Labour's manifesto for disabled people: Replacing the EHCP

Wading through the “sound bites” of election manifestos and general press coverage, there was one that caught my eye in particular. Labour released details of their separate mini manifesto specifically on disability policy, “Nothing About You, Without You: A Manifesto With And For Disabled People”.

So, I had to take a look to see what they were planning to deliver for those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Labour’s pledges include:

  • tackling discrimination in accessing education;
  • delivering a strategy to promote inclusivity and more substantially embed SEND into training for teachers and support staff;
  • ensuring that the Modern Apprenticeship programme is open to all and increase the numbers of disabled trainees participating; and
  • placing a duty on higher education institutions to ensure accessibility and support to disabled students.

There was one particular Labour pledge, however, which particularly drew my attention:

  • “We will address the disability education gap, which stops disabled children fulfilling their potential, replacing the flawed Education, Health and Care Plan assessment, which has been used to restrict access to support. We will also address issues with skilled support and resourcing, and ensure effective transitioning to adult services”.

Working in the area of special educational needs law there have been frequently documented difficulties and frustrations following  the 2014 Children and Families Act which heralded the introduction of the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) (as replacement for the Statement of Special Educational Needs (SSEN)). Our article last year highlighted some of these.

The recent publication of the statistics and analysis on SSENs and EHCPs in England did not make for a more reassuring read.

We have seen parents struggling to get their child assessed, assessments being incomplete or the quality of information collated as part of the assessment process being unacceptable, with subsequent either refusals to issue an EHCP or draft plans being produced with lack of adequate identification of the child’s needs and lack of specification in the educational provision for that child. Not to mention the difficulty in adhering to timescales for the process. However, to get an adequate EHCP is only part of the journey, the next stage is to ensure that the provision detailed in the EHCP is provided. With recognised issues around funding, resources and communication/working across agencies it can be a wearing process for parents, schools and the children and young people concerned.

But is replacing the system that has only so recently been introduced the answer? It could be argued that there still needs to be some bedding in of the current system. There are still misconceptions out there and misinformation being provided creating confusion. Further Regulations and case law have gone some way to providing further clarity and most would agree that this is still work in progress. Will replacing the system not create at least the same uncertainty as we have experienced over the last few years and further increase the workload on an already strained system? Not to mention the cost. There are certainly well documented issues with EHCPs and the processes surrounding them. While no one can deny an improvement is desired, the lack of accompanying detail to this pledge on how a better system will be achieved may leave some feeling that this is a sound bite without substance. Certainly if replacing the current system is attempted then great care will need to be taken and lessons must be learned from past difficulties. The end result must be kept in sight. Having a good document detailing a child/young person’s needs and the provision to support them in their education is invaluable to all involved, but it is only of value to that child or young person if what is in the document actually happens and is evaluated and develops with the child in an appropriate way. It must not become just a paper exercise.

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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