Thursday, 5 September 2013

Parent campaigner Jane Raca supports NAS petition on SEN reform

Last month the NAS launched a petition calling for a single point of appeal for Education, Health and Care Plans, which are being introduced in the Children and Families Bill. So far over 5000 people have signed the petition. In this guest post parent campaigner Jane Raca shares her story to explain why she is supporting the petition.

Sign the petition here

My story: Why I am supporting the National Autistic Society’s petition for a single point of appeal

My son James is 14, and severely autistic. He finds changes in routine terrifying. He hates to leave our house except to go to school. He can only cope with life by having constant one to one support, and expert psychological management. If this doesn’t happen, he can become violent, biting himself and lashing out at his family and carers. He is obsessed with apples, and has developed complex rituals around holding them and dropping them. If you don’t follow these rituals, he may explode with rage.
His sleeping patterns are broken, and his day often begins in the early hours. He has epilepsy and needs 24 hour supervision in case he has a seizure. On top of all this he also has cerebral palsy, and needs regular physiotherapy, and continuous postural management. He can’t walk or talk, and is doubly incontinent.

I have two other children and my husband works away from home during the week. When James was 5, I became suicidally depressed by the effort of looking after him. I began the long and soul destroying journey of trying to get help. Despite having been a solicitor, the fog of depression made it difficult to work out what to do. I was sure James needed to go to a year round specialist boarding school, where he would have strict routines and one to one care all the time. But I didn’t realise this meant going to the education department and getting his statement of SEN changed. Instead I went round and round in circles with the social care department. Meanwhile, they failed to provide any help at home, and it took a year to get even a small amount of respite, so we could give the other children a break.

Eventually, I worked out the system, and appealed James’s statement of SEN to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, to get James his full time school. However, the SEND Tribunal could not rule on his holiday provision, as that was deemed to be social care; they could only consider his educational needs. Even though they judged that these educational needs included learning to communicate with pictures at all times, and keeping physically mobile through regular physiotherapy, the Tribunal could only order the council to meet these needs in term time. To get any support in the school holidays (14 weeks of the year) we would have to go back to social care and start all over again.

There is no social care tribunal and once again I went round in circles. In total it took another 5 years to get James his full time placement. This was only achieved by:
• Countless letters from me to social care, and several letters from my MP and Councillor.
• Four written reports produced by me with a total of 326 pages of evidence.
• A complaint following the council’s statutory complaints procedure, which was upheld on all eight counts.
• A complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

During these 5 years, James flourished at his boarding school, Dame Hannah Rogers in Devon. He developed friendships, learned to go out on trips and can now communicate using an ipad. In sharp contrast he remained virtually a prisoner in the house on his visits home, mostly too scared to go out. He suffered through having to cope with weeks of the year with minimal support. I still bear the physical scars of his fear and boredom, as we failed to manage and occupy him at home. If the SEND Tribunal had been able to rule on James’s needs holistically, we would all have been spared years of suffering.

The Ombudsman never got to rule on my complaint, as the council finally gave in. Just as well, as I had reached the appalling decision that I was ready to ask for James to be taken into care in the holidays. He had grown so big, that it just wasn’t safe to have him home any more.

I discovered recently that I could have applied to the High Court to review the decisions of social care over James’s placement. However the Court could not have ordered whatever remedy it thought fit. It could only have looked at the legality and fairness of the council’s decisions. If I as a solicitor struggled to find my way through this maze, where does that leave other, unqualified parents? If someone as physically disabled as James can’t get help, what is happening to physically able autistic children? I know the answer, as my friend’s autistic child climbs onto the roof in the middle of the night and goes to the toilet in her bed. Her respite is being reduced.

The current social care system is not working and there is no effective mechanism to force local authorities to meet the needs of autistic children. We have a golden opportunity with the Children and Families Bill to create a unified system of appeal which is speedy, effective and independent of local authorities. We must make sure that we do not let it slip through our fingers.
© Jane Raca

Read more about Jane's campaigning work here

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Single point of appeal for EHC Plans

The NAS has launched a petition calling on the Government to amend the Children and Families Bill to create a single point of appeal for challenging provision in Education, Health and Care Plans.

