Children & families bill

The government is transforming the system for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including the disabled, so services consistently support their best outcomes.

The government is transforming the system for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including the disabled, so services consistently support their best outcomes.

The bill will extend the SEN system from 0 to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control, ensuring needs are properly met. It takes forward the reform programme set out in 'Support and Aspiration: a new approach to special education needs and disability - progress and next steps,' including:
  • replacing old statements with a new 0 to 25 education, health and care plan
  • extending rights and protections to young people in further education and training
  • offering families personal budgets so they have more control over the support they need
  • improving cooperation between the services supporting children and their families
  • requiring local authorities to involve children, young people and parents in reviewing and developing SEN provision
  • publishing a ‘local offer’ of support.
The reforms implement a new approach, seeking to join up help across education, health and care. Help will be offered at the earliest point, with children and young people and their parents or carers fully involved in decisions about their support. This will help lead to better outcomes and greater efficiency.
What does the bill mean for services now?
There are currently no changes in the law. All current duties on schools, local authorities and other services still apply and children with SEN should continue receiving support.

What is an education, health and care (EHC) plan?
An EHC plan will replace current statements of SEN and learning difficulty assessments. The plan will be a legal document describing a young person’s needs, the provision to meet those needs and suitable educational placement. EHC plans will continue into further education and training, and for some up to the age of 25.

Plans should focus on outcomes an individual child or young person is expected to achieve. Targets must be specific and set out what support is needed.

Who will have an education health and care plan?
The Department for Education states a child or young person with a statement of SEN will have an EHC plan. EHC plans should be issued when the local authority considers the needs of the child cannot be provided for by mainstream early years provision, school and post-16 institutions. Children and young people with primarily health or care needs will not be issued with a plan, unless these needs impact their education.

How will an assessment work?
Section seven of the SEN code of practice sets out key points for the way assessments should be carried out.

These include:
  • The views of children, young people and their families must be sought.
  • Disruption to families should be minimised. This includes avoiding multiple assessments and appointments. There should be a ‘tell it once’ approach.
  • Families should be provided with impartial information, advice and support. For people over 16, a separate service of impartial advice and support should be available although it is still expected families, with the young person’s consent, play a significant role.
  • The assessment process should be carried out in a ‘timely’ manner and it should not take longer than 20 weeks to issue an EHC plan.
Will there be help for children without an EHC plan?
Under the children and families bill and the code of practice, school action and school action plus will be replaced with SEN support. SEN support will be available in school for children and young people who have SEN but do not have EHC plans. Additional SEN support meets a student’s needs to help them achieve their individual goals.

What is a personal budget?
All families whose child has an EHC plan will have a right to request a personal budget. This allows young people or parents to buy support identified in the plan directly, rather than relying on the local authority.

Parents or young people will be given a choice of whether they want to take control of the budget, by an agency managing the funds on their behalf, or by receiving direct payments.

What does the bill mean for the health service?
The health service must engage with the local authority to create joint commissioning arrangements for the health and social care provision required by children and young people identified as having SEN.

These arrangements need to set out what health provision is to be secured and who is responsible for securing it. The arrangements must establish a mechanism to resolve disputes between different commissioning parties.

The health service must also co-operate with the local authority in the creation of an EHC plan, by advising on what kind of health provision is reasonably required by the child’s learning difficulties and disabilities.

The EHC plan will have to be approved by the relevant health commissioning body and, if it is approved, the health service must ensure the support set out in the EHC plan is made available.
What is the local offer?
It is a requirement for the local authority to publish information about the provision it expects will be available for children and young people with SEN aged up to 25, both within and outside their local area.

The local offer must include information about:
  • education, health and care provision for children and young people with SEN
  • arrangements for identifying and assessing children and young people’s SEN
  • other education provision (such as sports or arts provision)
  • training provision, including apprenticeships
  • arrangements for travel to and from schools, post-16 institutions and early years providers
  • support to help children and young people in moving between phases of education and preparing for adulthood
  • sources of information, advice and support in the local authority’s area relating to SEN, including information provided under clause 32 of the children and families bill
  • arrangements for making complaints, for resolution of disagreements, mediation and parents’ and young people’s right to appeal a decision
The code of practice says local authorities must involve children in planning decisions about what services for young people with SEN are needed. This includes planning the content of the local offer, deciding how to publish the offer and providing feedback on the services contained in the local offer.

What does the bill say about the right of parents to request assessments?
The bill states parents have the right to request an EHC assessment.

What does the bill say about compulsory mediation? 
One of the clauses in the bill requires parents to be provided with information about mediation and then to consider whether or not they wish to take it up. Mediation will not be compulsory. In the draft SEND provisions, parents and young people were required to attend mediation before making an appeal to the tribunal.