Monday, 4 April 2016

Ofsted ‘failing to check’ equality law compliance

For almost a year, we have pressed Ofsted on the issue of inspecting schools' compliance with the Equality Act and its Regulations. The background can be read here.

Recently, one of our committee members, lawyer Debbie Sayers, was asked to contribute an article to the TES's SEN blog. Debbie chose to write a piece about equality and apparent failure of Ofsted to check compliance with the Act in accordance with the commitment in its Common Inspection Framework Document. Debbie questioned whether Ofsted were, as a matter of routine practice, checking compliance with the Act and what form this inspection was taking. She also noted Ofsted's comments in a letter to the ERA that a breach of the law would not necessarily prevent a school being graded 'good' or 'outstanding'. She argued "if Ofsted inspectors don't consider these issues, why should schools bother? Ultimately, Ofsted may find that the disconnect between its policy commitment and practice carries legal consequences."

The TES decided to produce an article instead of using the blog. The article is usually only available to TES subscribers but, with the kind permission of the TES, the article, written by Charlotte Santry, can now be reproduced here.

Two lawyers are quoted in the article. John Halford from Bindmans notes: " Schools would be breaking the law if there was no written evidence that they had complied with equalities legislation and could show that they had discussed it.... Ofsted could be challenged if it failed to demand the evidence."

Sarah Woosey, from Irwin Mitchell LLP, confirmed that "the issues raised by the ERA suggested “shortcomings” in the way that Ofsted had carried out its role in accordance with general public law principles, including acting fairly, rationally and in good faith. “There seem to be some important concerns raised here that would need thorough investigation”.

We think that it is time for Ofsted to face these issues head on and set out very clearly:

(i) how will it be checking compliance with the law. The duties imposed by the Equality Regulations are very clear. This is not just about "outcomes" but about everyday practices and procedures; and

(ii) how they will deal with schools who break the law. We believe that a failure to comply with the law should prevent a school from being considered 'good' or 'outstanding'.

We are happy to meet to discuss this with Ofsted. We believe that it is now time for Ofsted to demonstrate a genuine understanding of the law in this area and set out the concrete steps it intends to take to ensure compliance with it.

This is a more effective use of public money than becoming embroiled in legal proceedings.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Inspecting [in]equalities Part 2: Ofsted, schools and the law

For the past few months we have been engaged in an email conversation with Ofsted about the issue of inspection and compliance with the Equality Act.

This conversation began some months ago after we noticed that several schools, recently graded 'outstanding' by Ofsted, did not appear (at first glance) to be complying with some of the statutory duties set out by the Equality Act and its accompanying Regulations. For example, they had no equality information on their websites and seemed to have published no equality objectives. Further we were concerned to find that, in some cases, there was no evidence of the existence of the statutorily required medical needs policies. The Ofsted reports for these schools did not reference this information and there was no evidence that the issues had been discussed with the schools in question or formed any part of the Ofsted inspection. 

The statutory duties in the Equality Act are important because they do not just require policies: they require action and records of action. They require target-setting, and publication and information and engagement. They require disabled pupils to be considered when all school functions are exercised and all decisions made. They are a key protection against disadvantage. Thus, they are not to be dismissed lightly, least of all because it is unlawful to do so. Consequently, we blogged about this in some detail here.

We are not trying to police schools on this. We believe schools do not always understand their duties and that more work should be undertaken to support schools and address this. However, we believe that these fundamental legal protections should be 'mainstreamed' by education inspectors to ensure that lawful practice is promoted.

Our concern is simple: should Ofsted be grading schools as 'good' or 'outstanding' if they have not checked that schools are meeting all their basic statutory duties? 

Common Inspection Framework

There is no doubt that this question is within Ofsted's remit. The new Common Inspection Framework does not mention inclusion but it does confirm:

"15. Inspectors will assess the extent to which the school or provider complies with relevant legal duties as set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, promotes equality of opportunity and takes positive steps to prevent any form of discrimination either direct or indirect against those with protected characteristics in all aspects of their work."

With this in mind, we have continued to raise questions with Ofsted about:

(i) whether inspectors have the training and expertise to make such determinations;

(ii)what form this inspection will take in practice;

(iii) what the consequences are for schools not complying with the law (i.e. will this prevent them being graded 'good' or 'outstanding'); and

(iv) whether there is any mechanism for reporting concerns about the failure of Ofsted reports to consider such issues.

