Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Independent Supporters and legal training: update

We recently noted that the charity SENSE has been awarded a contract by the Council for Disabled Children to provide legal training for the Independent Supporters programme - read our post here.

We have many questions about this initiative so we wrote to Irwin Mitchell, solicitors, who, along with barrister Steve Broach, are assisting SENSE with the creation for this legal training programme.

You can read our questions here.

We have today received a reply from Irwin Mitchell which they have agreed to share openly. The response can be read here.

It recognises the significance of effective legal training in enabling parents to access the new system and understand their rights. It also notes the importance of the questions we have raised. However, it confirms that Steve Broach, Irwin Mitchell and SENSE have agreed that SENSE are actually best placed to answer our letter because they are leading the development of the project.

So, we, along with many other parents, very much look forward to receiving a full and open response from SENSE in the near future.

The NCB and CDC respond to our letter about the Children and Families Act

On this blog, on 17 July, we expressed our disappointment and concern that Ms Lenehan, the Director of the Council for Disabled Children, had not responded to a letter we had sent regarding the lack of evidence supporting the Children and Families Act reforms. You can read that post here.

We wrote to Ms Lenehan because we had been unable to find any data to support her contention that the Children and Families Act was an "important step to getting better outcomes for children and young people". Our letter was sent on 22 March and you can read it here.

The lack of response led us to write directly to the National Children's Bureau (NCB) because the CDC is governed by NCB’s Board of Trustees. Our letter to the NCB can be read here.

We have now received a response from the NCB which they have agreed we can publish. You can read it here.

Then, yesterday, we also received a response from Ms Lenehan which she has also given permission for us to share with you. The response can be read here.

We are grateful that Ms Lenehan has now replied. We have acknowledged this and have responded by explaining firstly:

"Our numerous concerns about the conduct and pace of this legislation are well-documented, see, for example, our comments here Additionally, our aims and identities are clearly set out on our website. I am sure you are aware from your engagement with parents and carers that these reforms have caused significant concern - only last week SEN Jungle's post highlighted significant misgivings about the introduction of Independent Supporters."

Secondly, we have noted Ms Lenehan's offer of a meeting which we will discuss as a committee although our preference is always for open meetings with broad invitations to all interested parents/carers/young people.

Finally, we have explained to Ms Lenehan that we are still concerned that our question about the evidence supporting these reforms has not been answered.

So we thanked Ms Lenehan and said:

"You will, however, be aware that the question we raised back in March was very specific: we asked if you could provide evidence to support your contention that the Children and Families Act will improve outcomes for children and young people. Your belated response does not provide an answer and this is disappointing. We think our very reasonable question should be addressed head-on as a clear response would be a tremendously helpful aid to open dialogue on these reforms."

Why is it so difficult to identify evidence supporting Ms Lenehan's statement? Is it because no such data exists?

If this is the case, we really think parents deserve to know.

Friday, 18 July 2014

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

Back in April, we wrote a short piece about the plan to establish an ASC resource base at a school in Salisbury. You can read it here.

It is doubtless true that many local authorities see resource bases as a cost effective method of securing 'inclusion' in the mainstream so we were very keen to see what evidence the Council had to support its decision and how it was involving parents and children with autism in its planning. We wanted to know what planning for 'inclusion' meant in practice.

After pursuing several requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, we were very disappointed to note that:

(i) Wiltshire Council has undertaken no consultation with any group or person with autism about the planning for this particular base.

(ii) Wiltshire Council has no records of its decision-making. This means it has no records supporting the choice of school for this base and it has obtained no written advice from any professional with expertise in autism to assist with its planning to support children's inclusion.

(iii) Wiltshire Council can provide no detail about the nature of the proposed base e.g. it can provide no detail of the numbers of chilldren, the complexitiy of their disabilities, the planned training of staff in the mainstream, the therapies on offer etc.

We think children deserve better than this haphazard planning. Inclusion means more than simply being physically present at a school and it is unacceptable that those with expertise in autism, including parents and children, have not been consulted.

We have now written to elected members to raise these issues  You can read our letter here.

We do not, however, think these practices are unique to Wiltshire Council, so please let us know if you are aware of similar issues in other areas.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Legal training for Independent Supporters: some questions

Ever since the surprise announcement that the Government would be providing funding for so-called 'Parent Champions' in the SEN system, we have been asking questions about these 'Independent Supporters' (IS), their role, their mandate and the contract governing their selection.

You can read our previous posts here and here.

We understand that SENSE has now been awarded a contract by the Council for Disabled Children to provide legal training for IS. You can read about this here.

Effective legal training is obviously vitally important as so many local authorities implement policies rather than the law. Unsurprisingly, we had some further questions to ask.

We are, therefore, very grateful that Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who are helping SENSE with the training, quickly agreed to answer any questions we may have.

Our letter can be read here and we will post the response when we have it.

The Council for Disabled Children: 112 days on and still no reply

16 weeks ago, on 20 March 2014, as the Children and Families Act (CFA) received Royal Assent, we wrote to Ms Lenehan, the Chief Executive of the Council for Disabled Children (CDC).

The CDC is the Government's Strategic Reform Partner. It has received significant funding from the Government during the reform process. In a press release from the CDC Ms Lenehan stated that the Children and Families Act was an "important step to getting better outcomes for children and young people".

We wrote to Ms Lenehan  because we have been unable to find any data to support this contention, so we asked her to provide some evidence to back up her claim.

Our letter was sent to Ms Lenehan by email on 22 March. You can read the letter and our previous blog post here.

We did not receive an answer.

We then sent follow-up emails directly to Ms Lenehan on 9 April and 23 May.

Still no answer.

So, we began to ask questions via twitter of @cdc_tweets but 112 days on we remain without a reply.

We take this failure to respond very seriously. We are a parents' group and we fear this may show a lack of understanding of the importance of transparency and the need to engage with parents. When all said and done, we think we asked a very straightforward and reasonable question.

We are now writing to the National Children's Bureau (NCB) as the CDC is governed by NCB’s Board of Trustees. We hope that we will be able to get answers this way but we believe strongly that this is a step we should not have had to take.

Our letter to the NCB can be read here.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Speech and Language Therapy: a need for clearer guidance?

We have today written to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists' (RCSLT) Chief Executive, Kamini Gadhok, to raise concerns about speech and language therapy practices which may arise within the SEN process. You can read our letter here.

There are many excellent speech and language therapists (SLTs), often working on very tight budgets with limited resources but, sadly, the ERA has also heard uncannily similar complaints from different parts of the country about the way SLTs sometimes work with local authorities. These concerns include:

  • an assumption that the SLT working for the LA will inevitably give evidence to support the LA's case - a position seemingly acknowledged by the RCSLT's current SENDIST guidelines;
  • confusion about the law relating to information exchange as per the Data Protection Act and the common law duty of confidentiality;
  • the provision of reports by SLTs who have never personally met or assessed the child to whom the report refers or reports which are updated without seeing the child;
  • claims that telephone calls to schools constitute therapy visits;
  • a lack of transparency in the working of SLTs and LAs and the exclusion of parents from communications;
  • the failure to quantify and specify provision as required by the law; and
  • an absence of evidence based practice in the setting and measuring of targets and outcomes.

We understand the RCSLT is planning to develop new guidelines in relation to SEN work and we are asking for the opportunity to share our views. We believe strongly that contracts betwen SLT services and local authorities should not be allowed to undermine duties to the patient.

We shall keep you posted on developments but please do contact us (educationalrightsalliance@live.com) if you would like to share your experience.