Meetings with Leaders at Devon County Council

In July 2020, Parent Carer Forum Devon hosted two online meetings between Parent Carers and leaders at Devon County Council – Jo Olsson (Chief Officer for Children’s Services), Dawn Stabb (Head of Education and Learning), Julia Foster (SEND Senior Manager) and Helen Molteno (Transformation Consultant).

They wanted to hear directly from families of children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Devon to help:

  1. Plan successful school returns for all Devon children with SEND as lockdown relaxes
  2. Understand family experiences in order to shape and prioritise the SEND Transformation Plan

Parent Carers also had questions of their own. There wasn’t enough time to answer all the questions fully and so Jo Olsson agreed that she would arrange responses. She’s apologised for the delay in responding. She has also acknowledged that parents expected a much swifter turnaround and were therefore disappointed and frustrated.

The responses are grouped into these topics:

Special Schools – capacity and quality

Schools through Lockdown & back to school in September

Catch up Funding – information as 30th July

Curriculum Expectations from September

EHCP Assessments

Funding for Teaching Assistant support in schools

Social Care – Direct Payments

Social Care – Parent Carer Assessments

SEND Transformation Phase 1 Report

Special Schools – capacity and quality

There are a number of special schools in Devon and the relationship between the LA and these schools regarding capacity (places) and quality is slightly different in each.

Maintained and Academy Special Schools
From September 2020 there will be 11 of these in Devon and there are also schools in Plymouth and Torbay that have Devon learners. There are 1300 children placed in these schools

Places
The LA plans and manages the places in maintained and Academy schools, which means they agree which children are placed there. The LA is responsible for either increasing the number of places in the schools or applying for new schools through the DfE Free School Programme. ACE Tiverton and Glendinning schools are two new Academy schools that have been supported recently. There have also been nearly 250 extra special school places created in the existing schools over the last 3 years. These places have been spread across the different areas of Devon and of SEN, in all the 9 maintained special schools.

The County Council have agreed a £19 million investment into expanding existing special schools and developing new schools over the next 4 years.

Quality
The local authority has a school improvement role in maintained schools, and quality of the provision is considered through this. Devon commission Babcock LDP to manage and deliver this quality assurance role. The education provided in each school and the curriculum they offer will vary depending on the type of need the school is designed to meet. The advice from the SEN Team will take this into account when recommending a school.

All Devon’s special schools also have Ofsted inspections and judgements – at this point all bar one of the Devon special schools are good or better.

Independent Special Schools

There are a considerable number of these in Devon and we also use schools in other local authorities if they are appropriate for the childrens’ SEN. There are 750 children placed in these schools.

Places
Independent schools have places they offer to the local authority. These school places are not planned and managed by the LA – they are a private market who ‘sell’ to the local authority. We try in Devon to develop relationships with some of these schools, so they are selling what we want for children.

Quality
The local authority does not have a school improvement role, but we do have a quality assurance programme that we have developed (this has been commended by peer reviews and in the SEND Ofsted). This ensures we can monitor quality and address any issues we are aware of; this includes a parent survey. We also added a further layer to this during Covid so we could monitor how the different arrangements were implemented.

All these school have external judgements from Ofsted as well. We keep an eye on these judgements and match against our own QA reports. If we are not assured of the quality of the school, we will share this information with parents to help them make choices.

Schools through Lockdown & back to school in September

During lockdown there were different arrangements in place at different times

From March

  • Repurposing of schools to provide for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
  • Development of online resources for all children to access education in some form.
  • A form was put on our webpages so parents could easily tell us if they were struggling to secure a place.

From May

  • The relaxation of the SEND legislation from 1st May to acknowledge that EHCPs could not be delivered in the same way – this relaxation ends on August 1st.
  • There are some exceptions to meeting the 20-week EHCP assessments if Covid affected – this exception window ends on Sep 25th. In Devon, the number of these has been under 25 at this point.

From June

  • Increasing number of children in some year groups going back to school under social distancing and through risk assessments. The numbers increased over the summer term.
  • In Devon nearly 22,000 children were attending schools during this time.

This has been a difficult time, with guidance coming at a rapid pace. Schools have responded very quickly to the changes expected of them; it is appreciated that this has not always been the same for all.   This experience could not have been planned in advance and whilst Devon’s response has been widely recognised as good, we are trying to learn from what happened; what could have been/ has been better during this period, what do we need to see established, what could we now do differently.