Sean Harford, National Director, Education at Ofsted, and his staff, have been extremely helpful in attempting to answer these questions but concerns remain. Ofsted has confirmed it is happy for us to share the letter below.

Sean Harford's letter

First, Sean wrote back to us in July with this letter. It confirms:

(i) "all inspectors undertake training on inspecting equalities and its impact. Part of this will include face to face sessions and e-learning to reinforce this aspect of inspection";

(ii) "When considering the effectiveness of leadership and management, inspectors consider ‘how leaders promote all forms of equality and foster greater understanding of and respect for people of all faiths (and those of no faith), races, genders, ages, disability and sexual orientations (and other groups with protected characteristics), through their words, actions and influence within the school and more widely in the community.";

(iii) "An inspector will report on whether a school is fulfilling its statutory duties" (my note: this is in reference to a question on the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011);

(iv) "All evidence gathered during inspection is used to compile the inspection report"; 

(v) " Any failure to comply with statutory arrangements would be detailed in the inspection report"; and

(vi) "During inspection, inspectors will engage where possible with parents and pupils from different faiths (and those of no faith), races, genders, ages, disability and sexual orientations (and other groups with protected characteristics), but do not purposefully seek out select groups of people to talk to. "

The letter also confirms that Ofsted considers itself bound by the Equality Act and "as such publishes a report on our workforce picture in terms of equality and general objectives". The Equality Act seems largely something Ofsted considers in relation to its workforce; it sets no objectives in other areas, for example.


From this, we would suggest the following conclusions could be drawn:

(i) Ofsted has committed itself to inspecting compliance with the Equality Act and its Regulations;

(ii) evidence of this compliance (including compliance with the publication duties under the Regulations) should be sought during inspections;

(iii) this evidence should be referenced on the face of the report; 

(iv) Ofsted will undertake this assessment without necessarily talking to anyone with a protected characteristic (or any parent) to check if what is documented is occuring or to obtain their views; and

(v) Ofsted has not confirmed what the outcome will be if schools are not found to be complying with the law. Thus, we don't presently know whether statutory non-compliance will prevent schools being graded 'good' or 'outstanding'. The evidence to date suggests it will not.

Further questions 

We have not published this letter before because we have been engaged in further discussions with Ofsted to clarify some of these points.

Concerns about Ofsted reports: Ofsted has confirmed that if anyone comes across a report which they feel does not address these issues appropriately, they should contact the Schools Policy team -  - referencing the school details and relevant inspection. 

Ofsted guidance to schools: Despite having said in its Framework document and further correspondence that Ofsted inspectors will be looking at compliance with the Equality Act and its Regulations, Ofsted has not produced any guidance for schools on how it will undertake this assessment. Ofsted appears happy to write and blog about other issues concerning inspection (here for example) so we would suggest it provides equally clear guidance on this important issue.

Consequences of non-compliance: it is still not clear whether there are any consequences to breaking the law. Should a school really be graded 'good' or  'outstanding' if it is not complying with its statutory duties? Schools cannot get to pick and choose which laws they obey and Ofsted should have a clearly stated and consistent policy to address this.

Recently published Ofsted reports

Our concern is that there will be, in practice, no attempt to consider compliance with the Equality Act or its Regulations. 

This is particularly disappointing when the Regulations are so easy to assess as they are publication duties. Either a school has been publishing the required information or it has not. If it has not, it is breaking the law and the chances of it having complied with the other duties set out in the Act are, it could be suggested, minimal.

Ofsted considers whether schools have other statutorily required documents (see this) yet it appears to have done little in this area. Recently published Ofsted reports appear to confirm this.

Try this: go to Ofsted's inspection page  and look at the most recent reports. In these reports, there may be some comment on schools working to ensure there is no discrimination but it is likely that the Equality Act and its Regulations (or inclusion) are not mentioned. If the Act is mentioned, there is likely to be no evidence that compliance with it has been assessed. Further,  if you cross-reference the report to the school's website, you can very quickly see if they have published equality objectives, annual equality information, or whether there is a medical needs policy etc. If these documents are not online, we believe further inquiries should have been raised to ensure the law is being complied with. 

