Anyone involved with supporting a child or young adult needs to be aware of the potential for Children’s Schools and Families Bill to impact on their lives. In this short article we will explore through a series of questions and answers how the Bill could effect the system for supporting children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and also those who are disabled.

Q. When is the Bill likely to become an Act?

September, 2014

Q. Will statements of special educational needs be replaced by the new Act?

Yes, statements of special educational needs and also Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDA) will be replaced with a new birth-to-25 Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan).

Q. What exactly is a EHC Plan?

This is a document that lists all educational, health and social care needs. It is envisaged that there will be safeguards in relation to educational provision, but there are no new duties in relation to safeguarding health and social care provision in relation to delivering what is contained in a EHC plan, though there is a duty on providers of this provision to co-operate with the local authority.

Q. What might a EHC Plan look like?

Statements of special educational needs have a prescribed form. The EHC Plan is different document and will look different, though it is fair to say that, at the moment, there is not a settled format. Anyone interested in finding out more about how the document could look, may wish to read the following from a company called Mott MacDonald who have been commissioned by the Department of Education to work in developing the process by which EHC Plans will be issued:

Q. If a child currently has a statement of special educational needs, will this be replaced by a EHC Plan?

Eventually yes. It is envisaged that from 1 September 2014, no new assessments for statements of special educational needs or LDAs will be offered by local authorities. All new requests for an assessment of special educational needs will be considered under the new legislation and those requiring support will receive it through an EHC plan. The Government claim that “The reformed mediation and appeals process, and the option of a personal budget for those with an EHC Plan will also be available from this date [likely 1st September, 2014]”

When the new process is introduced, the Government state that the “pace of transition needs to allow sufficient time for local authorities to manage the transfer to EHC Plans in an appropriate way, but should not deny children and young people the benefits of the new system for longer than is necessary”. Importantly the Government wants to minimise the period during which both the new and the old systems are operated in tandem.  Having said all of that, it is clear that that there are no defined timelines for the transition.

Q. What is a Pathfinder Authority?

A. These are Local Authorities who have been chosen along with their Primary Care Trust (PCT) partners to test out the new process.

Q. If I am in a Pathfinder pilot authority, do I have to accept a EHC Plan rather than a statement of special educational needs?

A. No, parents should be aware that they can choose between the new EHC assessment processes or the existing system. Parents should be aware that, until the new system come in, EHC Plans have no statutory basis and cannot be appealed to the SEND Tribunal should parents disagree with the contents of the document in relation to their child’s education. That said, the Department of Education have advised that, should such conflicts exist, the educational component of a EHC plan should be converted to a statement of special educational needs thus giving the parent appeal right to the Tribunal.

Q. In relation to the new system, what are personal budgets?

A. With the new system Local authorities must prepare a personal budget in relation to an EHC Plan where a request has been made by the parent and the young person. Families can then choose how to use this money to meet their child or young person’s needs to meet the outcomes agreed in their EHC plan. This will mean that personal budgets will be offered to families whose children have an EHC Plan, though these do not have to be accepted by the family.  The amount of money received will be dependent on the assessed needs of the child and this must be spent on support that has been personalised for the child. Such support could include: occupational therapy, physiotherapy or speech and language therapy.

Q. Will EHC plans be an improvement on statements of special educational needs?

The Government are clear that the new system is an improvement. The proposed benefits cited are that, because the age limit is 25, it will help stop children being cast adrift from the support system when their statement of special educational needs ceases at 19 years. Further, personal budgets are put forward as a solution to Local Authorities not providing what is on a child’s statement of special educational needs.

That said, the new system has its critics. For example, it is claimed that, rather than introduce personal budgets, the Government should fix the existing system that is perhaps broken. Furthermore, it is claimed that EHC Plans may be more difficult get than statement for special educational needs.

The Government, has been keen to stress that existing parental rights will not be diluted by the changes, though it would be fair to say that some people have their doubts about this.

Q. Where can I find out more about the changes?

Pathfinder authorities will typically provide information on the proposed changes, and the Department of Educational website is comprehensive on the subject. Parents are advised to review the relevant information contained on the IPSEA website:  if they want an independent evaluation.

The above has been provided for the purposes of background information and should not be construed as legal advice.

Please see Children and Families Act link as of September 2014.

Sean Kennedy