My apologies for being away so long, I’ve been working on a rather large project (which is still under wraps, sorry) and it has taken away from what I’ve been trying to do to help on here, and on Twitter but I felt compelled to write about Staffordshire’s recent consultation.

I will preface the following with some sympathy, although as parents, carers, advocates, young persons or children, we receive very little either at a local or national government level.

My previous posts have discussed many of the issues with the SEND process as it currently exists, legal duties without any legal accountability for Local Authorities, Clinical Commissioning arrangements with Groups already under pressure to breaking point for services, Social Care at all levels in crisis, continued stripping of budgets in real terms (allowing for increase in base costs such as Living Wage etc), lack of ring-fenced funding and the like.  I am not without sympathy for all parts of the process which are there to support our children in need of assessment or with plans.

Schools have had budgets cut to the point where teachers are buying stationary and parents are chipping in to keep schools afloat.  NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups are stretched beyond their staffing levels by demands, and professionals are leaving services in droves. Local Authorities are not sufficiently funded to meet needs based upon the current system etc, I could go on, but that’s not the point of this post.

Whilst I am sympathetic to the financial constraints, demands and shortages, I am not sympathetic to unlawful acts, which now appear to be at a strategic level in many Local Authorities as you will see by the many legal challenges to SEND Cuts.

Here is the Staffordshire strategy on SEND, and my response to it for your use or sense forbid it, enjoyment?

Staffordshire has said…

“All children & young persons with SEND are able to reach their full potential.  Are able to receive the right support at the right time with choice & control so that they can lead fulfilling lives at school, home and in their local community.”

This new SEND Strategy will ensure that Staffordshire fulfils its duties as required in the Children and Families Act (2014), and the SEND Code of Practice (2014)

Then why does Staffordshire routinely commission only an EP report and no other advice to identify needs?  Why do plans’ routinely have no input at all from Social Services in Section D or H?

We want our children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities:

  • To live as independently as possible
    • To learn, achieve and make progress
    • To be safe and secure, happy and healthy
    • To live and learn in their local community

To live and learn in their local community, yet there is no ASD specialist-maintained schools, NHS only SALT Policy for Staffordshire which already cannot meet demands etc?

We will know we have been successful when:

  • All nurseries, schools and colleges deliver quality provision that meets the needs of children and young people with SEND.
    • Children and young people feel properly supported within their local mainstream school as a result of early intervention, prevention and have less need to access specialist educational, health and care services.
    • More children and young people with Education Health and Care Plans are able to be educated successfully within their local mainstream schools and settings.
    • Young people with SEND feel better prepared for adulthood and feel they can live happy independent lives.

You suggest Nurseries, Schools and Colleges deliver quality provision which “meets the needs of children & young people with SEND” yet nurseries work on EYFS/Graduated Approach, and the Local Authority regularly determines “additional support” at an “anonymous panel” (less than whatever amount is requested) without then starting an EHC needs assessment?

Your key activity for identification includes “Develop and improve the steps that schools take to support and identify pupils with SEND (also known as the ‘Graduated Response’)” yet this is at odds to the Statutory Duty you state you will follow in the introduction, which is identified in Section 36(8) of the Children and Families Act 2014.

5 Key Priorities

Priority 1: Ensure that every child has access to a quality education in their local mainstream schools that is inclusive, flexible and meets the need.

Interestingly you earlier stated, “Children with SEND also face higher rates of permanent exclusion.”; Also that “we have used the definition of SEN that is within the Children and Families Act (2014) and the definition of Disability that is within the Equality Act (2010). This new SEND Strategy will ensure that Staffordshire fulfils its duties as required in the Children and Families Act (2014), and the SEND Code of Practice (2014)” yet as will be shown later, this does not appear to be apparent in your document.

Priority 2: Improve early identification of SEND in children and young people to ensure that the right support is attained at the earliest opportunity for that child to achieve.

Again I will refer to the law that you’ve stated that you will follow; Section 22 Identifying children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities:  A local authority in England must exercise its functions with a view to securing that it identifies a) all the children and young people in its area who have or may have special educational needs, and b) all the children and young people in its area who have a disability.

I would import that the statutory duty sits solely with the Local Authority and that the measures you’ve identified in section 5. “How we are going to deliver this” for Improving Identification measures suggest “strengthening partnership working” (not measurable nor does it satisfy the duty to identify), to develop and improve steps that schools take (again, it is not their duty, nor is this a requirement under s36(8), s20, s21 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

Priority 3: To increase the number of children with ECHP’s who are successfully placed within mainstream schools so pupils can feel safe, happy and belong within their community.

