preference.
  • We welcome the consideration that this should be a collaborative process with parents, but feel that a shortlist already created by the LA with no parent involvement is not co-production and is likely to fail particularly the most complex children.
  • With an increasing awareness of children whose needs cannot currently be met in a school setting, will EOTAS provision(s) be included in this list?
  • How will this proposal improve the lives of children with SEND? Our parents feel that it will limit the choices available and reduce their chances of appropriate education.
  • What will happen to a child if there is no appropriate setting on the LA shortlist?

Question 6:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with our overall approach to strengthen redress, including through national standards and mandatory mediation? Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree − If you selected Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please tell us why, specifying the components you disagree with and alternatives or exceptions, particularly to mandatory mediation. (Chapter 2)

We strongly disagree with the proposal to mandate mediation. The current appeal system is already extremely slow and mediation is already mandated to some extent. While it can be a very helpful system, this is rarely the case if a family feels forced into a process that often does not feel independent. In these cases, mediation merely adds to delay.

The green paper makes no mention of funding for mediation or “independent review”. This suggests that such a service would be funded by the LA and therefore “independence” will not be trusted by families.

The SEND appeals system since 2014 shows us that information gathering and decision making within the LA SEND systems needs to improve significantly – we see this by the overwhelming percentage of appeals which are found at least in part in favour of families.

We feel that efforts and resources need to be channelled into the operational systems rather than making the appeals system more onerous for families.

We strongly disagree with any proposal to mandate mediation or add layers to the SEND appeals process

Question 7:

Do you consider the current remedies available to the SEND Tribunal for disabled children who have been discriminated against by schools effective in putting children and young people’s education back on track? Please give a reason for your answer with examples, if possible. (Chapter 2)

In practice, few parents know how to navigate a disability discrimination issue happening in school. The process is so lengthy and opaque that by the time a claim may be heard at a tribunal, relationships with the school have often broken down irreparably.

School staff have insufficient training in both SEND and Disability Discrimination law.

This is also an area where accountability is unclear, and it can be difficult to understand whether a school or the LA should be held to account. Parents feel strongly that consequences such as fines should be levied against schools who discriminate against children for their disabilities.

We hear about many examples of discrimination which only rarely go to tribunal because parents are not advised correctly. Examples include:

  • Reasonable adjustments of uniform policy
  • Reasonable adjustments around healthcare
  • There is huge discrimination against children with mental health conditions, where attendance is mandated even when it causes increased harm.
  • Reasonable adjustment of behaviour policy

The overwhelming feedback from parent carers is that the disability discrimination act is unknown or unheeded for children and that the notion of reasonable adjustments is a rarity in school settings. It’s important to note that this includes some if not all specialist schools.

Current remedies are not effective on the whole. The school system as a whole needs to reconsider and acknowledge the importance of not discriminating against children with disabilities, and be reminded that reasonable adjustments apply to children as well as adults.

Question 8:

What steps should be taken to strengthen early years practice with regard to conducting the two-year-old progress check and integration with the Healthy Child Programme review? (Chapter 3)

Early Years practice is reliant on strong relationships between Health and Education partners, and will almost always need to be led by Health. Intervention from birth for these children, including EHCPs should be strengthened, and should not wait for the 2 year check.

In Surrey, we have worked with the local area to develop a system of early identification before the 2 year check following feedback from parents who had been unable to access help and support despite noticing considerable difficulties. This has allowed the local area to identify and support younger children, but highlights the fact that 2 years old is too late for some children.

In speaking with our GRT communities, we have strong evidence to suggest that the closure of local family sure start centres has had a very negative impact. The larger family hubs are often less accessible and staff have less community knowledge, meaning that those in most need tend to stay away, leaving children without needed early intervention.

We welcome the message from our local health provider that parents should contact health visitors at any time if they have concerns, but many families stick to the national guidelines.

It is important that the 2 year check be conducted face to face by practitioners who are able to spot the sometimes subtle signs of additional need.

Health partners need to lead on this piece of work and will need to collaborate with parent carer forums to understand the barriers to essential early years checks.

