Wednesday, 9 April 2014

New ASC Resource Base planned for Wiltshire School: how should we plan for genuine inclusion?

The ERA notes with interest Wiltshire Council’s proposal to establish a new ‘Resource Base’ at a school in Salisbury for children with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC). Read the proposal here.

The Council says the proposal is advanced as “a central part of the drive to develop a more inclusive education for pupils with SEN”

We were very disappointed, therefore, to note the apparent absence of detailed information to support this consultation. Planning for the genuine inclusion of pupils with ASC is a complex matter requiring advice, research and the widest possible consultation. There is far more to the idea of 'inclusion' than the simple physical presence of disabled children in a mainstream environment.

We have written to the Council for more information: information which we think should be available as a fundamental part of any genuine consultation on issues as important as this. This is an opportunity for the community to discuss these issues openly and the needs and rights of children with autism should be a paramount consideration in such a process.

Read our letter here.

POSTSCRIPT: Disappointingly, Wiltshire Council has failed to respond to our letter. This means this information has not been in the public domain during the consultation period. It also means that they have failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This was a genuine opportunity to engage the community on the important issue of inclusion. The failure to respond is even more disappointing in view of the fact that Wiltshire Council is one of the Department for Education's 'Pathfinder Champions' under the proposed Children and Families reforms. Sadly, we are not aware of any engagement with the local autism community despite the fact that these plans may engage the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Wiltshire Council responds

Wiltshire Council failed to respond to our letter within the statutory deadline established by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 despite the fact that we had contacted their Cabinet member for Children's Services about this matter. 

A month after the statutory deadline, we received this response

It is hard to follow the Council's responses in this letter as they have cut and pasted their answers below our questions, removing the numbering in our letter as they go. However, the following significant issues stand out:

1. The Council contends it possesses absolutely no documentation regarding the establishment of this proposed ASC base, despite the fact that the proposal has been costed and put out to public consultation. If this is correct, we find this response alarming. In terms of good governance, we would expect to see significant documentary evidence relating to the proposal, e.g. an outline proposal, a record of discussion of various options and plans for consultation, data supporting the option chosen, letters between the Council and the Governing Body of Greentrees Primary School, detailed plans relating to the proposed venture for elected members etc. The absence of any documents at all is deeply concerning in terms of accountability and transparency.

2. There has, seemingly, been no consultation with children/young people with autism, parents of children with autism or any autism groups in Wiltshire. This is very disappointing and we can only say, again, that we feel this may be non-compliant with the Public Sector Equality Duty set out in the Equality Act 2010. Indeed, in light of the Council's contention that it has absolutely no evidence connected to its decision to create a base at this school, we cannot see how they can prove they have discharged the duty. The Equality Act 2010 requires that 'due regard' be given to the objectives of the Act (i.e. the need to eliminate discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity and to foster good relations between people who share the relevant characteristic and those who don’t) in all the decision-making of public bodies. The so-called 'Brown Principles' established by the case of R (Brown) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2008] EWHC 3158 (Admin) confirmed what due regard means for public bodies making decisions. The case held, amongst other things, that it is good practice for public authorities to keep an adequate record showing that they had actually considered their  equality duties and pondered relevant questions. The Court noted that appropriate record-keeping encourages transparency and will discipline those carrying out the relevant function to undertake their disability equality duties conscientiously.  If records are not kept, it will be difficult, evidentially, for a public authority to persuade a court that it has fulfilled its general equality duty. 

3. Disappointingly, it seems clear that, at present, the Council can provide no evidence of what form it expects 'inclusion' to take or what the operational role of the base will be on a day to day basis e.g. the profile of the prospective pupils, the support available, the therapeutic interventions on offer, the training required for the mainstream school. We would have expected a very clear plan to be available.

4. The Council does not appear to have gathered any written advice or evidence from professionals with expertise in autism about the location of and/or proposal for this ASC base. It appears to refer only to anecdotal evidence about the school 'chosen'. This proposal concerns public money and it relates to very vulnerable pupils. We would have expected the Council to set out a clear vision about the base and to invite interested schools to tender for it by submitting evidence on how they can supply the services required in an open and fair competition. Sadly, and without available evidence to the contrary, it appears that the base may simply have been the 'price' this school was asked to pay for wishing to extend its mainstream classes. 

Is this how 'inclusion' should work? We believe genuine inclusion requires careful thought, planning, consultation and close working with experts (including parents and children).

We will be writing back to Wiltshire Council urging them to fulfil their duties under the Equality Act and to set out a clear proposal for this base. We will also question the absence of documentation. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Survey Results: Satisfaction of Parents in SEND Pathfinder Authorities March 2014


The ERA conducted this short, basic survey via Survey Monkey.  We advertised it via our Twitter account and personal Facebook accounts for 4 weeks between February 2014 and March 2014, which led to 89 parents responding. 

We are a small organisation without financial resources and our aim, in the absence of any organisation undertaking independent sampling or sampling beyond Parent Carer Forums (PCF), was simply to test the water and obtain a snapshot of views. We do not make any claims to the statistical significance of the views collected, however, we note the substantial sums which have been offered to those piloting reforms i.e. local authorities and strategic partners, and we would strongly urge further efforts to include parents and take their views.

Here are the results: 

1. Do you live in a SEND Pathfinder area?

Yes:                54.55%
No:                 27.27%
Don’t know:    18.18%

It is concerning that almost one in five parents did not know whether they lived in a pathfinder authority. This included parents who did in fact live in such an area.

