It is going to be different times for parents, schools and local authorities (LA) as the educational provisions of the Children and Families Act 2014 comes into force on 1st September 2014. The Act introduces significant changes to the special educational needs regime with new regulations and a new Code of Practice shortly due to be approved by Parliament, which will then replace the previous code from 1st September 2014.
The main changes that are to be introduced are :-
- The replacement of Statements of Special Educational Needs and Leaning Difficulty Assessments with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC plans).
- EHC plans can remain in force until a person is 25 years of age.
- A transitional period where current statements of special educational needs are reconsidered and transferred into EHC plans.
- All requests after 1st September 2014, for an assessment of a child’s special educational needs or for Learning Difficulty Assessments will be considered under the Children and Families Act and, if appropriate, lead to the production of an EHC plan.
- School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced by a single category of “Additional SEN Support.”
- LA will be required to publish a ‘Local Offer’ which will contain information about the education, health and social care services available in their area to children, young people and their families..
- The introduction of personal budgets. From 1st September 2014, local authorities must set out their policy for personal budgets, describing the services across education, health and social care that are appropriate for the use of personal budgets, how that funding will be made available, and including clear, simple statements of the eligibility criteria and the decision making processes.
It is hoped that the more holistic approach will lead to better working between education, social care and health. Unfortunately, there is no legal obligation on health to make the health provision that is outlined in the EHC plan. This will be the responsibility of the LA only if it is in the education element of the EHC plan, e.g. speech therapy. It is also disappointing that even though the LA is also responsible for social care provision for a child or young person, they will have no duty to provide it through the EHC plan.
EHC plans will not be in a standardised format so the quality of EHC plans is likely to vary between various authorities
The First Tier Tribunal, Special Educational Needs and Disability, will continue to deal solely with educational needs, educational provision and the school or placement where that is to be delivered. It will not be able to decide all of the holistic issues for the child, e.g. the need for a residential placement due to both educational and social care needs, and the distinction between a residential placement for education needs and one for social care and health reasons will remain.
Schools have little time to plan for the new regime in September 2014 as the Act did not receive Royal Assent until March 2014. The Code of Practice is probably now in its final form but is still waiting Parliament’s approval. The SEND Tribunal should be busy coming to terms with appeals directly from students – including those attending college whose statements ceased at 16 – now seeking EHC plans. It is going to be new territory for all concerned and there will be a steep learning curve now that the final details of the regulations and code of practice are eventually slotting into place.