Where are we now? Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspecting Local Areas

Research already undertaken indicates poor levels of compliance by some schools with the Specific Duties Regulations and therefore with the Equality Act. This is no doubt assisted by a lack of oversight or enforcement.  

Further research is clearly required but it is worrying that Ofsted is committing itself to an assessment of compliance via inspection when a cursory glance at inspection reports on Ofsted's site reveals no evidence that any such assessment is taking place in schools. If Ofsted reports are not providing evidence that an assessment of compliance with equality duties has taken place, are inspectors really discharging the requirements of their own Framework document?

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission has recently published a consultation document about inspecting local area special educational need provision. This has been cautiously welcomed but if Ofsted cannot engage effectively and get fundamental issues of equality right with schools, how is it going to have the expertise, training and capacity to assess effectively the practice of battle-hardened LAs and NHS Trusts?

Three simple questions

We think Ofsted has a duty to assist schools, parents and pupils by answering three straightforward questions:

1. How will inspectors discharge the requirements of the Common Inspection Framework by inspecting compliance with the Equality Act and its Regulations?

2. How will we know this has been done?

3. Will Ofsted continue to grade schools as 'good' or 'outstanding' if there is evidence they are not complying with the Equality Act and its Regulations (e.g. if they are not publishing objectives and/or equality information)?

We have now written again to Ofsted on this. Read our letter here.

Ofsted's response

Ofsted's response to our letter can be found here. You can read for yourself whether you find it is a sufficient.

The salient point is that schools will not necessarily be downgraded for breaking the law if Ofsted feel pupil outcomes are ok. It's not clear how Ofsted can ascertain this from a single day's inspection. In any event, the law's requirements are specific and are not the same thing as pupil outcomes.

Of course this all depends on Ofsted actually inspecting compliance in the first place. In reality, from Ofsted reports, we feel there is little evidence this issue is even being considered by inspectors despite the Framework commitment.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Inspecting [in]equalities

About two months ago, we became aware of a school, considered to be Ofsted 'outstanding', which seemed to have:

1. No published equality information -  a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011;

2. One published equality objective which concerned staff gaining knowledge. It was three years old. It set no outcomes and there was no evidence it had ever been reviewed or evaluated for impact;

3. No published medical needs policy - see the statutory duty under s 100 Children and Families Act and statutory guidance; and

4. A SEN policy which said that the school may ask parents/carers to accompany children in need of intensive 1:1 if they wanted to go on trips. 

There were other minor, but still tell-tale, annoyances or 'red flags'  e.g. policies which still refer to the long gone Disability Discrimination Act and letters to parents which spoke of 'mainstream children'. 

This concerned us. If inclusion doesn't exist in available school policies (the stuff that, frankly, should be easy to get right), will it realistically exist in practice? Maybe. But you would still expect to see evidence of basic compliance with the law (e.g. the equality duties) and evidence that Ofsted had considered the issue. Instead, in this case, the word 'inclusion' is not even mentioned in Ofsted's report and, of course, no comment is made of the absence or existence of equality information.

What are the equality duties?

Under the Equality Act 2010, there is a general equality duty (the Public Sector Equality Duty - PSED) and specific statutory duties. These duties are not optional: they are compulsory. Their aim is to compel public bodies to take action towards equality and to show what action they have taken.

General duty

The general duty under s. 149 of the Equality Act, has three elements. In carrying out all its functions, a public body, in this case a school, must have due regard for the need to: 
  1. Eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act;
  2. Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic (such as disability) and people who do not share it; and
  3. Foster good relations across all characteristics - between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
The term 'due regard' has been defined in case law (Brown principles) as:
  • awareness – all staff know and understand what the law requires;
  • timeliness – implications are considered before policies/practices are implemented;
  • rigour – open-minded and rigorous analysis is undertaken, including parent/pupil voice;
  • non-delegation – the PSED cannot be delegated;
  • continuous – the duty is ongoing all academic year; and
  • record-keeping – schools should keep notes and records of decisions & meetings. These notes should be made at the time decisions are taken, not retrospectively.

 Specific Duties

There are additional specific duties set out in the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011. They are meant to help public bodies (e.g. schools) demonstrate how they are fulfilling their obligations under the general duty. The importance of transparency, accountability and self-evaluation is stressed. The specific duties that apply to schools in relation to their pupils are:
  1. To publish information annually to demonstrate how schools are complying with the PSED; and
  2. To prepare and publish equality objectives at least every four years.
Schools are free to choose the equality objectives that best suit their circumstances.

