Fighting for an Education

On Monday last week, BBC’s Panorama reported on the implications coronavirus has had on families supporting children with special education needs and disabilities.

When Boy 1 was diagnosed with Nystagmus at 4 months old, I joined the Nystagmus Network charity, and most years have been to their annual conference sharing inspirational stories and the latest research.  What surprised me was a large part of the event was given over to talks and sessions about educational advocacy.  “Get a diagnosis, get an EHC Plan.  Do it as early as you can.  It’s a fight all the way” said parents of older children.  

On the BBC Panorama Fighting for Education program, they stated since 2014, when the new children and families act was brought in;

  • 18.5K people were refused EHC (Education, Health and Care) needs assessments last year 
  • 80K were refused an EHC needs assessment in the last six years
  • 92% of all appeals brought to tribunal have been overturned 
  • £40 million has been spent by LAs on court/tribunal cases
  • 1/3 of all cases have been brought by parents.    

On 29th June Dad and I applied for an EHC needs assessment from our Local Authority to help secure additional support for Boy 1 at school. On 16th August we received a rejection letter from them.

On Wednesday earlier this week (9th September) we had a mediation meeting with the Local Authority (with a mediator from Barnardos, our school Headteacher, and our SENDIAS (special educational needs and disability information, advice and support) advocate) via phone which we were hopeful would lead to them re-considering carrying out the assessment.

Unfortunately they stood firm to the recommendation in their rejection letter – which was for school to host a multidisciplinary meeting with all the stakeholders involved with Boy 1, before they would re-consider.

This is despite the fact that in the six weeks they had to collect information from professionals and school, they did not collect the actual information they needed to make the decision.

The template they asked school to complete did not include any information about the SEND ranges they needed, nor what support Boy 1 has had to date, and they think he could benefit from moving forwards. (They admitted this at the time, and are looking into making the forms for a parent referral the same as those they use for a school referral. However, we shared we are disappointed they had not sought the information they needed in the remaining two weeks before sending our rejection letter, nor before our mediation meeting.)

They said they had contacted health and care but both our CYPS (Children and Young People’s Services) Co-ordinator and Social Worker, who’s details I’d provided up front, did not receive any contact.

We shared we’ve been having multi-disciplinary meetings monthly since January, and that our preference was for the evidence from these to be considered, rather than go to the time/expense of another meeting which we don’t believe can add any additional value.

We provided clear evidence that Boy 1 meets the test for an EHC needs assessment which are outlined on the IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) website

“If a local authority (“LA”) is requested to carry out an EHC needs assessment by a parent, young person, school or college, they must consider:

  • whether the child or young person has or may have special educational needs (“SEN”); and
  • whether they may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC plan.

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, they must carry out an EHC needs assessment. This test is set out in the law (section 36(8) of the Children and Families Act 2014).”

We put forward that not carrying out an assessment would be unlawful as;

1. a full assessment is the only way to find out what the difficulties are and what help is needed; professionals do not yet understand enough about the difficulties and only a full investigation can help everyone understand the nature and severity of the difficulties and decide what help is needed.  

2. school may not  be able to supply all the educational help needed unless it receives extra help from the LA; 

3. If your child is on SEN Support and has additional needs compared to peers then he should be entitled to a full assessment of needs as there may be other provisions and resources professionals could recommend.. Even if school are coping does not mean all needs are recognised.

We’d submitted an educational psychologist report from November 2019 which clearly states Boy 1’s case warrants further investigation, and it will be helpful to seek further advice and guidance from specialist professionals e.g. the ones the LA commission when an EHC needs assessment is carried out.

So why are the LA insisting on another meeting? Is it because they have a preference for all cases to come through school? Is it because for every month they delay, it’s potentially £’s saving?

Either way, Dad and I shared with the mediation panel we are disappointed with the decision, the service we have received, and the lack of apology for not having collected the correct information.

On a positive, we are pleased school support our application, and have agreed to set up the required meeting as soon as possible, with a view to us going back to the EHC Needs panel in early October.

At rejection, we were advised to book a tribunal date which we have in November. We are hopeful it will not come to this.

I have been keeping a log of the reading and actions relating to our EHC needs assessment and to date it stands at 45 hours e.g. learning about the process, reading IPSEA guidance, tribunal papers, and preparing and attending meetings. It’s exhausting. Dad and I would much rather have this time with our boys.

What saddens me is that since 2014, there are 80,000 other us’ who’ve experienced an EHC needs assessment rejection in the last six years. It’s not right.

I appreciate there will be many ECH needs assessments that go through quickly and smoothly, and that our Local Authority are working hard to improve provision for SEND children with limited resources. In September last year, they consulted widely with stakeholders (I attended one of the face to face events), and launched the SEND Ranges which is a framework to improve the consistency of children’s needs and the support they are entitled to.

Our experience is individuals working in SEND related roles genuinely care and want to help families, but the bureaucratic system and processes that have evolved are in need of a full review.

Have you applied for an EHC needs assessment for your child? Or do you know anyone who has? Have you any tips or suggestions?

#FightingForAnEducation #EHCNeedsAssessment

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