The SEND Review, Co-production and Parental Engagement
by Brian Lamb
The SEND Review Right Support, Right Place, Right Time, is welcome in supporting the principles and benefits of co-production with parents. While many of its proposals leave the detail to be developed there are some very specific proposals, not all of which are likely to be welcome.
The Department for Education (DfE) are resurrecting a proposal, first made in Support and Aspiration (2011), to make access to the Tribunal dependant on compulsory mediation first. This retrograde step is an attempt to try to stem the increase in Tribunal cases and was roundly rejected the first time around.
Evidence shows that mediation can be helpful in reducing conflict, resolving issues and saving money (Cullen et al., 2017). However making meditation compulsory risks undermining the necessary trust and lack of compulsion required for the process to succeed. There may also be practical problems in recruiting the large numbers of additional skilled and trained mediators necessary to make this work. While parents will also need additional support mostly likely through an enhanced role for SEND Information, Advice and Support Services. There is a danger that this will feel like an additional hurdle to negotiate while it also ignores the steps the Tribunal has taken, through case management, to ensure early weeding out of resolvable cases before the hearings take place.
Parents on Multi Agency Panels to Review Statutory Assessments
The DfE also propose to create new local multi-agency panels to improve parental confidence in the Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment process. These panels would review decisions and adherence to the law and the newly established national standards and include parent’s as well statutory authorities. Parents being involved in statutory assessment panels were piloted as part of the Lamb Inquiry and have been taken up by some LAs. While this may lead to greater transparency and consistency in the decision making process there is a question of how far parents will want to undertake more professionalised roles in essentially policing part of the statutory assessment system. Especially if the DfE takes forward its idea to potentially establish these as independent review panels with the power to legally adjudicate in disputes.
Restrictions on Choice of setting.
The proposal to restrict parental choice to an approved list of schools or settings which conform to the locally developed standards and inclusion plan could cause considerable friction if the approved list does not reflect parental preferences. It is not clear how this will interface with parental choice or even if it will drive more Tribunal appeals if parents find their preferred choice is not on the approved list.
National Standards on Co-production
The proposal to introduce national Standards for co-producing and communicating with children, young people, parents and carers is welcome but will depend crucially on how well this is implemented and how much consensus there is around the measures for the standards. There has already been considerable work undertaken, based on Rotherham’s four cornerstones approach, by the National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF) and this may well provide a template for a national approach on strategic co-production. Training and support for co-production at the strategic and personal level will be crucial both for professionals, parents and young people themselves. There will also need to be standards for schools and settings on how to engage with parents and the frequency of contact, building on the Code of Practice requirements for teachers to meet formally with parents once a term.
Co-producing National Standards
Co-producing a new needs assessment and then the new Inclusion Plans to feed into the Local Offer is a positive proposal that will give more structure and consistency to the content of the Local Offer and restates its strategic importance as a planning tool not just an information repository. It will also be important to see how the new trust arrangements for Multi Academy Trusts develop and how parental voices can influence schools as part of the Inclusion Plans. The proposal to ensure that it is clear what should be ‘ordinarily’ available within schools for SEND is important here in holding schools to account. Also as Sharon raises, there are some important issues about how the SEND review assumes parents are best involved.
What do you think of the new proposals to enhance co-production?
Do they meet the concerns expressed by parents about current failures in the system?
Are parents being relied on to police the system or is it good that their views are being put at the centre of defining standards, strategic planning and reviews of statutory assessment?
What support do parents need to make this work?
Brian Lamb is an advisor to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership and has also worked as a consultant with a number of local authorities and parents groups on implementing the SEND reforms. He is Visiting Professor of Special Educational Needs and Disability at Derby University and a trustee at the Ewing Foundation.