A key principle of the SEND reforms is that children and young people with SEND, and their parents and families, should be supported to participate in decisions that affect them, and receive appropriate information and advice.
Local authorities are statutorily responsible for providing children, young people and parents with an impartial information, advice and support service on SEND in their local area. This responsibility dates back to the early 1990s (initially as Parent Partnership Services), and has been reinforced and extended by the Children and Families Act 2014. Further information on these duties can be found in chapter 2 of the SEND Code of Practice (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-code-of-practice-0-to-25).
In addition, between April 2014 and March 2018 the Government has invested £60m in the Independent Supporter programme. This programme is focused on ensuring there was a service in every local area in England providing individuals to help families with children and young people who are undergoing a statutory Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment or who have an EHC plan. This programme was designed to address the ‘newness’ of the process for conducting EHC needs assessments and issuing EHC plans. It also recognised the additional demands on local authorities in conducting transfer reviews for children and young people with statements of SEN or Learning Difficulty Assessments, while also supporting new entrants to the system who require an EHC needs assessment.
The Government has also funded a national helpline for families who have children and young people with SEND for several years. Demands on the service have been consistently high, and so the Government proposes to continue to provide resources for this service. In recent years, innovations in technology have helped to develop the service beyond phone-line support. The national helpline already works well with a range of other support services, including local information, advice and support services, but further synergies could be achieved.
On 8 January the Department published a tender for a new contract providing families with access to information advice and support, to come into effect from 1 April 2018. The estimated value of this contract is up to £12.5m in 2018-19 and up to £10.5m in 2019-20. This contract will build on work which has previously been carried out, including:
• The Independent Supporter programme, currently provided by the Council for Disabled Children. This programme funds the recruitment and training of around 1200 Independent Supporters, available in every local authority area, to support families through the EHC needs assessment and plan process.
• National support for local Information, Advice and Support Services (IASS), currently provided by the IASS Network hosted by the Council for Disabled Children.
• The national helpline for families who have children and young people with SEND, currently provided by Contact.
The purpose of this contract will be to ensure that:
• Children and young people with SEND and their parents in every local authority area have access to information, and impartial advice and support, which meets a set of minimum standards based on local authorities’ existing statutory requirements (set out in chapter 2 of the SEND Code of Practice). These services will provide a wide range of information, advice and support covering SEND issues across education, health and social care, both directly and through signposting families onto more specialist support as appropriate; and
• A national helpline – including a dedicated Freephone service – and access to online information, advice and support is available to families who have children and young people with SEND. It is critical that the national helpline service works effectively with local support services to ensure consistency and accuracy of information and advice.
In order to achieve this, we have set a number of requirements for the successful bidder. The full specification is set out in the Invitation to Tender document.
• The successful bidder will develop clear minimum standards for local services delivering information, advice and support, based on the legal requirements set out in the SEND Code of Practice and the standards already developed by the Information, Advice and Support Services Network. These requirements will need to be developed early in 2018-19.
• The successful bidder will support and encourage local information, advice and support services to meet or exceed these minimum standards. We envisage the successful bidder passing a proportion of the contract value – potentially a majority – to local information, advice and support services through sub-contractual arrangements. The successful bidder will be required to design and implement an approach that incentivises areas to strive for high quality local services, rewarding those which have strong positive feedback from users, and to incentivise areas to move quickly to meet the minimum standards.
• The successful bidder will provide ongoing support and challenge to local services, ensuring they can access high quality training, networking and good practice sharing opportunities.
• The successful bidder will develop, trial and implement proposals for how the national helpline can complement local information, advice and support services and other national helplines aimed at families who have children and young people with SEND. This could include ‘out of hours’ services, a single national ‘front desk’ redirecting to local or specialist helplines, and the use of online chat, video calling to maximise effectiveness.
We expect these new arrangements to be in place at least from 1 April 2019, if not earlier. We recognise that there will need to be a period of development, planning and transition, and it is particularly important that support continues to be available to parents, young people and families. We have therefore included specific requirements for this transition during 2018-19.
• The successful bidder will ensure every local area develops a viable and sustainable approach to delivering high quality information, advice and support services. This will need to take account of existing cultural and organisational arrangements in each area; the views of children, young people and parents; and will ensure the approach provides value for money.
• The successful bidder will develop a transition plan that allows for existing local services – predominantly Independent Supporter agencies and statutory information, advice and support services – to migrate to any new arrangements in the area. We expect the successful bidder to manage the necessary contractual arrangements so that existing organisations can smoothly transition to any new arrangements during the course of the year.
