Like the title? I nicked it in part from a Twitter conversation I had last week. I can’t remember who said the first bit although I do have an inkling. I can always amend later to give credit where credit’s due!
Reading the instructions
Like billions of women before me, I had children. Not a straightforward affair as my hormones have never worked as they should, but two boys eventually arrived. Thing is when you have kids, they don’t come with a manual. It’s not like someone’s there, waiting for them to pop out to hand you the appropriate book. Could you imagine, Dr Spock for the ‘ordinary’ kids and a Haynes manual for fixing the others? And yet, where children with additional needs are concerned, we parents are supposed to know everything, including how to ensure that our children gain an education suited to their ‘age, aptitude and ability’. But, as parents, we have a duty to secure this. For most families, this is done by ensuring that they attend a school regularly. For a few, it will be via suitable home education. This isn’t so easy when Special Educational Provision (SEP) needs to be made, but ensuring the education complies with the ‘age, aptitude and ability’ thing for this cohort doesn’t rest with us alone. In fact, arguably, it doesn’t rest with us at all, it rests with the LA. They have a legal duty towards children and young people with SEN/D.
Consider your pattern
When my son was little, this word ‘statement’ kept getting bandied about. I can’t say that I knew what one was as such, but I did know that my son was like a leech. Give him a willing adult and he’ll bleed them dry for information! Stick him in a class of 30 plus one teacher and there was going to be trouble. I understood that a statement meant that an extra adult would be placed in the class for him to suck dry…….. Looking back, that is all that the statement gave – TA time. No more, no less. His first TA had started teacher training in the past but had to quit due to her husband being transferred (he was a vicar). She seemed to be actually teaching him, whereas others were more, well, mothering? When it all started going tits-up, I started looking into the legal requirements of a statement. My son’s didn’t meet them. It was a short, useless piece of paper and so I set about changing it.
Gathering the pieces
EHC plans aren’t that much different from a statement, only they also include a pinch of health & social care. So, you’ve got this statement or plan but how do you know if it is of any use? Well, part 2/B is a description of need, 3/F is provision and 4/I is the school – the first two must be completed before even considering the placement, they shouldn’t be written with a school in mind. That’s really not the point of having such an individualised document. It’s also why you can’t really go by a ‘good example’ of a plan, since the example isn’t about your child! Annoyingly, there’s no master template for an EHC plan like there is for a statement. Each LA was left to make their own up.
Pinning the pieces together
So where on earth do you start? What I often suggest to parents is to produce a little pen portrait of their child. It might be worth ‘ordering’ the portrait into categories, but these will depend on each individual child, Very simplistically, this might translate into something like this (but, I suspect, far longer!):
- Literacy – issues with reading & spelling, letters back to front, doesn’t understand stories
- Numeracy – can only count to ten, no concept of 1 more/less, can’t handle money
- Social/emotional – doesn’t know how to make/keep friends. Often says/does the wrong thing
- Physical/self-help – needs help with bathroom/dressing, can only manage to walk 5-6 steps unaided
- Medical – requires insulin injections before every meal
- Communication – struggles to be understood. Speech disordered/unclear
It may take some time to get everything down on paper & it’s worth spending a few days, if not a couple of weeks or so on this, since things pop into your mind at odd times. We get used to our children & forget how much we’ve adapted to their needs.
Adding the padding
Once the ‘needs’ (part 2/B) are sorted, it’s time to think about what provision is required to meet them. For every need, there must be provision although one ‘type’ of provision may meet more than one need. For example, a speech and language therapist may work on both verbal and social communication. When professionals write their reports, they should state what provision is required. It is worth taking a highlighter pen to your reports and marking this (perhaps 2 colours, one for needs, another for provision). This is where things can get a bit tricky. Johnny might need a calm environment – this is actually provision, not a need! The need would be the reason, perhaps sensory issues.
Hold the statement/EHC plan against your pen portrait & the highlighted reports and check off each item when you see it in 2/B and 3/F. What’s left remaining is what you’re going to have to argue for. If it’s in a report, it may be easier to do. If it’s in your pen portrait, then you’re going to have to find evidence, generally this will be a professional report.
Gold lamé stitching
Both health & social care can run ‘resource allocation systems’ where they can offer you what they can afford to give. However, with a statement or the education part of an EHC plan, it must be written around need and not resource. Most therapies educate or train, so therefore must be in part 3/F. If you think your child needs more than is on offer through the NHS, you’re probably going to need an independent report – the ‘gold lamé’ part of the quilt – and be prepared to argue for any additional provision it may include through tribunal. Unfortunately, gaining independent reports is going to mean occurring some expense. Spend wisely.
Quilting it all together
I have deliberately kept away from the health & social care aspects of the EHC plan, as routes to appeal are totally different from the education aspects (although I do understand that there’s some pilots going on out there). Only parts B, F and I can be appealed in the same way as 2, 3 and 4 of a statement.
Unlike assembling a quilt, or repairing a car, there is no straightforward instruction manual for all of the skills we need to parent a child who is not ‘ordinary’, ‘normal’, ‘differently abled’ or any other term we choose to use. There certainly is no instantly personalise-able manual for writing an EHC plan. Just to add to the headache, professionals also lack consistency – people diagnose, not tests. People, of course, have different opinions/skills/expertise/interests etc within the same field.
Personally, once I started doing this process, I realised just how much was missing from my son’s statement – and, unfortunately, from some professional’s reports. Another thing with professional reports, especially Educational Psychologist’s ones, is that no-one explains them to you. If you knew what they meant, you’d have a much better idea of what the EHC plan should contain and maybe even more importantly, how the school is meeting those needs. Here’s another rub though, does the school have anyone who understands the reports either? It shouldn’t be assumed that this is the case, especially if the school changes SENCOs frequently. It takes time to train to assess and even more time to become experienced in what assessments mean.
Once you get a good idea of what isn’t in the EHC plan or statement, it’s probably time to take some legal advice on what to do next to make sure all those carefully crafted stitches remain in place!