Concerns have been raised about the upcoming deadline for local authorities to transfer children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities and who currently have a statement of special educational needs to an education, health, and care (EHC) plan by the end of March.
If a child is identified as struggling with their school work, and it is determined that this is being caused by a child's underlying special educational needs (SEN), the school may intervene and provide additional support. If a child fails to make progress, a request can be made to the local authority, by either the child's parents or the child's school, for them to carry out an education, health and care needs assessment, with a view to the child being placed on an EHC plan.
The purpose of an EHC plan is to secure the best possible outcomes for them across education, health and social care by making special educational provision to meet their needs, and to prepare them for adulthood as they grow older. Under the special educational needs and disability (SEND) code of practice, the assessment and EHC plan, if granted, should:
- Establish and record the views, interests and aspirations of the parents and child or young person
- Provide a full description of the child or young person's SEN and any health and social care needs
- Establish outcomes across education, health and social care based on the child or young person's needs and aspirations
- Specify the provision required and how education, health and care services will work together to meet the child or young person's needs and support the achievement of the agreed outcomes.
EHC plans replaced the "statement of special educational needs" under the Children and Families Act 2014, and were introduced alongside the new SEND Code of Practice. The reforms were an attempt to simplify the system and give children, young people and their parents a greater say in the support they receive. The legal test of when a child or young person requires an EHC plan remains the same as that for a statement under the Education Act 1996.
When the SEND reforms were first implemented, there were around 230,000 children with statements of SEN. Local authorities were given more than three and a half years to transfer statements of SEN over to the new system. However, there are still thousands of children whose provision is backed by SEN statements. In September 2017, the Department for Education issued a letter to all local authorities raising concerns about their ability to meet the 31 March deadline.
Concerns have also been raised that local authorities are not undertaking fresh professional assessments and are not integrating health and social care input. Rather they are simply turning statements into EHC plans, and leaving the health and social care provisions largely unaddressed. The transfer process should take the form of an EHC needs assessment, formerly known as a statutory assessment. It is the same full assessment that the authority is required to conduct for children and young people who may be receiving an EHC plan for the very first time.
So what happens to those children who remain on a statement from 1 April? A DfE spokesperson has stated that "the Children and Families Act 2014 makes clear that all special educational needs statements will continue to have legal status following the transfer deadline, to ensure no families are adversely affected". The local authority must continue to make the provision in the statement, and it must still be reviewed at least once a year. However, the charity IPSEA has highlighted that for those who are moving onto further education or who turn 19 on or after 1 April, parents will need to take immediate action as their child's statement will have no effect once they leave school (for those moving to further education) or once they turn 19, whichever happens first. Local authorities have the power to continue to maintain a statement until the end of the academic year in which a student at school turns 19, but they are not legally obliged to do so.
POINTS FOR PRACTICE
- Local authorities are required to have conducted EHC needs assessments for all children and young people in their area who have a statement of special educational needs by 31 March. By that date all of these young people and children should have an EHC plan.
- As part of the EHC needs assessment, the local authority should, as a minimum, gather advice and information from parents or the young person directly (unless the child does not have mental capacity), educational advice from the child/young person's school/college, medical advice, psychological advice, advice in relation to social care and advice from anyone else relevant, such as private therapists.