Weekly political news round up – 18th April 2014

April 18, 2014 in News by Whitehouse

Around the sector

BBC News has reported that Schools Minister David Laws has called for a “significant period of stability” following the coalition government’s wide-ranging reforms. Laws added that “I hope that whatever the outcome of the May 2015 general election, parties will focus in these areas on implementation rather than further change. I certainly intend that my party should set out a commitment to much greater policy stability in our manifesto.”

The Guardian has reported that the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson, has warned that the effective age to begin compulsory education is danger of becoming two rather than four as parents try to gain an advantage in winning places in coveted schools by putting their infants in the school’s nursery provision. As part of the study on school admissions, researchers found that parents of children with special educational needs strongly felt that they were dissuaded from applying for certain schools, both actively and tacitly.

The National Children’s Bureau has published a report showing that parents and practitioners greatly value children’s centres and the service they provide to families, and that their continued funding should be secured. The report, based on a survey of over 200 practitioners and parents, found that over 80% wanted children’s centres to continue to work with all children under five. Respondents felt that the highest priorities for children’s centres should be: family and outreach support; early education and language development; and play opportunities.

Children and Young People Now has reported that the quality of staff employed by Tribal Group, a provider commissioned by Ofsted to deliver inspection services in early years settings, has been criticised by former Ofsted Inspector Debbie Alcock, who is now managing director of Influential Child Care Training. She claimed that they lacked training and that she was “shocked by some of the things that are happening at the moment – unprofessionalism, the way people are working – just awful”.

Department for Education publishes revised SEN Code of Practice

The Department for Education has published a revised draft SEN Code of Practice asking for further comment from those organisations and professionals that “must have regard to the Code” by 6th May.

This revised document has been published to satisfy a pledge that the DfE made to schools that they will be given “two terms notice” to implement the reforms using the Code. The DfE also seems to be making a concerted effort to win the sector’s endorsement of the Code, for final comments and tweaks to be made before it is debated and approved in Parliament. The document has substantially improved on the previous draft and has taken on the sector’s comments in many areas.

The following aspects of the Code have changed since the October draft:

Format

The length of the code has increased considerably, from 172 to 242 pages. The reason for this change is primarily to do with additional detail added into every section, but paragraphs have also been split up to make key issues clearer and more diagrams and tables added to explain different issues such as the accountability of services. Other linked legislation, especially the Equality Act, has been referenced throughout to clarify the legal framework.

However, the format is still a weakness because the Code is still trying to address multiple audiences, parents, service users and service providers, in one document. As such, there is a risk that many parties will have difficulty referring to the document even though  the Code is supposed to become a universal reference tool.

Early years

The responsibilities of all education and health providers, from the early years to further education, to identify and support children and young people have been given far more detail. There is an entire chapter dedicated to early years providers and their responsibilities, including private and voluntary providers (PVI). PVI early years providers have been clearly requested to have regard to the Code and LAs have been required to do so. The references to the Early Years Foundation State (EYFS) seem to be have been made more robust and clearer and linked with the identification and support of need.

However, the Code now reflects the changes to primary school accountability, where the EYFS profile is no longer statutory and providers are not required to implement it but this draft still sets out its value clearly. More detail has been given on the value of the 2-year-old progress check and how it may be used to identify needs, but more information is still required on what it will entail. The Code also contains a requirement on health bodies to advise parents of the educational services and VCS guidance available to support their children – a responsibility made far clearer in this latest draft – while health professionals are also expected to understand the non-medical needs of children with SEN and offer advice.

Support in schools

The chapter on the responsibilities of schools is far more proactive than the October draft, offering far more advice on how schools can identify and support children with special educational needs. This has included a more detailed section on the graduated response. The Code also explains in greater detail how identification and support links in with pupil attainment and behaviour and why early intervention should be encouraged in schools – effectively better linking SEN support with the reforms to school accountability to make it clearer that progress for all pupils is in their interest.

Joint commissioning, the local offer and accountability

This section makes clearer where the responsibilities of different services lie and how the process of joint strategic needs assessments (JSNAs) and the local offer link. More emphasis has been placed on the involvement of children and young people and their parents in the design of services, in particular in relation to the local offer. The Code also proposes that a Designated Medical Officer is appointed by CCGs to be accountable for health services, although this role is non-statutory. Area SEN coordinators are another role encouraged by the Code to coordinated services, but again are not compulsory. The responsibilities of certain bodies have been defined more clearly, including the role of Health and Wellbeing Boards in overseeing JSNAs. The social care section has been expanded considerably, but the detail here is sparse compared to other parts of the Code as it is essentially a late addition.