2. If yes, please state the name of your Pathfinder area?

The following table identifies all the 31 SEND pathfinder authorities. This includes SE7, which is a group of the 7 LAs identified by *.  (C) = pathfinder champion. 

SE7 was used once to identify where a particular parent lived so is not known which specific LA this relates to.

Coloured cells show the LAs specified by respondents. Note that 3 LAs were specified by respondents which aren’t pathfinders but we felt it was important to provide these as ALL parents will be affected by the reform.
(C) Bexley
(C) Brighton & Hove*
(C) Bromley
(C) Calderdale
(C) Hampshire*
(C) Hartlepool
Isles of Scilly
(C) Kent*
(C) Leicester City
(C) Manchester
(C) Medway*
(C) N.Yorks
(C) Solihull
(C) Southampton
(C) Surrey*
(C) Sussex (E)*
(C) Sussex (W)*
(C) Trafford
(C) Wigan
(C) Wiltshire

Although not pathfinder LAs, these were identified by respondents:
Buckinghamshire, Durham, Swindon

3. Does your child have SEN and/or disabilities?

Yes:   100%

4. Have your views been sought by your Local Authority or the Department for Education or any other organisation about the Children and Families Bill (SEN reforms)?

Yes:    47.73%
No:   52.27%

We could be excused for assuming that all the parents whose views have been sought live in pathfinder authorities, and that non-pathfinder areas aren’t necessarily going to be pro-active in seeking the views of their parents. This is not necessarily the case.

Of the parents whose views have been sought, only 57.57% live in pathfinder areas.

Of the parents whose views haven’t been sought, 42.22% live in pathfinder areas.

Consultation appears to be a postcode lottery.

5. How have your views been sought?

Through a Parent Carer Forum (PCF):            72.50%
Through membership of an organisation:         15.00%
Through a survey:                                           20%

The Department for Education has provided increased funding for PCF’s to facilitate parental involvement in shaping/piloting the reforms locally. However, although the majority of parents who completed the survey used a PCF to give their views about the reforms, only 69% of those parents live in a pathfinder LA, which suggests being a member of a PCF and living in a pathfinder authority doesn’t necessarily mean communication between LAs and parents is inevitable.

We also believe that reliance should not be placed on a single method of communication. Parents may choose not to be a member of a PCF.  Parents should be consulted and kept informed about SEND services affecting their children and young people, whether they have access to a PCF or not.

6. If your views have been sought, do you feel you have been given sufficient opportunity to express them?

  Yes:                    30.51%
No:                      61.02%
Don’t know:         8.47%

It is of concern that, even where consulted, parents did not feel they had been given sufficient opportunity to express their views.  If parents are to be valued for their expertise and knowledge about SEND in relation to their own child’s needs, and they want to be involved, then we need more than a tick the box exercise. Meaningful discussions where parents are treated as equal partners are required.

7. Do you feel you have received sufficient information about the progress and implementation of the reforms?

Yes:                  18.39%
No:                   81.61%
Don’t know:     1.15%

An overwhelming number of parents felt that they did not have sufficient information. This is unacceptable when substantial sums of funding have been provided to facilitate the reform process which was supposed to make SEN matters less, not more complex.

8. Do you feel the Children and Families Bill will:

Make a positive difference:          13.79%
Make a negative difference:         59.77%
Make no difference at all:             26.44%

It is of considerable concern that only one in eight parents responding feel that the reforms will make a positive difference to their lives. Millions have been spent implementing  these reforms and we  have persistently asked all those organisations who have welcomed the new Act to set out clearly how it is going to make a difference to children's lives. We have yet to see anyone respond.

This might account for the level of negativity in the responses or it may be that parents do not believe what they are being told about the ‘brave new world’ of co-production.

9. Please share any other views about the reforms and the reform process

Parents 's views are really important so we have attached an Appendix containing all the feedback received.

Out of 49 responses to this question, very few were positive about the reforms. The others highlight the concerns we have previously raised about the Children and Families Act. 


“The non-uniformity has turned provision into a postcode lottery. The draft SEN Code of Practice is not fit for purpose. School Action and School Action Plus children are not provided for. Time scales are not set and the right of appeal is not clear. It's a travesty and seems weighted in favour of Local and Health authorities and against parents and their SEN children as if or lives aren't hard enough already” 

From the responses, it is clear that parents generally do not feel like they have been given the opportunity to participate in shaping the reforms.  Whilst parents may, on occasion, have been asked for their views, the engagement process seems to have stopped there.  There is little evidence that their views have been acted upon.

This is unacceptable and it highlights the need for evidence to support reform and for meaningful consultation with parents, children and young people to ensure its legitimacy. Children and young people should be the heart of all decision making about important, life changing reforms like this but they have been left without a voice.   

Sadly, some of the large, very well-funded charities who are meant to be representing families have made little genuine effort to really listen to their views. They have, instead, implemented the Government reforms and have not been willing (or able) to justify their actions or explain their views on the changes.

Further, engaging solely with Parent Carer Forums is not the cure for parents who feel they don’t have a voice.  In some cases, our evidence indicates that being in a PCF means your individual views haven’t been sought as engagement takes place only with the PCF. We think this needs to be looked at very closely.  

In the draft Code of Practice, there is a sizeable paragraph (3.4) relating to PCFs, which starts by saying:

“Parents and young people must be involved directly in discussions and decisions about the support available to them individually and more strategically, particularly through the development of the local offer.”

It then goes on to describe what effective parent participation looks like:

“Effective parent carer participation happens when: 
the engagement and participation of parent carers in the local authority is valued, planned and resourced"
We see no evidence of this.