However, the duties are about action: about what you do, not what you say. So what happens when schools are not even 'saying' the things they should?

Inspecting [in]equalities

We are sure this is not an isolated case. The school we mention is one of many 'outstanding' mainstream schools in England. The gaps in information were identified by a cursory assessment of the school's website. Perhaps this information is available in other formats but there is no evidence from the report that this point has even been considered.

Of course, it is not our job to inspect equalities. Is it Ofsted's? Ofsted's published inspection briefing called 'inspecting equalities' suggests it is:

 "10. The emphasis is on transparency - making information available so that the school’s local community can see how the school is advancing equality in line with the PSED, and what objectives it is using to make this happen"

11. By 6 April 2012 the specific duties require schools to have published information showing compliance with the public sector equality duty, plus at least one equality objective. They will then need to update the published information at least annually and to publish objectives at least once every four years.Examples of possible objectives might be relating to closing the gap in attainment in English for different ‘groups’ of pupils that the school has identified as underachieving, or improving the attendance rates of pupils from a background where these may be low. These should be specific and measurable."

Are inspectors aware of, and trained in, the inspection of these duties? Ofsted suggest they must be as the briefing continues:

"15. Inspectors discuss with each school how it is meeting statutory requirements and evaluate and report on the impact of the school’s actions. This might include a school’s accessibility plan as part of the evidence because the Equality Act specifically provides that a section 5 inspection may extend to the performance by the school of its functions in relation to the preparation, publication, review, revision and implementation of its accessibility plan. "

Ofsted further say that:

"26. An evaluation of how effectively the school actively advances equality of opportunity, tackles discrimination and fosters good relations will contribute to the key judgements".

Can you find evidence of this approach in recent Ofsted reports?

SEN and Disability: a culture of low expectations and a low priority

We are concerned that schools might be labelled 'outstanding', and thus escape future oversight and inspection, when they are not complying with the basic statutory duties which provide disabled pupils with equality rights. This should not happen.

We hear lots about 'coasting' schools (whatever 'coasting' means) or 'failing' schools that need to be saved by academisation but little about how schools are actually supporting inclusion and equality. 

Yet, nearly 20% of our school population is identified as having SEN and/or a disability. Further, there is ample evidence that some of these children and young people face multiple disadvantages. They are some of the most vulnerable in our school system: vulnerable to low expectations and poor outcomes. Statistically, pupils with SEN are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, and, despite the legal framework to protect their rights, they are much more likely to be absent or excluded from school, and they achieve less well than their peers, both in terms of their attainment at any given age and in terms of their progress over time

Of course, the term 'SEN' is a broad umbrella. The important point to note is that many categories of SEN may also be legally defined as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010 (EA). Indeed, Government Departments have frequently said that 'SEN' can be used a proxy measure for disability. Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Thus, the Equality Act really matters.

In terms of Ofsted inspections, the Equality Act matters because it should, as Ofsted's briefing suggests, impact on the approach to inspections. But it also matters because it should enable us to hold Ofsted to account for its own work. Indeed, Ofsted's briefing confirms:

"1. Ofsted is bound by the public sector equality duty, its strategic plan and values to advance equality through its inspection of schools. Equality is integral to the inspection framework and the promotion of equality of opportunity for all pupils underpins the school inspection framework. School inspection acts in the interests of children, young people and their parents.  It encourages high-quality provision that meets diverse needs and promotes not just equality of opportunity but improving outcomes for all pupils regardless of background."

Is there some disconnect between these public pronouncements and the reality of the inspection regime on the ground? We wonder whether Ofsted inspectors are looking for, or are even aware of, the basic statutory duties which underpin a child's right to inclusion. How are they applying their own inspection guidance?  If Ofsted inspectors don't consider these issues, why should schools, so focussed on  doing what Ofsted wants, bother to make the effort?

This all stands in stark contrast to Ofsted's action and publicly stated concern for the needs of the 'gifted and talented'. For example, a recent report and public statements by Director of Schools, Sean Harford, assert:

"While inspectors found pockets of excellence, too many of these children are not being challenged sufficiently – and thousands of highly performing primary pupils are not realising their early promise when they move to secondary school.”

The promise was that Ofsted would "keep focusing sharply" on the progress of able pupils.