Question 9:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that we should introduce a new mandatory SENCo NPQ to replace the NASENCo? Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree or Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree − If you selected Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please tell us why.

(Chapter 3)

We welcome the emphasis placed on training for SENCOs, but would raise a broader concern about teacher training for all teachers and the need for SEND understanding across all senior leadership of schools. Even where SENCOs are knowledgeable, efficient, beloved by parents and afforded enough time to do their work, they are often the only person in the school well-versed in SEND.

We feel strongly that SEND needs to play a larger part in all teacher training.

We feel strongly that SEND and inclusion must be a much stronger focus for school leaders.

Within that framework, and with an understanding that SENCOs will need to be given adequate time to undertake this training as well as their other duties, we welcome a new mandatory qualification for SENCOs.

Question 10:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that we should strengthen the mandatory SENCo training requirement by requiring that headteachers must be satisfied that the SENCo is in the process of obtaining the relevant qualification when taking on the role?

SENCOs should be qualified before taking on the role. We understand that this may not be possible at the beginning of such a process, but schools should be required to consider succession planning by ensuring that at least 2 members of staff are able to deliver the role: one qualified and one in the process of gaining the qualification and acting as an assistant.

Question 11:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that both specialist and mixed MATs should coexist in the fully trust-led future? This would allow current local authority maintained special schools and alternative provision settings to join either type of MAT. (Chapter 3)

While there are potential benefits to mixed MATs in that a truly inclusive such trust will enable specialist and mainstream settings to support each other, parent carers are concerned that this system might create an exclusive system whereby “unwanted” or “troublesome” children are shunted into the specialist provisions.

We would like to see assurances that inclusion is truly at the heart of the government’s SEND strategy, and how that lines up with its broader educational philosophy.

While most if not all parent carers would like their child to attend a local school, they have concerns about the suitability of specialist provision where geography is the foremost concern, especially if their child has a low incidence disability such as hearing impairment.

We would like to see proposals that ensure such mixed trusts are of benefit to children with SEND and promote true inclusion.

Question 12:

What more can be done by employers, providers and government to ensure that those young people with SEND can access, participate in and be supported to achieve an apprenticeship, including through access routes like traineeships? (Chapter 3)

Parent carers would like to know why this is the only consultation question focussed on preparation for adulthood and why it only applies to a narrow band of young people. Those capable of academic study at university are not considered, nor those unable to do a supported internship/apprenticeship.

Our community is hugely varied and encompasses a far greater range of educational need and disability than this question appears to suggest.

Any pathway to employment for disabled young people must include a functioning relationship with job centres and the benefits system. The barriers to such support are insurmountable for most of them without considerable support, and staff at job centres have little to no understanding about supported internships.

Employability services are hugely helpful. In Surrey, Surrey Choices works with young people who have SEND to offer pre-employment pathways, supported internships and apprenticeships, but schools have too little knowledge about the offer to promote it sufficiently. No doubt additional resource will be needed to expand the programmes.

Supported internships and apprenticeships need flexibility to adjust to young people’s additional needs. Many young people will be unable to work a full week for a myriad reasons and should be able to have additional time to complete such a programme.

Support and training is needed for employers to increase the number of opportunities for young people, and to help them realise the value of employing such young people.

Question 13:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that this new vision for alternative provision will result in improved outcomes for children and young people? Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree − If you selected Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please tell us why (Chapter 4)

“Alternative provision” still requires clear definition. We feel the following points must be addressed before an achievable vision can be agreed:

  • Co-production is essential to understand the need and define what provision might look like in AP
  • A co-produced definition of AP is a critical starting point, including two aspects: early intervention where a short term AP allows a child to reset, have their needs met (while their school is also offered training) and then reintegrate school successfully. At the other end of the spectrum, we know that for some children, accessible education means an alternative provision than school.
  • We are concerned that AP is described as “addressing behaviour that presents a barrier to learning”. AP should be available when school is not capable of meeting need.
  • We have significant evidence that a large cohort of children fall out of school due to unmet need without “challenging behaviour”. These children are now labelled “EBSNA” (emotionally based school non attendance). We ask government to amend school attendance codes to recognise mental health difficulties as a valid reason for absence. This would surface issues much sooner and avoid the need for long term AP.
  • We feel strongly that an EHCNA should be undertaken whenever a child is identified as needing AP to ensure that their needs are correctly identified.

