This post could equally have been titled ‘Reflections on Tribunal part 2’.
A touch of housekeeping before I start. I am not a solicitor and therefore am not offering any legal advice here. Yes I do volunteer as an advocate, but the following is my musings on a subject, not the views of any particular organisation that I may be involved with.
Many parents (and schools come to that) face having their application for an EHCP (or statement in the past) turned down by the LA. Now, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what I’ve just written, which seems to pass LAs, parents & schools by. The application is not for an EHCP (let’s keep to new terminology), but for a Statutory Assessment (SA) to see if an EHCP is necessary. It is also worth bearing in mind here that any move from statement to EHCP still requires a SA if it is to be lawful. You can’t simply ‘tip’ one into the other, or use old reports (old generally being over 12mths) because now, ‘outcomes’ are the name of the new game. What old report states outcomes?
So, back to requesting a SA. Who can ask for one? Well, it seems that just about anyone who has concerns about a child’s needs, be they learning- or disability-related. Once a LA has been alerted, they must determine if a SA is necessary. Contrary to what a LA might tell a parent, the clock ticks from day 1, the day the LA is asked to do a SA. Do you need to fill in a form? Well, no. It may help & many LAs provide one, but I can’t see that there’s any duty for a parent to complete one. Clock’s still ticking…..
I’m not going to go much further into law here, but you can find some good free legal advice here. Many solicitors also carry free information on their sites. If you are going to engage a solicitor, remember you need a SEND specialist, not just an education one. SEND Law is a specialism in its own right! There’s a good few on Twitter, but if I start naming them, I might be a) accused of recommendation or b) of promoting some & snubbing others!
So what proof do you need (as a parent) to show that a child or young person has SEND? Well….. none actually. You only need to demonstrate a probability, so you don’t need a diagnosis of anything, you just need to show your child is struggling. Like I said at the start, this is a request for assessment only. The EHCP bit comes afterwards. If schools make a request, then you would expect them to demonstrate some kind of proof, such as what interventions have already been tried & why they haven’t worked.
But where is the line between SEN support & the need for a SA/EHCP? Indeed, is there one at all? SEN support is effectively an Action Research project coupled with Waves of Intervention. The three waves however do not link to how many cycles should be taken, I would expect that there should be more than 3 cycles!
Action Research Model (a form of Assess, Plan, Do, Review)
The teacher needs to consider what s/he has identified as a problem & subsequent potential interventions. They reflect on the success or otherwise & consider their next cycle of action. If their own good teaching isn’t working, they may seek help & advice from colleagues/subject specialists/SENCO as to what to try next. Each cycle of support should tighten, thus increasing the level of support given. If in-school expertise isn’t gaining good results, then external support should be sought (e.g. EPs/specialist teachers).
Question 1. Can a teacher on their own successfully apply each intervention during normal classes?
In my opinion, somewhere between seeking help from colleagues & seeking external help (maybe between Wave 2 and Wave 3) lies a point where an extra pair of hands are required if the student is to progress. I suspect that this support will be subject & teacher specific. Some subjects are harder to grasp, peer groups change (and with them, the level of scaffolding the peer group can provide) and honestly, some teachers are simply better at thinking outside the box than others (plus the level of need within each class differs). This has as much to do with natural personality as experience. We can’t all be everything at once!
Question 2. At what point does slow progress become a difficulty in learning?
All students are going to progress at their own speeds, but education is a bit like a runaway train. It speeds ahead & you can quickly find that your wheels no longer touch the rails. Hopefully good quality teaching and SEN support aids both types of learner, but for a small minority, their difficulty cannot be overcome in-house, even with external advice. Teachers aren’t psychologists or therapists, rarely are they SEND specialists. They are simply teachers who have a general nod towards SEND & rely on the school’s SENCO to guide them further. Also, we must not forget the ‘D’ in SEND. It’s not all about academic progress, it’s also about access – physical, sensory & social barriers. Not just the wheelchair, but the shards of light or whiffs of smells, and the ability to make & maintain friendships.
Question 3. What is ‘normally available in mainstream schools from its resources’?
Hopefully, anyone passing by this blog can add to this. All LAs should have a fully-functioning Local Offer up by now. There is a requirement for LAs to publish ‘the special educational provision the LA expects to be provided by mainstream schools and mainstream post 16 institutions from their existing resources’. Does yours? I’ve asked mine where on their Local Offer site this information is published back in October. I’m still waiting…… I may go & look again, but last time I looked, it pointed to the school’s own Local Offer (ahem, schools do not have a Local Offer, they have a SEND report!). It’s not saying that it is what every school will provide, only what it expects to be provided within a school’s budget.
So, are parents & schools somewhat stuck as to what can and/or should be provided? In my mind, these are what should be provided:
- Good quality teaching
- Ever-decreasing cycles of intervention based on internal and external advice
- Support services to give this advice
- Flexible Teaching Assistant support where it is required
- Assistive technology
- Minor classroom adaptations such as decoration, blinds and location
- Clubs to aid good relationships
What I don’t see as being ‘normally available’ are:
- All therapists (when was the last time a mainstream school had a Speech Therapist just hanging about on its staff?)
- Mental Health specialists (is it generally usual to have these on staff either?)
- Any professional where ‘advice’ turns in to ‘full-blown assessment’
- A teacher of the deaf and/or blind
- Highly specialised support staff, e.g. trained in BSL
- 1:1 personal carers
- Dedicated 1:1 Teaching Assistants (as opposed to flexible & intermittent support)
- Lunchtime & after school clubs specifically to give targeted interventions. These should be optional extras, no student should have to receive their education during their lunch break or outside of normal hours.
Anyone out there want to add their thoughts to these two lists?
And now we’re back to Statutory Assessment. As I’ve already said, a SA is only to establish if an EHCP is necessary, it is not there because one is necessary. Actually, the argument about a school’s budget does not form part of the question regarding if a SA is necessary, it forms part of the argument as to whether an EHCP is necessary. It is the SA after all that informs the EHCP, i.e. the identification of a student’s needs, not a school’s budget! However, it has to be done before an EHCP is written (even if there is a statement in place) because that is part of the Law. Of course a SA can also take place where the child is in pre-school, or even in prison if they are likely to go back into education.
The issue is in finding out where the lines are, if there are lines at all. The reforms are supposed to be as much about removing the postcode lottery as they are about improving life chances for the whole family. How is your Local Offer doing to establish those lines?