In my article last year “Special Educational Needs : Derby City Council is failing the children” I highlighted some very stark details about how the Council was not ensuring that these children were getting timely access to “an appropriate education” by failing badly against the statutory timescales for publishing an agreed individual education plan. One other issue which I briefly touched upon was the transition plan from the old SEN statement to the new Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
SEN statement and EHCP
Both the old SEN statement and the new EHCP have broadly the same objective. This is to define the actions that the Local Authority ( and school) must implement to ensure that the child can access education, recognising their diagnosed learning difficulties . The process of compiling the document ensures that the nature of the child’s condition is fully analysed and understood by professionals. This results in a plan ( detailing school placement and special actions on the school and local authority) , fully agreed by the parents, included in a document which is legally binding on the Council. The new EHCP is more rigorous, potentially more onerous to the Council, and more valuable for the child’s education and future potential – it not a “cut and paste” exercise.
Since 1 September 2014, the Local Authority has had a statutory responsibility to transition children from the old SEN statement to the new EHCP. This has to be completed by 1 April 2018. The plan must give priority to those children who are due to move school e.g. from primary to secondary. Legally, the Council has 18 weeks to complete each individual child’s transfer plan.
Original plan is seriously missing legal targets
In 2014, Derby City Council issued its 3 year plan which detailed how 1133 children would be transitioned to the new EHCP. For the school year 2014/15 the plan was to transfer 425 children. In November 2015 ( and published in my article) I was told by the DCC Press Office that only 211 of that population had been transferred to a final EHCP in that year. Subsequently, in a written answer to Councillor Roulstone’s question in Full Council on 3 February 2016 this had reduced to 143. In a Freedom of Information Request, also from February 2016, the number “completed” was declared at 83, with only 7 having been issued to parents. A transfer is not completed until it’s issued to the parents after the 18 week process.
So, 7 out of 425 by 17 February 2016, which should have been completed by 31 August 2015. 418 children have moved up a school without their new plan in place – the Council continues to fail badly.
Why the Council cannot provide anything remotely like a consistent answer to a simple question on something which should be being closely monitored is the subject of another article.
The Council confirmed that ZERO of the transfers had taken place in the legally required time of 18 weeks. They could not comment on the average due to the “computer system” not recording enough detail!
The Council has now had to publish a re-plan, and version 3 was issued in February 2016. This shows that in the 6 months to August 31 2016 they will complete 827 plans ( when only 7 were issued in 18 months). Over 200 are planned to be completed during the school holidays. The plan fails against the Government guidelines which stipulate that all EHCP’s should be issued in the February prior to the change of school in the September. This is not now giving the school, the parents, and most importantly the children time to prepare for the change – a change which will require time to plan and manage.
Each individual conversion plan must start, legally, with a letter issued by the Local Authority to the parents giving them 2 weeks notice of the commencement of the 18 week transfer timetable. In order that the Council can ensure that it is delivering its overall programme it must know that these letters are being issued on a regular basis in line with the committed schedule. However, under Freedom of Information, the Council could not answer the question as to how many letters had been issued (it’s not being monitored). If they don’t know this, then they have no way of knowing whether their plan will deliver on time. It is clear, just by simple observation, that the plan has no chance of being delivered.
Government cuts cannot be blamed for this as there were specific implementation grants awarded to the Council. For 2014-15 this was £594k, for 2015-16 £152k, and 2016-17 £171k. £310k of the 2014-15 grant was carried forward into 2015-16. The grant is being used to employ temporary staff to deliver the conversion process. £570k has been spent so far without any significant output.
The Council is out of control on this issue! This is not an administrative task, this is the education and lives of over 1000 children in this City. There are anecdotes that some children are not attending any schooling at all now, and that many parents are very anxious and upset about the lack of care and attention being given to this subject.
Despite this being a key priority, some would maintain that the Council is going out of its way to severely limit spending on children with SEN by under-diagnosing the extent of their conditions and diluting the actions to support the child.
The objective performance on this critical programme explains the views held by the parents. The Council is in danger of failing on all counts in managing this transition and is in serious risk of permanently damaging the education of too many children with Special Educational Needs.
This was the answer given to Cllr Roulstone by Cabinet member Cllr Russell when challenged on this this issue on 3 February 2016,
Roulstone:“With roughly 18 month to 2 years left what re-assurances can be given to the parents that this ( the remaining plan) will be done successfully”
Russell: “As I outlined in the original response, it doesn’t mean that a child hasn’t got a plan in place as their statement is still valid up until a transfer occurs even if the conversion is late. So I would say, yes, there have been issues and we are looking to re-invest into this particular service. For example in the current financial year, Derby schools and academies have had a total of £22.94m in their collective budgets to spend on children with additional educational needs – that’s over and above monies invested into statements and plans. So I just want to re-assure you that although conversion rates are not as high as we would like we are investing in that again but children who do have a plan – that statement is still valid”
The issue is not that they don’t have a plan, but that they don’t have an EHCP, which has been introduced for good reasons – to improve opportunity for the child! I think Cllr Russell sees it just as a “cut and paste” exercise – seriously missing the point!
If anyone wants any specific help on the transfer process, or problems with delays, then you can contact Cllr Ruth Skelton, tel: 01332 603902, email: firstname.lastname@example.org