Is it not time that such concern is expressed and such promises made about ensuring compliance with the basic statutory rights of pupils with SEND?


We feel these issues need to be raised publicly and that a dialogue should be started with Ofsted about its role and its legal obligations.

We have started by asking Ofsted to set out how it is complying with the PSED. We have today written as follows:

"We would like to write to you in relation to Ofsted's national approach to inspecting the compliance of schools with basic statutory obligations. 

Before we ask specific questions about this, we would very much like Ofsted to clarify how it complies with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), under s. 149 of the Equality Act. Ofsted's inspection briefing on the Equality Act confirms that Ofsted considers itself bound by the PSED and this is supported by ministerial statements in Parliament. However, it is not clear what action is taken to evidence compliance with this duty. For example, does Ofsted consider itself bound by the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011? Does it publish equality objectives and annual equality information?

If Ofsted does consider itself bound by these duties, could we please have a link to this information?

If Ofsted does not, could we please have an explanation of why it considers itself bound by s 149 but not by the duty to publish information to demonstrate its compliance with the s 149 duty?"

While we await answers, if you want to help, perhaps you could have a look at 'outstanding' schools in your area and see what their Ofsted reports say. Is equality or inclusion mentioned?


Mr Harford kindly responded to our query with this letter. It confirms that:

"Ofsted is bound by the Act and as such we do publish a report on our workforce picture in terms of equality and general objectives, as found on our website".

The letter is accompanied by a report on Equality in Ofsted. This report is limited only to Ofsted's workforce and does not address or set objectives for any Ofsted function beyond that of employer.

On this point, Mr Harford states:

"In terms of carrying out this duty beyond Ofsted’s role as an employer, this is carried out throughout our inspection work and underpins all our policy work. Our Common Inspection Framework which was published yesterday explains that inspectors will assess the extent to which the school or provider prevents any form of prejudice and does not directly or indirectly discriminate by avoiding or omitting reference to inclusion of any protected groups in all aspects of their work. Schools and providers must comply with the duties as they are applied to them in the Act."

The word inclusion is not mentioned at all in Common Inspection Framework (CIF) but the CIF does say this about the Equality Act:

"15. Inspectors will assess the extent to which the school or provider complies with relevant legal duties as set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, promotes equality of opportunity and takes positive steps to prevent any form of discrimination either direct or indirect against those with protected characteristics in all aspects of their work."

The explicit recognition that Ofsted inspectors will assess compliance with the Equality Act (and presumbably its associated publication regulations) and the Human Rights Act is welcome. But it is not clear how inspectors will be trained to undertake this assessment. Additionally, what form will this assessment take and how we will know that inpsectors are, in practice, undertaking assessments? For example, will there be explicit reference in inspection reports to compliance with the Equality Act?

Perhaps most importantly, it is not clear what happens if a school is not complying with the Equality Act. Should this prevent it from being labelled 'outstanding'? Details of the school referred to at the beginning of this piece were sent to Mr Harford some months ago to no avail. How real is this commitment to inspecting equality?

In June, we wrote back to Ofsted as follows:

"Thank you for your very prompt response.

I am sorry to trouble you further but part of our question related specifically to the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011. This imposes two specific statutory duties on public bodies bound by the PSED, namely:

1. to publish information annually to demonstrate how they are complying with the PSED. The PSED covers all the functions of an organisation and not just equal opportunities in the employment of staff.  Does Ofsted publish anything demonstrating how it complies with the PSED more generally, and specifically in its core function, i.e. inspection? If not, please confirm whether Ofsted believes this single document on employment discharges its statutory obligations under the Regulations. 

2. to prepare and publish equality objectives at least every four years. What are Ofsted's published equality objectives?"

