On 3 September, we wrote to Mr Timpson about what looked like catastrophic non-compliance with the law relating to the Local Offer.
You can read our post and letter here.
You may remember that the Minister had previously claimed that 95% of LAs were ready for the introduction of the Children and Families Act and that he had made the following promise: "for authorities who are further behind the curve, I’ve made it my business personally to follow up on their progress".
Our letter asked the Minister to confirm what action his department intended to take to ensure full compliance with the law and whether he could confirm that the Department for Education (DfE) was are prepared to receive information directly from parents regarding problems with the implementation of the Local Offer in their area.
On 24 September, we received a response. We should say at the outset we immediately asked by email and twitter whether the DfE had any objection to the publication of this response but that we have received no reply. We have decided to publish it so that parents can share this important information.
Deputy Director Mr Kingdom wrote:
"Dear Ms Sayers,
Thank you for your letter of 3 September addressed to Edward Timpson. I have been asked to respond as I am the Deputy Director in the 0-25 Special Educational Needs and Disability Unit.
I was pleased to see the Educational Rights Alliance taking part in the Special Needs Jungle twitter chat last week. As you’ll have seen, some of that discussion covered similar ground to your letter. I am hoping that Special Needs Jungle will publish a follow-up blog from me expanding further on some of those issues.
With regard to the specific points in your letter on the Local Offer it is, of course, a key component of the SEND reforms. Under the statutory requirements in the Children and Families Act, local authorities are required, from 1 September 2014, to consult children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities and the parents of disabled children and those with SEN in developing the Local Offer and to publish it on a website. Local authorities have been required to publish different information about support for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN for some time. That is why we have encouraged local authorities to publish an initial Local Offer in September and work with families to develop and update it.
We are monitoring the implementation of all the special educational needs and disability reforms, including the Local Offer, and providing a package of support to local authorities. Our latest information shows that 99% of local authorities have now published a Local Offer and we are actively pursuing the remainder. Over the coming months, we will look carefully at the continued progress of local authorities in developing their Local Offers and provide further support where appropriate.
If parents have concerns about the Local Offer drawn up by their own local authority, their first point of call should be to discuss their concerns with the local authority. However, if that does not resolve the issue, then we are, of course, prepared to receive information from them.
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2014/0059226. If you need to respond to us, please visit: www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.
Childcare, Special Educational Needs and Children’s Strategy"
There are several points to note arising from this.
Firstly, the DfE uses the term "initial Local Offer" as if it has some meaning and significance separate from the Local Offer required by the Children and Families Act - a 'Local Offer Lite' perhaps?
Secondly, the claim is that 99% of LAs have now published a Local Offer. The evidence to support this claim is not referenced and there is no information confirming that what has been published actually complies with the law. Is the DfE concerned that a legally compliant Local Offer is published or just that LAs get 'something' (anything) published?
Thirdly, it is good to know that LAs are getting a package of 'support' but this doesn't explain why the Government has railroaded these reforms through when there is clear evidence LAs were not ready or why supporting LAs seems always to take priority over enforcing children's rights.
Finally, the DfE has confirmed that, if you cannot get any joy out of discussing the Local Offer with your LA, you can contact the DfE.
With these concerns in mind, we responded immediately via the 'contact us' box at the DfE (with our duly allocated reference number) as follows:
Dear Mr Kingdom,
Thank you very much for your response.
We are not sure the law recognises the term 'initial Local Offer' so perhaps you could explain what the DfE believes it to mean and whether it is to be distinguished from the Local Offer required by law. Following on from that, in relation to your figure of 99% compliance, is that compliance with publishing what you describe as 'initial Local Offer' or are you asserting that 99% of LAs have now completed the statutorily required consultation and have a produced a Local Offer which is compliant both with the Act and its Regulations? In either case, could you confirm how you have ascertained this?
We would be grateful if you would also confirm that you are happy for us to publish your response. We are, of course, happy to redact your name if you would prefer.
We will send this email to your generic email address as suggested but we have replied to this address also as a generic email address seemed a potentially unreliable way of communicating on an issue of such acute importance to parents.
We shall let you know if we receive a response but we wonder whether a Government which was serious about ensuring compliance with the law to protect children's rights would boot the issue into the long grass in this way without any genuine attempt at engagement.