However, what this draft Code does reveal even more clearly is that joint commissioning will be disjointed across the country because there is no set leadership for encouraging joint-working, stating that CCGs and LAs will have “considerable freedom” in how they work together meaning that those areas with good relationships between partners are much more likely to succeed in ensuring good service provision. The accountability of various bodies from schools and local authorities to health bodies has also been described more clearly (3.69) but there remains the problem that the accountability structure is haphazard and without an ultimate overseer.

EHC Plans

This section remains broadly the same, although more detail has been offered in certain stages and some of the more complicated explanations broken up, while it is still suggested the Plans quantify the support available. The role of personal budgets for children and young people with Plans has been explained in more detail but as they are up for local areas to design and introduce, it is expected that they will not be in widespread use because their implementation has proved too difficult in health and social care.

Scottish Government publishes guidance to support provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

The Scottish Government has published the proposed outline of the statutory guidance to support three parts of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act. These three parts are: Part 4 (Provision of Named Persons), 5 (Child’s Plan) and 18 (General). These provisions aim to support the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) approach, and its implementation across Scotland. GIRFEC is the national approach to reforming children’s services to improve outcomes for all children and young people.

By enshrining key elements of GIRFEC in the Act, the Scottish Government hopes to ensure there is a single planning approach for children who need additional support from services, create a single point of contact for every child and provide a holistic understanding of wellbeing. The guidance is intended to ensure all services are included in a common approach, with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention to provide effective support, and a key role for children and families in shaping service delivery.

The Provision of Named Persons (Part 4) states that when a child is born, their local Health Board will have a duty to provide them with a Named Person service. The Named Person is a single point of contact for every child so that no one is left without potential support. They will ensure that action by services will be co-ordinated, child-centred, efficient and responsive. Whereas a parent has the right and responsibility to bring up their child, the Named Person is a professional in the universal services of health and education, most often known to the child and parents/carers, and available to support children and families when there is a need, and to act as a point of contact for other practitioners who may have a concern about the child.

Although there will always be a single Named Person, this person will change over time. From birth to around 10 days the Named Person will be the midwife who delivered them. From 10 days onward, the role of the Named Person will be handed over to their assigned Health Visitor. When the child starts school, the Named Person will typically be the school head teacher. It is hoped that by introducing a Named Person, signs of potential concern amongst children will be identified sooner and support offered will be more effective.

The Child’s Plan (Part 5) seeks to address the current situation where parents find that there are several different plans that seek to address issues with the child’s health, learning needs or home circumstances. In this situation, agencies may be working in isolation to address specific needs, perhaps because they are unaware that other bodies are involved, or do not know that there are other concerns that may lie outside their main focus.  By offering a single plan for a child’s wellbeing, the Child’s Plan seeks to change this.

Where the child’s main needs lie within the Named Person’s agency (health for pre-school children or education after starting school) the Named Person is expected to initiate a single agency Child’s Plan and co-ordinate delivery of support where additional targeted help is needed (a ‘targeted intervention’), unless this requires a level of coordination out with the scope or capacity of the Named Person. For example, for a young child where concerns are highlighted at the 27-30 month review, the Health Visitor may seek support from other specialist health professionals and coordinate that support through a Child’s Plan. Where the child is of school age, the Head Teacher can call upon education services out with the school’s resources to meet aspects of the child’s wellbeing. The support and the desired outcomes will be outlined in the Child’s Plan.

The Named Person will work with the lead professional, who is the professional best placed to carry out the coordinating role and work with the family to improve outcomes for the child, and should always be involved in the decision to initiate the Child’s Plan even if they do not work for the agency leading on preparation of the plan. Although for many children there may be an incremental approach to planning and support, moving from a single agency plan to a more complex, multi-agency plan supported by a Lead Professional, for a minority a sudden event or crisis might require multi-agency planning and support as a first step.

As a key principle of GIRFEC, the child and the parents should be actively involved in the process of development and review of the plan and their views will be considered and recorded within the plan. Only in exceptional circumstances will professionals have to make the decision that it is not possible, or appropriate, to seek views and involve the parent and/or child in aspects of the assessment and planning process.

The Scottish Government stated that the full statutory guidance on the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act will be available and subject to consultation in due course.