This change is essential if the Government are to deliver on their commitment to “ending the agonising battle many parents fight to get the support for their families, as they are forced to go from pillar to post between different authorities and agencies”.

The NAS welcomes the replacement of education-only statements with joint Education, Health and Care Plans. However as currently drafted the Bill does not provide a joined up system of accountability and redress. Parents will have to go through separate appeals processes for each element of an Education, Health and Care Plan to challenge inadequate provision. They will continue to battle the system on multiple fronts.

Parents tell the NAS that social care and health complaints procedures are difficult to navigate, can take months and sometimes years to resolve disputes and are unable to offer the robust remedies currently provided by the First Tier Tribunals in relation to education statements. The solution is to enable the First Tier Tribunal to hear appeals and offer remedies for all elements of Education, Health and Care plans. Despite debates on amendments to this effect during the Commons stages of the Bill, the Government has resisted this change, claiming existing routes of redress for health and social care are sufficient. This flies in the face of parent’s own experience and the Government’s own ambition to create a joined up and family-centred SEN system.

Time is running out for the Government to deliver on their promise to end parent’s battle for support. The Children and Families Bill is expected to pass into law in early 2014. It is vital that the changes are made during the remaining stages of the Bill on the House of Lords. Take action today by signing our petition.

Please note the SEN changes introduced in the Children and Families Bill will only apply to England.

For more information please contact

Thursday, 2 May 2013

DfE publish interim report on school exclusion trials

The DfE has published an interim report from its three-year school exclusion trial, which started in autumn 2011 and continues until July 2014. The trial sees schools taking on responsibility for placing excluded pupils in alternative provision (AP), funding the placements from money devolved from LAs; and gives flexibility for funding earlier intervention to reduce the need for exclusion in the first place. It involves around 180 participating schools in 11 volunteer local authorities (LAs).

An evaluation is running alongside the trial, with the final report due in spring 2015. The evaluation will assess the issues arising from the implementation of the trial and the impact it has on pupils, schools, LAs and AP providers.

The report focuses on establishing a qualitative and quantitative baseline for the evaluation, but also presents some early findings from the first year of the trial. It is based on schools in the eight LAs that were participating at the initial stage of the evaluation. Although at a very early stage of the trial, there was evidence from some trial schools that they have started to implement changes, such as:

§ changes to school processes (the introduction of new school-wide policies and strategies; the employment of new staff in specialised roles in schools; allocated budgets for AP);

§ additional training for existing staff; and

§ changes to the types of interventions offered (increased support for pupils at risk of permanent exclusion, including external AP and in-school provision).

Future reports will consider the outcomes of the trial, including the impact on pupils’ attainment, and provide case studies of how particular issues have been addressed.

The report is available here

If you have any questions please email

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

DfE publish indicative SEN Code of Practice

On Thursday 14th March the Department for Education published an indicative draft of the (0-25) Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. This was published to help Parliament consider the SEN Clauses in Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill, which is currently being considered at Committee Stage in the House of Commons.

The draft that has been published is a "work in progress" and the Department has committed to providing a subsequent draft for formal consultation later in 2013 and before the Code is formally laid before Parliament. 

The NAS will be working with parents, young people and professionals to inform our response to the formal consultation later in the year. However we will use the space in between to shape the version of the Code that is put out to public consultation.

Education minister Edward Timpson sent a letter to the Council for Disabled Children setting out the next steps in the process, including reassurance that the current statutory provisions remain in place until the Children and Families Bill receives Royal Assent in 2014 (subject to Parliament).

The Department have also published draft indicative regulations to accompany the legislation.

The draft Code of Practice and Regulations are published on the Department for Education website.

The NAS welcomes the inclusion of timescales for assessments in the indicative draft regulations. It is vital that the Government carries over all existing protections for parents into the new system. As is currently the case, Local Authorities will have to let people know whether they will be undertaking an Education Health and Care needs assessment within 6 weeks of receiving a request. Under the new draft regulations, the  overall timescale for the assessment and planning process,  from responding to a request to sending out a finalised  Education, Health and Care plan, would be reduced from 26 to 20 weeks.

