Is the Local Offer really the problem?

The Department for Education (DfE) has released its latest Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) newsletter. It focuses heavily on the failings of the Local Offer, but is quiet on a number of other issues.

The newsletter can be found here.

What does it say?

The newsletter heavily focuses on the Local Offer. It seems that local authorities are struggling with the preparation of the Local Offer. Some have completed their websites so that an accessible, user-friendly and useful Local Offer has been published. Others have presented a directory of services which are moderately helpful, but fail to satisfy the requirements.

The Local Offer is supposed to be a tool which helps people to find what services are available in their local area, including in neighbouring local authorities. It should also provide details of any eligibility criteria which apply so that the user can work out if they are likely to be able to access a particular service.

All local authorities should also be seeking, publishing and responding to comments about their Local Offers. It remains to be seen whether all local authorities comply with this obligation.

The newsletter also comments that the Final Impact Report of the SEND Pathfinder programme has been published. This newsletter claims that that report was ‘very positive’. Our article about the Final Impact Report is here. It does not seem to us that the Final Impact Report was ‘very positive’ but rather found a number of difficulties.

The tail-end of the newsletter makes mention of the consultation into SEND Inspection by Ofsted and CQC.

The newsletter also links to the latest statistical release from the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST). The newsletter highlights that the number of appeals started April – June 2015 was 31% lower than the number of appeals started April – June 2014.

The decrease in the number of appeals being started is promising, if it genuinely means that more parents and families are happy with the content of support that their children and young people are receiving. We are doubtful that that is a safe conclusion to reach at this stage because:

  • The statistics relate to one three-month period. That is a very short period of time to be basing any conclusions on. Looking back through the statistics, the number of appeals started in any particular period has varied by up to 40%, even before the SEND reforms.
  • The new system is bedding down – until parents and families feel confident with the new system, they may not be willing to start any appeals.
  • The requirement to consider mediation may be resulting in a delay in appeals being started. It may also mean that local authorities are conceding appeals at an earlier stage.

From our experience, the level of concern and anxiety about the provision made available for children with SEND has not declined since the reforms.

What does it not say?

The newsletter focuses heavily on the Local Offer and the change of the transition timetable. It notably does not deal with a number of other issues:

  • The reports that have been published, to mark the first year of the SEND reforms, which are almost uniformly critical, for example the detailed report from Driver Youth Trust.
  • The ongoing difficulties with transition from Statement to EHCP, especially local authorities securing adequate advice. This includes the frequent absence of social care and health services in the transition process.
  • The startling decline in the number of children and young people recognised as having SEND since the reforms took effect, which we reported here.

Conclusions

The SEND reforms have struggled. This has been noted widely. It seems that the key reasons for this have been a lack of time, a lack of money and a lack of planning to effect the reforms smoothly.

It is good to see the DfE keeping track of local authorities’ obligations and to reiterate them within the newsletters. The SEND inspection consolation is also promising. However, until the full extent of the difficulties with the reforms are accepted, they will not be remedied.

I am so happy at the outcome, I don't think we would have had such a comprehensive service from any other law firm, and you took the worry away...I do not regret a single second of the whole process, apart from the bit before you got involved. 

James' mother, Boyes Turner client

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