Westminster Education Forum 2016

On the 3rd November Laxmi Patel, Head of Education at Boyes Turner, was invited to be a guest speaker at the Westminster Education Forum in London.

The Westminster Education Forum is an opportunity for interested parties across the Education profession to talk about legislative reforms, discuss current issues and provide a unique and specialist insight into Education in the UK.

Laxmi provided legal analysis of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) reforms that were triggered by the publication of the Lamb Report in 2009. These reforms have totalled over half a billion pounds to date and were meant to create a more accountable system between parents, schools and Local Authorities, with greater coordination between education, health and social care departments. The reforms were also intended to ensure a greater focus on the child or young persons’ Special Educational Needs (SEN) and give more of a voice to parents. The transition from Statements to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) was a key element of the reforms. The introduction of EHCPs extended provision for young people up to 25 years of age and introduced personal budgets and a choice of local provision in order to allow a greater discussion between families and local authorities.

Laxmi discussed the reality of the changes, that:

  • 25% of cases brought against Local Authorities are still going to appeal after failed attempts to mediate
  • Many children are not being correctly transitioned from a Statement to an EHCP, with some Local Authorities failing to conduct assessments and not complying within the statutory deadlines
  • Personal budgets are not being agreed between the families and the Local Authority
  • Children being allocated inappropriate school provision far too frequently.

Other speakers, Carrie Grant, Patient Lead at the College of Medicine and Parent and Shona Duncan, Director of Children, Youth and Family Services at the Westminster Society for Young People with Learning Difficulties, agreed more needed to be done to see a cultural shift to listening to parents and better understanding the children’s needs. It was felt that on paper the SEND reforms were progressive and important changes for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), however this is often not being translated into reality. It is felt by many parents that there is inconsistency in how their child is dealt with at school and by Local Authorities, creating a ‘postcode lottery’ for children and young people with SEN.

Anne Heavey from ATL, the Education Union, explained how she had found the leadership of the SEND reforms was being undermined by accumulating pressures of funding cuts, staff shortages, restricted accountability and rapid policy change. This all means children with SEND and their parents are being let down and having to fight to voice their opinions. In a survey conducted by ATL, only 9% of those interviewed agreed with the statement ‘I believe that the current system in England enables all children with SEN to be supported appropriately’.

However it may be that these issues are just teething problems. A joint targeted inspection of all 152 local areas between Ofsted and Care Quality Commission is currently being rolled out across England and Wales over a five year period. The inspections will involve CQC, Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) and aims to assess how effective the local area is fulfilling the SEND reforms. This offers an opportunity to address the issues raised in this forum and give constructive feedback to policy makers.

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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