School is not accessible to all children and for some of our children, school can be harmful. A different approach to learning is the key to reintegration into the mainstream world (even if that cannot occur until adulthood).

Question 14:

What needs to be in place in order to distribute existing funding more effectively to alternative provision schools, to ensure they have the financial stability required to deliver our vision for more early intervention and re-integration? (Chapter 4)

A system and family wide understanding of AP is necessary before being able to fully determine funding strategies. This should build on the coproduction of the AP vision as described in our response above. While we feel that there should be more flexibility of funding which may be in line with the proposal described, parent carers tell us that for a small but important minority of children, AP will be a longer term and more bespoke offer, for which funding will have to follow the child.

AP as part of an early intervention offer will need to be flexible. As such, we are concerned that a three year funding agreement might not be able to meet the need that arises and would like to understand how this issue could be overcome.

Question 15:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that introducing a bespoke alternative provision performance framework, based on these 5 outcomes, will improve the quality of alternative provision? Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree − If you selected Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please tell us why (Chapter 4)

The framework proposed is still written with the philosophy of shoehorning our children into the mould that we feel they should fit.

  • Rather than improved attendance, we should have a focus on improved mental health, family context (deprivation, family crisis, health concerns, SEND). In addressing these, improved attendance should result, but focussing on attendance, will ignore the causes of absence and nothing will change.
  • Reintegration is a challenging concept. Many of our families tell us that AP is agreed only on the basis that the child will be expected to reintegrate the school that has failed them (however unwittingly). This ignores the trauma experienced by the child. We need to consider a more nuanced approach where a return to a mainstream setting may be appropriate, but probably not the same one. Another potential successful outcome is one where time in AP has allowed complex SEND to be identified and the pupil moves to a specialist setting.
  • Academic attainment should not focus on English and Maths to the exclusion of other subject, including vocational ones. Many young people with SEND are highly intelligent and capable of excellent academic progress, but struggle with English and Maths. As a result they are blocked from pursuing subjects in which they could excel. AP should be a vehicle that allows these young people to shine, not block their potential.

The wording of this framework highlights a lack of co-production with families who have lived experience of AP and should be reviewed in a co-productive manner.

Question 16:

To what extent do you agree or disagree that a statutory framework for pupil movements will improve oversight and transparency of placements into and out of alternative provision? Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree − If you selected Disagree or Strongly Disagree, please tell us why (Chapter 4)

There is no doubt that the informal agreements entered into between schools and Aps are unhelpful and often lack communication with families. We welcome the proposal to formalise this to ensure that the most vulnerable pupils are fully supported.

However, we also know that the current systems victimises and criminalises families who are trying to support their children. If a statutory framework of this type is instigated it will be important to ensure that families are not held responsible for their child’s movement. Currently, attendance policies and practises places tremendous pressure on parents and children to get into school regardless of their circumstance and thus trust in the system is at an all time low.

There will always be the need for some children to access education via EOTAS. This is almost always a very bespoke offer which is likely to be unregistered. How will this important and necessary provision continue within such a framework? We feel that any such framework should be co-produced with parent carer forums to ensure that the voice of such children and their families are adequately represented in these proposals.

It is also important to understand that a framework will only have an impact if there is a clear line of accountability and if that is enforced.

Question 17:

What are the key metrics we should capture and use to measure local and national performance? Please explain why you have selected these. (Chapter 5)

Performance measures should include:

  • Parent carer satisfaction data (how much is there individual coproduction at SEND support, EHCP, Health Care plans, social care input)
  • Children’s satisfaction data (do they understand their needs, do they understand the support they are getting, do they enjoy school, do they have friends, do they have community activities, what are their hopes, plans for the future)
  • A SEND support register with clear, standardised criteria… and then measure how many children are on that support and what the outcomes are
  • What interventions are available, used? Without that, we can’t measure outcomes or be sure what intervention or combination thereof are helpful
  • Mental wellbeing should be measured to capture levels of anxiety, low mood and what interventions have helped. Children with SEND, like all children, cannot learn if they do not feel safe, content and connected.

