Major Reform of EHCP Process by Sutton LA Needed

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Dear Ofsted 

We are a group of parent and carers, who all have something in common. Our lives have been hugely affected by the areas of concern noted in the Ofsted report you carried out on Sutton Local Authority in 2018. 

We feel compelled to share with you our feelings, and we ask for these to be taken on board when looking to address the poor delivery of SEND support in Sutton.

The recognised lack of quality provision and poor process is impacting our children day in, day out, and something needs to be done urgently.

Here we outline our concerns regarding the EHCP process/SEND support and specifically respond with our current experience to some of the areas of concern you noted in your report.  We have highlighted how this feels to parent carers, and the impact these failings are having on Suttons children, young people and families:

Ofsted areas of development

“Providers told inspectors that there are sometimes significant delays in accessing appropriate placements once these are identified for children and young people through the EHC process.”

These are still happening frequently. Children are at home for long periods of time, often with no formal education. The impact also extends to all members of the family. Parents give up work and siblings must support each other through extreme periods of stress. The cost on mental health resources and the employment sector is high, this is not just a SEND issue. With the current climate, where media are often reporting on children missing education, delays in Sutton should not be able to continue?

“Parents and providers are not provided with enough information or guidance when an application for an EHC plan is declined. This can leave them confused and concerned about the way forward.”

This, to parents feels like there is a cover up. We are not told why our children are left without enough support and feel stuck in the middle. We have schools telling us they cannot afford to support our children adequately, and then the LA using a blanket policy to tell parents that their child doesheyes not meet Sutton’s criteria for Statutory Assessment.  Then when the parent requests from the LA what Sutton’s criteria actually is, it is withheld or unknown or vaguely explained.   not consider the need great enough for an EHCP. Parents are left with nowhere to turn and it is the children who suffer, as the appeal process is long, time consuming and intimidating. There needs to be a situation where no matter what, for any child who meets the criteria for a EHC needs assessment (as set out in the law (section 36 (8) of the Children and Families Act 2014) and whose parent or school has requested an EHCP, a level of investigation takes place to ensure there is the right support in place – whether through an EHCP or the schools notional budget.

With regards to the actual criteria used for making a decision, Sutton more often than not does not stick to the legal threshold for assessment when making decisions around parent requests and instead uses ‘local policy’. They try to throw it back onto the schools who have already shown they have no idea of how to support the child. They then decline a request to assess and say the school should be doing more. Parents have no other option but to appeal, costing the parent and LA money, or just keep reapplying. During all the time wasted in this process, a child with SEND is not receiving person centred support. There are many currently in this situation throughout our borough.

“The arrangements to identify the needs of some children and young people with social, emotional and mental-health needs are limited in their scope and impact. For example, the early signs that children may have difficulty managing their own behaviour are not picked up skillfully enough by professionals working in settings.”

This is often due to SENCOs and professionals simply not listening to the parents and to what is happening outside of school. Children are often masking within school and in cases where emotional and mental health needs are complex, it feels like Sutton are waiting for children and young people to reach breaking point before they are supported in a robust way.  Many parents have been told by the LA of Sutton that their child must fail before they can be offered any help…many children are often feeling suicidal before they reach this stage

“While many statements have been converted to EHC plans, the local authority has not been able to confirm that all conversions will meet the March 2018 deadline. Leaders have recently become aware of a number of additional conversions which have increased the challenge they face to meet this deadline.”

We are hopeful that this has been completed, but the quality has often suffered where the LA have been pressured to achieve targets. EHCPS need checking at review to ensure they meet minimum standards.

“The quality of EHC plans is inconsistent. Many of those sampled during inspection included vague objectives and a poor response to information available about the specific needs of the child. Specialist providers confirmed that many EHC plans they receive are of a similar poor quality. Leaders in the area have failed to monitor the quality of plans over time. They have done too little to support the sharing of good practice in implementing EHC plans.”

As parents we feel our children’s EHCP’s do not meet the minimum legal standards set, and we do not feel there is anything done about it. We are forced to take incompetent EHCP’s to appeal in order to get the basics met – specification, quantification, clear for all to understand. This is not acceptable and a robust training delivery needs to take place to ensure all professionals involved understand what is expected of them.  At present, the Sutton SEN team insist that the EHCP plan only needs to be a brief summary or snapshot of the child’s needs in section B, and that the setting can refer to appendices attached for ‘ALL’ of the child or young person’s needs.   

“Parents do not have sufficient access to an independent advice service. This results in some parents paying for their own legal advice, while others resort to seeking help from non-specialists. This is unacceptable.”

