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The importance of a good educational psychologist in EHCP cases
A report by an educational psychologist (EP) is often the corner stone for an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
What do educational psychologists do for the EHCP?
EPs gather information within the school/education context to work alongside other professionals to improve outcomes for children and young people. Their primary task is to help clarify and define the needs of the child/young person.
EP’s have a statutory role on providing advice and information to local authorities (LAs) for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disability (SEND), and are undergoing a statutory needs assessment (Reg 6 (1) (d) SEND Regulations 2014).
Whilst there is no statutory guidance on how their evidence should be presented, an EP as a matter of good practice should be aware of the 4 key components of an EHCP. Any assessment and report should identify key strengths, consider the views of the child or young person, identify SEND needs, recommend the necessary provision to meet those needs and set out learning outcomes expected as a result of the provision being put in place. Any provision should be set out, in specified and quantified terms that can be easily incorporated into any Plan in terms accessible to all (as per the SEND Code of Practice).
An EP must act within their knowledge, skills and experience when providing psychological advice or information. An EP should not provide advice on specific needs requiring the input of healthcare professionals such as speech & language, occupational and physiotherapists. Equipment needs can also be addressed
Crucially, the EP can address the type of placement.
Recommendations made by educational psychologists
Recommendations should be directed to overcoming the barriers to learning, and not swayed by financial constraints of those instructing, be it the LA or parent. The approach should be holistic and child centred and professional views should be delivered in the best interest of the child or young person.
Within the context of a SEND appeal, the overriding duty of any reporting EP as an expert will be to the Tribunal assisting on matters within their expertise. Opinion must be truthful, impartial and independent.
Any Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) process is governed by strict timetables, none more so than a tribunal with a 12 week process from registration of appeal to final hearing. Furthermore, there is a move towards paper based appeal (the default position in refusal to assess appeals), given the pressure on available tribunal dates and locations throughout the country.
Good, clear and swift EP reporting is essential. Quite often we are seeing EHCPs without any reference at all to an EP assessment, or EP reports not meeting the necessary standards thereby leaving both the LA and the parent with little to inform the content of any Plan. Not only is this unlawful but it may also result in the parents having to seek an independent assessment at an un-recoupable cost to them. Parents can ask the EP to consider both LA and parental preferences for placement.
Independent educational psychologists
Another issue facing parents is the availability of independent EPs to assess and report upon their child within EHCP timetables.
A notable lack of sufficient EPs experienced and capable of producing reports that meet the SEND Code requirements was acknowledged as far back as 2016, when a survey suggested that a third of EP services would be unlikely meet the demand for the, then, new EHCP plans to be finalised by April 2018. The advent of EHCPs extended support to the age of 25 placing increased assessment numbers on an already stretched system. LAs are increasingly resorting to trainee EPs (subject to supervision) to undertake assessments as a means to fulfilling their statutory obligations.
Furthermore, LAs are facing an unprecedented increase for requests for EHC needs assessments and appeals on current EHCP’s following Annual Reviews set against budget freezes and cutbacks. As at 2016, of 148 LAs surveyed, 68% of EP services had vacancies.
Whilst the government confirmed funding for additional training places, they have clearly not kept pace with appeal numbers, which face further expansion following the launch of the EHCP pilot scheme in April 2018, whereby tribunals have the power to make recommendations on health and care aspects of the Plan, further highlighting the need for EPs with strong expertise.
The need for an experienced pool of EPs has never been more acute.
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