Last Friday a groups of parents from parent-carer forums around the country came together at the Department for Education to talk about how parental involvement in the pathfinder reforms had influenced the process, what was working and what wasn't.
The parents included myself, Debs (who you will recall runs Kent's forum) and Angela Kelly, my Surrey Family Voice co-chair.
We talked a lot about the value of what is being called the "co-production" of parents' voices being valued and listened to and how it must continue after the reforms are put into practice, and preferably, mandated in the Children & Families Bill, or new Code of Practice/regulations.
On hand were DfE officials involved in the bill's progression and yesterday, Edward Timpson, the minister in charge himself travelled to Disability Challengers in Farnham to meet parents and pathfinder families.
Although, very flatteringly, I had been invited to meet him because of Special Needs Jungle, I was already booked to deliver a half-day social media workshop for a room full of noisy and energetic Stella & Dot independent stylists. It was lots of fun, but I was rather hoarse and brain-dead at the end.
Despite sadly missing my chance to speak to the minister, I knew he was in very good hands with Angela being there, along with other parents.
And Ang, being the good egg she is, has written about the visit here. She did say the Minister had a tear in his eye at missing me too, but I think she was smirking when she said it.
Over to Ang...
The SE7 pathfinder team had an important visit on 14th February. SE7 is a collective group of seven south-east local authorities, parent-carer forums and Voluntary and Community sector organisations, who have come together to trial the reforms proposed in the Children & Families Bill.
On a mild Thursday morning, a collective group of professionals, made up of local authority, voluntary and community sector and parents came together at Disability Challengers in Farnham, Surrey to meet with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Edward Timpson. (And yes, I have included Parents in the professional capacity because 1, we are professionals where our children are concerned and 2, we are professional in our capacity as co-producers under the new approach to the SEN reform)
Upon my rather unceremonious and flustered arrival, I was greeted by a room full of familiar and friendly faces. Co-chairs of West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent parent-carer forums had arrived in a much more timely manner than myself, thank goodness and represented parent participation in a very professional manner.
But most importantly there were young people present and a family who are currently at the Statutory Assessment phase under the current SEN system. Having young people and families involved in such a key meeting is such a step forward and gives a them a voice, it also enables the people who need to understand this message the opportunity to hear how real people are affected by the current system and what needs to change.
The Minister joined everyone in a circular group and was told about the progress being made so far by all trial areas, while Surrey's pathfinder manager, Susie Campbell followed with Surrey’s progress regarding the single plan. She explained how Surrey had devised their single plan, focused and the child and their family, and how families and young people had been instrumental in this process. Our draft has gone back and forth until a plan was agreed suitable for testing.
I was then asked what my thoughts were on the single plan and I rather gushingly spilled out how I thought co-production was the only way forward and that by children and families having a voice and being at the heart of the process this would create a culture shift and build relationships with parents/carers and all the authorities.
Mr Timpson spoke with a family about their experience of the current system and the openness of the discussion demonstrated that they were being heard and that a change in the way mainstream schools approach SEN and disability was urgently needed.
There was a very limited discussion about Key Working which, while this was due to time, is something that I feel will have to be further addressed and when further trials have been carried out this will be key area (pardon the pun) to ensure the success of the new approach.
Personal budgets and the Local Offer were next and Co chair of West Sussex spoke of their experiences with personal budgets and how this had enhanced their child’s access to services he actually needed rather than accessing services that were available.
I think more time needed to have been spent discussing the Local Offer, as there huge concerns over how this will work and how it will replace the categories of School Action and School Action Plus and inform parents of services that will be able in cross-boundary areas in a clear transparent timely and effective way
Time seemed to be the main constraint with the meeting as there was a lot to present in such a small amount of time, however that Mr Timpson visited to see what is happening in the trials from the mouths of those involved demonstrates a willingness to listen learn and understand what is happening with the trials and, if I hadn’t mentioned it before, the importance of co-production!
At the end of the session Mr Timpson was presented with messages from each SE7 parent-carer forum to the Minister. This was innovatively delivered in a hand made Valentines card.
This was well received and Mr Timpson remarked that it was the most creative lobbying he had ever seen, I therefore feel that because of this, the impact of the messages will resonate for longer and have a greater prospect of successfully informing the change to the SEN and disability reform.
Here's Family Voice Surrey's message to the Minister:
Message from Family Voice Surrey- Thank you for listening to and including parents/carers views in the publication of the draft legislation.
Our thoughts are that the new bill needs more clarity. This view is shared by ALL parent carers on our steering group. Statutory protection is necessary for those children and young people who have disabilities that may fall outside of the SEN bracket, these children and young people may have very complex health needs but if they have no special/additional educational requirement then currently they will not be eligible for statutory protection under the single plan.
Family Voice Surrey request that you include:
- Statutory rights for those aged 0- 5 with an EHCP, ensuring swift and timely access to treatment/equipment to aid the delivery of early intervention
- A mandatory requirement for children with SEN and Disabilities to receive a level of support from their LA that meet the requirements of their EHCP
- Minimum national standards for the Local Offer - a specified minimum level of provision that Local Authorities will have a duty to provide to children with education, health and/or social care needs who are not eligible for an EHCP
Pathfinder has shaped co-production and parents and carers are working alongside professionals, practitioners and providers in an unprecedented way and it is working. Policy and local delivery is being shaped in a pioneering way. This must continue!
Mandatory requirements for co-production are a central part of the EHCP process, together with the delivery of the Local Offer at a strategic level across all services.
Parent/carer forums have a vital role ensuring that parents receive sufficient support and training to undertake co-production effectively. Recognition is needed for the unique role that parent/carer forums will have in this delivery , with adequate resources provided for this work.
Message from Kent PEPs (Kent parent carer forum)
As a forum we were please to see some of the feedback received from parents/carers has influenced some changes in the draft Children & Families bill, and thank you for listening to our views.
We welcome the changes regarding mediation and the fact it will not become compulsory. We are pleased to see the inclusion of Towards Adulthood as a requirement of the Local Offer and an emphasis on strengthening the participation of young peoples.
However there are still some areas where we have concerns:
- We are concerned about the lack of inclusion for children & young people who have a disability but not SEN and hope your decision to exclude them will be looked at again, in particular to provide statutory protections for Disabled children & young people who have a specific health/social care need but not severe SEN.
- There is no indication of a duty to respond to a parents request for assessment within a time limit; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
- We would appreciate more detail of the single assessment process, Including how the integrated assessment will work in practice; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
- With regards to the Local Offer we urge you to support a standard approach for schools to determine some national minimum standards encompassing what parents/carers can expect from schools, clearly laid out so parents can see how these standards work in practice. This should of course include academies & free schools.
- We support the call for a national literacy and dyslexia strategy, which includes dyslexia trained teacher in every school, which would support the need to ensure early identification (Dyslexia Action’s Dyslexia Still Matters report).
The pathfinder has certainly increased parent participation and closer working relationships between parents/carers and professionals and we would appreciate support for the vital role parent/carer forums have in ensuring effective co-production continues.