Sunday, 9 February 2014

Independent Supporters: the Department for Education responds

On 7 January 2014, the Department for Education announced that:

"More than 1,800 champions will be on hand from this September to help parents navigate the new special educational needs process following a £30 million funding boost".

In his press release, the Minister for Children and Families, Mr Edward Timpson, suggested that part of an Independent Supporter's brief would be to help "challenge" local authority decision-making on behalf of families.
We wrote to Mr Timpson on 16 January asking questions about the following:

·         The scope, purpose and mandate of Independent Supporters
·         The evidence supporting the introduction of the Independent Supporters through a pilot scheme
·         The financial cost of the service
·         The training and oversight of “Independent Supporters”

Read our letter of 16.1.14 in full here.

On 3 February, we received a response from Mr Timpson’s office. Read the response here

We are grateful for this response but we feel it leaves far too many questions unanswered so we are raising additional and follow-up questions which have been sent to both the Department for Education (DfE) and their strategic reform partner, the Council for Disabled Children (CDC). 

Our response

We have written to the DfE asking further questions. Our letter of 9.2.14 can be found here

We have also prepared a response document which can be accessed here.

But in summary, we have the following specific concerns:

1. The role of Independent Supporters is very unclear. Will they, for example, be able to help all parents and will they be able to advise and assist up to and including Tribunals? Or are they little more than a mechanism to help LAs move parents and children on to EHCPs?

2. It is not clear how these Independent Supporters will be identified and trained and how their impartiality and independence will be protected in practice.

3. The role of LAs in directing the work of Independent Supporters is not clear.

4. We are concerned at 'outsourcing' contracts to multiple private providers (or charity providers) and that there will be inconsistencies between LAs in standards, oversight and accessibility. We are also concerned that Independent Supporters may not be sufficiently trained (both on the law and the need for independenceto offer adequate guidance on complex issues or even be aware of basic safeguarding and data sharing obligations.

5. We are concerned at the lack of evidence and consultation to support these proposals. The lack of open engagement with parents and SEN charities is alarming.

6. We are concerned that some of the very important clauses regarding bidding for contracts to provide Independent Supporters, and the management and oversight of this national initiative will be set out in a contract with the Council for Disabled Children rather than in clear national standards. The DfE says this contract is covered by 'commercially confidentiality' and is therefore not disclosable. We find this unacceptable and believe that clear guidance on oversight, transparency and accountability should be issued and made open to consultation.

The ERA believes that the DfE is struggling to explain the detail of this initiative and how it will operate in practice. In such circumstances, the ERA feels it is simply unacceptable to commit significant sums of public money on a policy seemingly being created “on the hoof”.

We would ask all those working in this sector to start asking similar questions and to echo our call for open debate and consultation and for transparency on all issues relating to these reforms.

No comments:

Post a Comment