Question 18:

How can we best develop a national framework for funding bands and tariffs to achieve our objectives and mitigate unintended consequences and risks? (Chapter 5)

This proposal was met with a great deal of concern in our area as it seems likely that funding under a national framework would decrease. In light of the high cost of living in Surrey, there are fears that this area would lose a significant number of teachers, therapists and other professionals and that our children would be left without the provision they require.

Question 19:

How can the National SEND Delivery Board work most effectively with local partnerships to ensure the proposals are implemented successfully? (Chapter 6)

Given the difficulty in implementing the 2014 legislation, it will be important not to replicate the same systems under different names. The board should work with existing regional structures including parent carer forums to build on those aspects of the system which show beneficial impact on children.

The board should also include young people (maybe following a structure like the NHS Youth Forum)

What resources will the board have to implement these changes?

Will it have the power to hold local authorities, health systems, schools to account should they not fulfil their obligations?

To whom will the board be accountable?

Question 20:

What will make the biggest difference to successful implementation of these proposals? What do you see as the barriers to and enablers of success? (Chapter 6)

Successful implementation of the proposals requires clarity of intention and expectation. This paper does not yet provide this in a way to ensure success.

It is essential that accountability is clearly defined across all parties: health, local authority (with specific reference to education and social care as separate bodies) and schools/settings.

Implementation of the 2014 legislation failed in large part because resource was not allocated to a huge change in demand. Given that we still acknowledge that children and young people need to be supported from 0-25, there remains a need to resource this through adequate funding.

We are also seeing a huge shortage of staff in the SEND world, from psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, SaLTs to teachers and teaching assistants. Without addressing this barrier, all the proposals in the world will not have any positive impact on children.

All qualifications that pertain the SEND world, including university ones, should have a reduced fee and be heavily promoted, to encourage a new generation of SEND professionals.

Coproduction is key at EVERY level of the system – from the strategic, system thinking at central government, down to the individual conversations between a parent, child and teacher.

Question 21:

What support do local systems and delivery partners need to successfully transition and deliver the new national system? (Chapter 6)

To successfully transition to a new national system, local systems and delivery partners will need:

  • Transition funding to enable local areas to implement the changes in additional to the demands of ‘business as usual’ activities.
  • Clarity of local partnership accountability and leadership arrangements, given the complexities of the SEND system.
  • Clarity of expectations, nationally and a programme of support to local areas, delivered via regional structures.
  • Careful consideration of how staff morale can be protected during a further period of change within the SEND system.
  • Clear communications to families to ensure that parents are informed about and on board with the changes.
  • The necessary training.

Question 22:

Is there anything else you would like to say about the proposals in the green paper?

(Chapter 6)

Coproduction is essential to the right provision at the right time for each child, both individually and strategically. In order to succeed, we feel that guidance on coproduction needs to be standardised, with some thought given to how such a process impacts on timelines and how that might be considered in a collaborative approach.

Schools are overwhelmed. This must be taken into account when making any decisions

Schools have become places of extreme stress, anxiety and pressure, and this is felt most by our children. We must pay more than lip service to the mental health agenda and promote a more holistic approach to education, especially in this community.

It is also important to understand that there will always be reliance on EHCPs while SEND support remains inconsistent and not guaranteed.

Chapter 4, point 11 has caused extreme concerns for many parents of children with SEND. The focus on rigid behaviour strategies and expectations is far from inclusive and takes no account of children whose disabilities cause different behaviours. Threatening our children with AP in the way that this last paragraph suggests casts huge doubt over the philosophy of the Ap offer described in the rest of this chapter.

It is also of enormous concern that the focus is on the young person with additional need to change their behaviour, their personality, the way their mind and body responds to the world rather than seeking to understand how we can adapt the environment to allow them to access education.