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.