• The successful bidder will ensure the existing helpline service remains available to families so that there is continuity of service until any new arrangements are introduced.
Information on how to request the Invitation to Tender documentation can be found on the Contracts Finder website at https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/154f602a-ce17-4643-9716-0f3f813353b5.
What does this mean for parents, young people and families?
We expect the successful bidder to put in place transition arrangements so that children and young people with SEND and their parents can continue to draw on existing information, advice and support in their local areas (for example from statutory IAS services or from Independent Supporters), and from the national helpline, until new arrangements are put in place.
The work of the successful bidder will ensure that the information, advice and support available to children, young people and parents meets minimum standards regardless of where they live, and that these information, advice and support services strive to improve their delivery.
What does this mean for local authorities?
Local authorities continue to be under a statutory duty to commission information, advice and support services. Our new contractor will work to ensure that information, advice and support services in all local areas are supported to develop and improve their quality, so that they meet minimum standards. The successful bidder will encourage local services to meet or exceed these minimum standards, including providing financial incentives.
What does this mean for current providers of Independent Supporters?
We expect existing Independent Supporter providers to continue supporting parents and young people until new arrangements are developed in each local area. We expect existing Independent Supporter sub-contracts to novate to the new contractor in the first instance, pending the development of new arrangements in each local area.
Places available at the Autism Education Trust annual conference - 27 February 2018
The Autism Education Trust annual conference takes place on 27 February at the Central Hall, Westminster, from 9am to 4pm. A range of speakers will focus on support for autistic children and young people in education. For more details and to book your place, please use this link:
Extension to Department of Health survey about raising concerns and making complaints
The Department for Health has also launched a survey of the views of children, young people and adults with a learning disability, autism or both, their families and paid carers about people’s experiences of raising concerns and making complaints. The survey has been extended until 31 January 2018. For further details please see the consultation site https://www.engage.england.nhs.uk/survey/ask-listen-do/
Changes to the rate of appeal to the SEND tribunal
The Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice have launched a joint consultation on a change to the rate of appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
The rate of appeal is calculated from the number of appeals registered with the SEND Tribunal per year and is currently shown as a rate per 10,000 of the school population. The SEND reforms extended the age range to include 0-25 and the current methodology being used does not, therefore, reflect the eligible population.
The consultation proposes a new approach to considering the appeal rate and looks at the rate based on the eligible opportunities to appeal, rather than the age of the cohort as only certain local authority decisions regarding EHC plans can be taken to the SEND Tribunal.
We are keen to get comments on this, especially from users of SEND Tribunal statistics. The consultation began on 14 December 2017 and closes on 9 February 2018. It can be found at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8HZCXJS
Standards for Special Educational Needs and Disability Mediators
The Civil Mediation Council (CMC) and College of Mediators (COM), on behalf of a working group of SEND Mediators, Mediation Providers and other stakeholders, have been working on an initiative supported by the Department for Education to introduce voluntary, self-administered standards of professional practice.
This consultation seeks views on the practice standards, system for accreditation and the approval of training courses. We would welcome comments from those of you with an interest in SEND Mediation.
The consultation survey began on 8 January 2018 and closes on 2 February 2018 and can be accessed here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NVMZDJK
The draft standards can be viewed at http://www.sendpathfinder.co.uk/professional-standards-for-mediators-working-with-send.
If you wish to make additional comments please email the helpdesk at email@example.com.
SEND single route of redress national trial – regulations
In March 2017, the government committed to introduce a two-year national trial to expand the powers of the First-tier Tribunal (SEND) to make non-binding recommendations on the health and social care aspects of LA decisions concerning Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans as part of a special educational appeal. The trial builds on the ambition of the SEND reforms, which puts families and individuals at the centre of the assessment process. It will enable the Tribunal to take a more holistic view of the child or young person’s needs, encourage joint working, and bring about positive benefits to families.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability (First-tier Tribunal Recommendations Power) Regulations 2017 were laid on 20 December and will come into force on 3 April 2018: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2017/1306/made/data.pdf.
A package of support will be available to local areas to include:
• regional training events for senior managers across education, health and social care taking place in January and February;
• a guidance document for professionals, parents and young people;
• a toolkit with templates and a Frequently Asked Questions factsheet;
• ongoing support through a helpdesk, newsletters, webinars and support from the DfE SEND Adviser team and NHS England.
If you would like further information about the national trial, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.