We have yet to receive a response to this. Today, we have also emailed asking:

"Further to our previous email in this matter, we would also like to request some further specific information on the duty to inspect compliance with the Equality Act as mandated by para. 15 of the Common Inspection Framework. Our questions are as follows:
  1. How will inspectors be trained to undertake this assessment?
  2. What form will this assessment take?
  3. Will the assessment include the legal duties imposed on schools by the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011?
  4. Has Ofsted taken legal advice on this issue?
  5. Will the assessment be referred to in inspection reports?
  6. Will Ofsted inspectors engage specifically with those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act (e.g. parents and pupils) when undertaking an assessment of compliance? If not, why not.
  7. What happens if a school is not complying with the Equality Act? "
We think Ofsted has real power to promote inclusion and to push equality higher up the agenda in our schools. There is a legal imperative for Ofsted to consider equality in the undertaking of all of its functions. There is now a need for transparency about how it intends to do this, how it will hold itself to account and whether it is compiling data and setting realistic objectives for itself in this regard, whetehr it is engaging with people with protected characteristics when setting objectives etc. It's what the Act expects, it's what Ofsted should be looking for when inspecting schools and what are children and young people are entitled to.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Cuts to services: know your rights!

Recently, there has been a lot of very worrying talk on twitter about cuts to LA funding (or consultations about cuts to funding) for disabled children's services. For example, see this article tweeted by @JarlathOBrien this morning.

These cuts appear to be being made around the country but seem to be targetted at two key areas:  (i) transport and (ii) so-called 'short break' funding.

We wanted to put out some information quickly about the law in this area. Let us know if there is anything we have missed and we will add it.

If any specialist lawyers out there would like to write something about consultation or challenging cuts, or the law in this area, then please let us know and we will add your piece/blog to the list below.

Similarly, if any parents, teachers etc would like to flag up what is happening in their area, let us know and we will add to the 'Tell us what is happening around the country' section below.


Many parents are finding themselves having to battle for transport to school funding as some LAs seek to reduce their budgets.

Barrister, Steve Broach, has produced this summary of the law on transport.

You can also find information on IPSEA's website here.

Contact-a-Family have produced this summary.

@bjpren has posted some useful information here based on her discussions with the DfE

Statutory guidance can be found here. Statutory guidance should eb followed unless there is a good reason not to follow it.

If in doubt about changes to LA policy or about the nature of any consultation being conducted, seek legal advice immediately. A list of solicitors who may be able to help can be found on the last page of this brochure but there are other firms. You need to look for a solicitor who is a specialist in SEN and public law.

'Short break' funding

Short breaks are invaluable services which support disabled children and their families. They include the provision of day, evening, overnight and weekend activities for the child or young person, and can take place in the child’s own home, the home of an approved carer, or in a residential or community setting.

Sadly, it appears that some LAs are engaged in consulting on cuts to these services or have already agreed cuts. Some are using other mechanisms to try and reduce their expenditure, like arbitrary cut off dates for applications etc.

EDCM has produced a guide  to the law on 'short breaks'. Again, this is an area which requires specialist legal advice.

Tell us what is happening around the country

We would like to build up a picture of consultations, challenges and unlawful practices around the country.

Let us know if you have information about what is happening in your area and we will add it here.

We feel Parent Carer Forums must be particularly careful if  engaged in consultation on these issues. They must ensure they know the law and don't seek to present themselves as acting for all parents.

Wiltshire Short Breaks

Wiltshire Council introduced an arbitrary cut-off date for 'short break' funding applications for 2015-2016 of 28 February 2015.

Anyone, including existing recipients of the funding, who did not apply by this date are being refused the opportunity to make an application and their funding has been withdrawn.

Worst of all, it seems that not all existing recipients were informed of this cut-off date. In previous years,  Compass Disability (who run the service for Wiltshire Council) wrote to all exisitng applicants with forms for renewal.

An initial response from Wiltshire Council suggests that, "following a series of WPCC consultation events on the Short Breaks Scheme with parent carers of children and young people with special educational needs and/or disability during June 2014 and a subsequent on-line survey, a fixed cut- off date for receiving applications has been implemented".

It appears that some parents had no idea this consultation was taking place and, of course, this should stop them receiving information about funding to which they are entitled.

If we are incorrect, perhaps Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council or Compass Disability would like to clarify what has been happening.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Inclusion blog posts

Blog posts

In preparation for the unconference we held on 3rd February this year, we put together a list of blog posts on inclusion.

We are now re-posting them on this separate page so that more people may get the chance to read them

We have listed the posts alongside the author's username so you can follow them on twitter. If you have a blog post you would like us to add, just email us at or send us the link via twitter @ERA_tweet.

And don't forget, if you haven't seen the inclusion manifesto yet, please do read it. You can sign by tweeting us your name and role or emailing us at

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Independent Supporters update


We have written extensively about Independent Supporters. For example, read here and here and here  and here.