This must be dealt with. As parents we are left to support each other and pull on the limited knowledge we have, building support groups online or having to ultimately spend our funds on legal support.”

A mediation service is commissioned in Sutton. However, some providers and parents are skeptical about the way it is used and are not convinced that it is effective. They told inspectors that leaders do not want to mediate with families. 

“Outcomes in EHC plans issued by the local area are often not clearly defined and are not sufficiently aspirational. This is particularly the case for young people over 16. Offers of support from colleges to help improve this are not being used effectively.”

It is crucial that Outcomes are aspirational for children and their families. Families fight for an EHCP and then they are often left with Outcomes that have already been met or that feel limiting.

“Too many children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities have been excluded, especially at primary school, over time. Leaders have taken recent action to improve the transition of pupils at risk of exclusion to secondary school, with early signs of success. They rightly see this as an ongoing priority. 

Some providers say that the expertise in supporting children and young people with behavioral, social and emotional needs is limited. This is having a negative impact on outcomes for these pupils. Some parents agree with this and it links to concerns about the risk of exclusion for this group of pupils.”

This concern hits home for many of our group who have children for whom their needs impact on their ability to ‘fit in’ within a mainstream setting. The provision is not in place for our children, diagnosis is delayed and EHCPs in place are of poor quality. These children are often treated as ‘badly behaved’ and are excluded, leaving parents with little choice but to Home educate.

Changes Needed

In conclusion we would like to see the following take place within Sutton:

1.    A complete replacement of the current SEND policy to bring it in line with Children and Families Act 2014. In particular, targets of reduction of EHCP assessments and applications should be removed.

2.    Training and consultation needs to take place with school SENCOs so that barriers are not put up for families asking for an EHCP assessment. SENCOs are regularly telling families that ‘There is no point applying as Sutton do not often assess’. Any child that fulfils the criteria for a EHC needs assessment (as set out in the law (section 36 (8) of the Children and Families Act 2014) should be put forward. We know that many SENCOS work incredibly hard, but this isn’t consistent across Sutton when it comes to the EHCP process and as parents we want to know that this is being monitored. We feel schools appear to be deliberately slowing down the request process, unless they feel they want more funds. They tell parents lies about why they can’t have an EHCP – like ‘Only children in special schools have them.’ Parents in Sutton, in all large and small schools should be told more about EHCP’s and the factual truth. Not just what people want them to hear.

3.    We want to see at least 90% of applications for EHCP assessment heard by the panel and communicated to the parents/caregivers within the 6-week timeframe. If timeframes cannot be met, then parents need to be informed of such delay as soon as possible and all effort made to overcome any delays.

4.    We ask for all EHCP assessments to be made based on legal criteria NOT the LA’s vague criteria. We have huge concerns about this not being the case and we would ask that a lawyer be placed on the panel to make sure of this. Local authority criteria should no longer be used as the basis of refusal and parents should no longer have to pay for legal support to appeal unlawful decisions.

5.    There needs to be a monthly quality control meeting to review the decisions that have been made and the responses to parents.

6.    We ask for clear, coherent and detailed reasons given in the response letters, allowing families to be fully informed when deciding as to whether to appeal.

7.    We would like access for all families to the mediation process and attendance by Sutton representative(s) when dates are arranged.

8.    We would like the practice of negotiating with parents once they have appealed to be ceased. The LA seem to wait for families to move forward and appeal, using this almost as a filtering process to ‘weed’ out the parents who will give in and back down. Sutton are approaching families in the days before hearing to offer compromise, when this could have been offered in the months previous. This causes unnecessary stress and delay in provision for SEND children. As well as cash strapped families often having to waste hard earned money on legal support, that could have been used towards their child’s needs instead.

9.    We ask for the re-training of those who write EHCPs and a process of checking each and every EHCP report to ensure that reports include all relevant information and do not contain significant gaps e.g. including a checklist at the beginning that is countersigned by someone else who has read through the agreement. .

10. We require a 24-hour SLA within which all emails, messages and any other forms of correspondence to SEN Council team members will be responded to within.

11. We ask for quarterly meetings with a representative from our parent group to discuss current performance - What is working well and how things could be improved.

12. Finally, we feel there needs to be a change in the culture from one of looking at special need’s children as money drains, to one of looking at those who need care, help and protection.

Our children are being failed and we are no longer prepared to sit back and watch this happen. The areas of concern and needs for improvement, we feel are based around a toxic culture and illegal practice. This must be rectified immediately so our children have the chances in life they so rightly deserve.

Kind Regards

Sutton EHCP Crisis Campaign Group