Features: March 31st, 2017

Mark Raeburn explores the implications for local authorities of the next stage of the government’s special educational needs and disabilities reforms.

The government recently announced that April 2018 is the deadline for local authorities to ensure that all children with special educational needs who are currently on old-style statements to be moved over to an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan – £40 million in funding is being made available to support this.

The EHC is a single plan for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) which runs from birth through to the age of 25. It is designed to evolve to ensure their changing education, health and care needs are met over this time.

So, what changes do the new EHC plans bring when it comes to the way children and young people with SEND and their families access services – and how will the new plans support local authorities in planning and delivering services where they are needed?

All in one place

The EHC plan requires the wealth of information on children with SEND, such as past assessments, school history, family circumstances and notes from any meetings with care professionals, to be stored centrally. This means that the different teams in contact with the child, with the right permissions, can see a more complete picture of their lives and local authorities can ensure that at each stage in their education and development, they are receiving the appropriate level of support.

The plan moves with a child into further or higher education too – and beyond that into work – with the aim of helping young people with SEND to achieve all they are capable of and thrive, whichever pathway they take into employment.

Information sharing

With multiple teams often in contact with a child and their family, efficient and effective data sharing is at the heart of the EHC plan. The plan might contain include past SEN assessments, attendance and attainment information from the child’s school or college, as well as notes from meetings tutors have had with the family.

There could be an education psychologist, healthcare practitioner or social worker involved too and they would all need to be able to contribute to the plan, upload relevant information and access details from other teams working with the family.

Storing everything in one place will help all those involved to build a clear picture of a child’s specific needs so that the right levels of support can be put in place. With the requirement for key data on children to be collated from multiple sources, over what could be many years, local authorities need to ensure that the technology they use to manage EHC plans fits the bill.

Involving families

Another key feature of the EHC plan is that the views of a child’s family must be taken into account when shaping the type of support that is most appropriate for a child. For this to work effectively, parents and carers will need to have access to a range of information that will help to maximise their involvement in the development of their child’s plan.
Some local authorities are going down the route of an online parent portal to support this, which would allow parents and families to log on to their child’s EHC plan from any internet-enabled device. This will give them secure access to the details of their child’s case so they can check progress and upload relevant information or evidence that might support their child’s application, wherever and whenever it is convenient for them to do so.

This move to self-service, online communications will save time for staff too as parents will have direct access to the information they need in a few keystrokes or swipes of the screen, reducing the number of phone calls and emails coming through to the local authority.

In addition to this, an online option makes it simpler to enable the child or young person concerned to add their own views to their EHC plan, where appropriate – another key element of the new plan. With the voices of both the child and their family captured, local authorities will be in a strong position to be able to put a package of support together that matches the family’s expectations and needs of the child as they get older.

Streamlined planning

The information local authorities gather on the children and young people in their area with SEND could provide valuable insight to help staff in planning what services and support might be needed in the future. With a historical picture of where referrals are coming from – whether the majority are from schools, health services or the families themselves – local authorities can analyse the data to spot trends and make informed decisions to respond to the changing needs of their communities. They might identify a need to provide more information or training in schools, strengthen existing provision for children with sensory impairment or boost services to help families with disabled young people in a particular neighbourhood.

Efficient and effective information sharing is the foundation of the EHC plan and intelligent data analysis will help to ensure that children with SEND get the support they need, at the heart of their communities, to enjoy happy and fulfilling lives.

Mark Raeburn is managing director of Capita One,