Our concern has been that this is a £30 million  'top down' intitiative created out of the blue, seemingly without any genuine demand or parental input. It seemed to us from the start that Independent Supporters were not intended to be 'Parent Champions' but that this was an initiaitive aimed more at helping local authorities 'shift' parents across to the new EHCP system.

This does not, of course, detract from the dedication, passion and commitment of many of the individuals involved but it has been made very clear, on numerous occasions, that Independent Supporters do not exist to provide legal advice to parents to help them challenge unlawful LA practices and this is a concern.

This information comes from those managing the project. For example, Christine Lenehan from the Council for Disabled Children has confirmed that:

"Independent Supporters will be working with and not against LAs and that legal training is provided to give Independent Supporters an understanding of the legal framework of the reforms, not advice on how challenge LAs on the law."

We feel it is very important not to mislead parents about the role of IS and to put clear information and evidence in the public domain.

Additionally, in a system plagued by endemic unlawfulness, we wonder what the 'added value' of this iniative is to parents above and beyond existing mechanisms.


Our interest in this project was sparked again by several tweets supplying information about Independent Supporters over the last few days.

The Council for Disabled Children has recently put out this information. This was tweeted as " 80% of parents/young people using Independent Support would recommend it."

However, if you look at the information provided, in the 'small print', this joint press release with the Department for Education confirms that this information was based on "results from the first 100 respondents to user survey".

'The first 100 respondents'!

Not only is this sample size so small as to be meaningless when you consider how many parents there are nationally who have children and young people with SEN but it is hard to process how anyone calculated who the 'first 100 respondents' were. This data lacks rigour.

Additionally, there is absolutely no context to this information. For example, how many parents have used Independent Support, how many have refused Independent Support, who was asked to complete a survey, how and at what stage in the process (e.g. were they asked beginning or end), were those who refused 'support' asked to complete a survey too etc etc.

It is all very disappointing and it is hard to see how it is appropriate to present information in this way without critical analysis or context.

Further, we are aware of  no information thus far from NDTI (the National Development Team for Inclusion) despite the fact that they won the Government contract to provide an independent evaluation of the IS service. We are concerned at the appropriateness of the Government and its Strategic Reform Partner producing this information with no reference to the planned independent evaluation process the public has already paid for.

In our experience,it has been almost impossible to obtain clear information about the actual operation of these schemes on the ground. For example, way back in September, we wrote this letter to all 46 publicly funded organisations supplying Independent Supporters to parents.

To date, we have had TWO proper responses supplying the information we requested. These responses are set out below:

1. Parent Voice (Hampshire)

Response to ERA letter

Independent Supporters Referral Process

Hampshire Memorandum of Understanding

Hampshire Referral Process

Independent Support Job Description

2. Amaze (Brighton)

Memorandum for Understanding - West Sussex

Memorandum of Understanding - Brighton

Info on Amaze

Service Outline for Brighton

Service Outline for West Sussex

What works for us report

Independent Supporters Job Description

We thank those organisations for supplying this information and call on others to do the same.

There really is no excuse for not supplying it as public money is paying for these services.

We believe that the more factual information rather than spin we can have around Independent Supporters, the better placed parents will be to decide whether the service will be useful to them.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Joint manifesto on inclusion is now open for signature


Following on from the unconference on 3rd February, and as a result of discussions on the day, we have pulled together some key views which appeared to shared by all attendees and we have put them in a 'draft manifesto'.

You can read a report about the unconference by MMU Research Institute for Health and Social Change here

You can also read Gareth Morewood's piece on the unconference and the manifesto here.

You can read the Manifesto here.

A primary aim of the manifesto is to put these issues in the mainstream of the education debate. Too often they are sidelined and not seen as everyone's responsibility

This manifesto does not belong to the ERA. We want this to be a genuine reflection of the views expressed and a summary of aims which people feel they can openly support.

We have already received fantastic feedback for the manifesto. The next step will be to identify actions which can be taken in support of these aims. Some great suggestions have been made.

Let us know what you think - we welcome amendments, suggested additions and, of course, declarations of support!

How do I sign?

If you would like to 'sign' this, contact us at or tweet at us @era_tweet or you can leave a comment on the page.

You can sign in your personal capacity and/or on behalf of your organisation. It is up to you as to how you describe your position/role.