Earlier in your report “We know that over 50% of the pupils with EHCPs are educated in special schools, in and outside Staffordshire and almost 30% are educated at mainstream schools. The remaining 20% are taught at colleges and in other education provision.”; and

“As of January 2018, there were over 11,700 children and young people accessing SEND support, and over 4,000 with Education Health and Care Plans. This means that in Staffordshire we have over 15,800 pupils with special educational needs. This is around 13% of the total population of children and young people accessing education.”

Why are only 25% of children & young persons accessing reports with an EHCP?  This seems at odds with the duties as identified under s20/21 of the Children & Families Act?  Or does the Authority suggest that 75% of children accessing support have support which is generally afforded “for a child aged two or more or a young person, means educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for others of the same age in mainstream schools in England”?

One of the steps you’ve identified under improving the effectiveness of assessing and meeting the needs of young people with SEND suggests the use of personal budgets.  Having asked about personal budgets, the amount offered was based upon the amounts that the County (without any validation in document form) could secure “appropriate provision” detailed in the plan under Clinical Commissioning Arrangements.  This is not available to any individual seeking to commission these services and so, only a market rate would be appropriate.  There may also be potential issues with many different professionals seeking to access, coach or train education staff, in different ways for different pupils, effectively creating a school within a school if adopted by many parents/carers.

At no point in the Key Activity is any reference made to the commissioning of reports from appropriate professionals under Regulation 6 of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Regulations 2014 (as amended) and furthermore, is often only advised by an Educational Psychologist and pays no regard to “that which may train or educate the individual” which arises from a medical diagnosis or Social Care assessment of the child or young person (see Section 21(5) of the Children and Families Act 2014).

Priority 4: To improve and offer partnership opportunities that empower children and young people with SEND and their families to help transform and shape the solutions that will benefit the SEND community.

Priority 5: To ensure that helpful information and guidance about SEND support is available online through Staffordshire’s Local Offer (www.staffordshireconnects.info)

I note that there are 4 types of Maintained SEN Schools, specialising in; Special schools with pupils aged 11 and older can specialise in 1 of the 4 areas of special educational needs:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health
  • sensory and physical needs

Yet when using your site to search for a “Communication and Interaction” school which specialises with “Autism” only 3 schools are found in total, one of which is for 6th Form/FE, for the county

See https://www.staffordshireconnects.info/kb5/staffordshire/directory/results.page?supporting=7&supporting=6&typeofeducation=5&localofferchannel=0

Autistic Spectrum Disorder account for 28.2% of all plans nationally, Speech Communication and Language needs a further 14.6%, equating 42.8% of all plans issued, yet within the county, only 2 schools are available catering to these needs?

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/729208/SEN_2018_Text.pdf

Again, by your document, there are 23 special schools, yet only 2 which cater for 42.8% of the national average needs.  If your stats on plans is accurate, it would be reasonable to suggest that approximately 15,800 pupils with SEN, if 42.8% follow the national statistics above, that would mean 6,762 pupils are to be accommodated by 2 special schools, or if we add in mainstream being able to afford the same level of provision, 16 pupils at every mainstream and suitable special school for this type.  Of course, it is not reasonable to assume that the mainstream schools could possibly accommodate successfully this type of need, specialism, nor could 2,306 children be supported by NHS appointed Speech and Language Therapists, or when you add in Autism (DSM 5 diagnostic criteria would require a deficit in both speech and communication and social interaction the figure rises to the 6,762 pupils in Staffordshire which require Speech, Communication and Language Support, of which 4,455 have SCLN and Autism as needs and as such would require a more specialised approach.  Yet the Direct Payment issues identified above, level of NHS Speech and Language Staffing, Staffordshire’s policy on Speech and Language provision being NHS only, would all lead to a potential collapse of the service or failure to provide assistance.

I am saddened to see that the majority of Activities and How from your table on pages 10 & 11 (item 5) appreciate the average national demands, the benefits of training mainstream education settings in Autism & Speech Communication and Language Needs, lack of flexibility in commissioning specialist professionals to support specific individual needs (as per national statistics above), lack of understanding that the legal duty to identify rests with the Local Authority only (s36(8), that any and all concerns from early years which require discussion on support should automatically trigger a needs assessment (by virtue of the duty in s20), and that there is a dearth across such a large county of appropriate specialist or special educational needs educational settings for 48.2% (national average) of all EHCPs & SEN Support.

I await your response to my comments.

ASDDadAdvocate

PS. It is my intention to follow up this blog with one on Commissioning your private reports/requesting clarification/improvement on a commissioned report.