If you have any questions please email

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

BPP School exclusions project offers free representation

The School Exclusion Project at BPP Law School is currently offering free support to families who would like to appeal against exclusion.

As part of the project, families in England and Wales are assisted by trained student reps that will support them throughout the process, up to and including advocacy at the hearing.

The reps will be available to assist with appeals to the Governors Discipline Committee and the Independent Review Panel in fixed term and permanent school exclusions.

The service is free of charge, however travel expenses may need to be paid for hearings outside of London and South East England.

If you’re in need of support or would like more information, email

Friday, 8 March 2013

New duty on health to secure SEN services

Children’s Minister Edward Timpson announced on 5 March that a new legal duty will be put on the NHS to secure services in education, health and care(EHC) plans for children and young people with SEN. EHC plans will be replacing education statements as part of the major overhaul of the SEN system introduced in the Children and Families Bill.

The NAS welcomes this change as a step in the right direction for improving provision for children and young people with autism. Since the draft legislation was published for the Bill,   we have been calling for stronger duties on health to ensure that EHC plans genuinely deliver on the Government’s ambitions for more integrated and person centered provision.

The Committee of MPs responsible for scrutinising and amending the Bill, who met for the first time on 5 March, welcomed the new duty on health but raised a number of concerns about accountability and enforcement. Pat Glass MP (Lab, North West Durham ) asked the Minister whether the role of SEN tribunals will be changed to take account of the new statutory duty on health (in the existing system only the education components of a statement are legally enforceable). The Minister replied “that was not the intention” and that redress for health services would be through the NHS ombudsman, which would “in future to have regard to the SEN code of practice when considering such complaints.”

The NAS remains concerned about the ongoing lack of clarity around accountability and enforcement of provision across services. As it stands parents lack a single point of redress in the new system, with the potential for greater fragmentation than is currently the case. We are awaiting more specific details on the new health duty, which will be published as an amendment to the Bill in the next few weeks.

MPs on the Committee also highlighted the need for the legislation to define time limits for local authorities to respond to requests for assessments for EHC plans.   The NAS has been vocal in calling for all existing parental rights to be carried over in to the new system. We will continue to work with parliamentarians to amend the legislation so that these rights are protected.

The committee stage of the Bill is expected to last until late April.

To read more about the new health duty click here

To read the debate from the first session of the Children and Families Bill Committee, click here

Friday, 22 February 2013

Tell MPs to defend parental rights in the Children and Families Bill

The Children and Families Bill, which will introduce major changes to the SEN system, will be the first to undergo a new parliamentary process of Public Reading. This initiative gives members of the public the opportunity to provide their views on Bills before they are made into law. Comments on the Bill will be made available to the Committee of MPs responsible for examining the Bill in detail so that they can take them into account when deciding whether to make changes to the Bill. The public reading will close on 26th February.

The NAS is particularly concerned that existing rights, which are explicit in current legislation, and which parents rely on, are not included in the Bill. Parents frequently tell us that they have to battle to get their child’s needs identified, recognised and then met. Following campaigning by the NAS, parent’s right to request an assessment have now been reinstated. However, the Bill does not indicate any duty on local authorities to respond to the request within specific timescales.

We need to send a clear message to MPs that omitting timescales from the new SEN system would be a major step backwards; undermining the Government’s commitment to end parent’s battle for support. 

The Public Reading section on SEN reform allows for both general comments and comments on specific clauses of the Bill. Let MPs know how vital timescales for assessments are by commenting under the subject heading "Clause 36 Assessment".

Under Clause 36 of the Bill, parents will have the right to request an assessment but there is no time limit within which the decision has to be notified to the parent, and the clause does not provide that regulations may or must provide one. It is vital that this is amended by the Committee of MPs examining the Bill to include clear timescales for local authorities to respond to requests for assessment.  

More information on the Public Reading initiave can be found here

If you have any questions please email