From September

Next year is going to be very important for all children with SEN and EHCPs as they adapt back into either the same school or a new school. The national expectation is that all children will return to schools in September, schools are working on the necessary risk assessments to enable this to happen. These risk assessments take into account the particular circumstances of the school and reflect guidance from public health and health and safety advisors.  Specific guidance has also been issued for special schools.

There has been a lot of guidance about returning to school. This has come quite quickly for us all from national government. Devon has pulled the guidance for schools for children with SEND (with or without an EHCP) into one document and this can be found at the link below
Leading SEND – What settings need to consider in September 2020. This is a live document and will be updated and changed as we move towards September.

The government have said that attendance will be mandatory from September and that fines can be issued for non-attendance.  In Devon we will be working with families to support their children return to school and we have put additional resources in place to help this happen. We understand that this may be an anxious time for some and so we want to help, we also know some children can’t wait to get back.  For children with more complex needs schools and families will consider their additional risks in order to put in place a plan for the return to school.

Transport

School transport are working across the summer to ensure that transport is available for all.  They are currently waiting on final guidance from the DfE and then a communication will be sent to all parents.  Many children who have personalised contact will already have been contacted.  They can be contacted – (schooltransportservicequeries-mailbox@devon.gov.uk)

Catch up funding – information as 30th July

Catch up funding will be available to all state-funded mainstream and special schools, and alternative provision. Schools’ will be funded on a per pupil basis of £80 for each pupil in years reception through to 11. Special schools, hospital schools and alternative provision will be funded at £240 per place. This means a primary school of 200 pupils would receive £16,000 while a secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £80,000.

The money can be used to fund specific activities to support pupils to catch up for lost teaching in line with the guidance on curriculum expectations (see below) for the next academic year. Schools have the flexibility to spend their funding in the way they see best for their cohort and circumstances.

The Education Endowment Foundation has published a support guide for schools with evidence-based approaches to catch up for all students. Governors and trustees are expected to scrutinise schools’ approaches to how they use catch-funding. Ofsted will also monitor its use at inspection.

For pupils with complex needs, the DfE are encouraging schools to spend this funding on catch-up support to address their individual needs.

Curriculum Expectations from September

The DfE have said that they expect all pupils back to school full time in September.

In the Autumn Term schools have been advised to offer a broad curriculum in all subjects, but they have been given the flexibility to create time to cover the most important missed content. Their planning should be informed by an assessment of pupils’ starting points and addressing the gaps in their knowledge and skills.

Schools pastoral and extra-curricular activities should be designed to:
• Support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement
• Equip pupils to respond to issues linked to coronavirus
• Help pupils improving their physical and mental wellbeing

Where a pupil is unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical and/or public health advice, the DfE expect schools to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education.

EHCP Assessments

The timeliness of EHCP Assessments has improved over the last 18 months. The chart below shows the Devon performance in meeting 20 weeks timescales which for the last few months has been over the national average of 62%. In Devon the percentage on time is now 64%

Covid has impacted the assessments from professionals such as Education Psychologists, Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and so on. During this time, health staff were redirected, families have been isolating or shielding, and sometimes EPs felt a school-based assessment would be needed which delayed matters. Plus, the new EHC Hub has had some teething problems, possibly caused by bandwidth which meant that some professionals have not been able to access this properly. This has not affected parents who only access one child’s information at a time.

These things combined have started to impact on the timeliness and there has been a slight dip. However, the improvements in process already made should see this change in the next few months as work practices begins again in September.

The quality of the advice from professionals has seen improvements. Education, Health and Care professionals are sharing guidance about ‘good’ advice and issues with unhelpful advice so they can determine how to improve. Quality assurance audits are being planned with Parent Carer Forum representatives from September 2020.

The aim is to avoid multiple drafts between the SEN Team and parents, but this has sometimes been unavoidable in trying to get the plan right for the child.

Individual cases that require more comment about content can be discussed with SEN officers.

Funding for Teaching Assistant support in schools

All schools have to allocate staff in line with the National budget allocation they are given. This budget includes an amount to support the pupils they have in their schools who have special educational needs.  Neither maintained schools or academies are allowed to go into deficit.  This means that, even if a school would like to appoint more teaching assistants, they cannot do this if it means they would overspend.  As part of the F40 group Devon will continue to raise the issue of funding nationally.

This means that if an EHC plan specifies one to one support is needed the school would need funding for this.  The county has process to allocate this funding to schools which is based on the average cost of a teaching assistant. This cost has recently been reviewed to bring it in line with current salaries.

It is widely recognised that one to one support is not usually the best way of supporting a child in school.  This is because it can make them dependent on one person instead of building their own independence. A wider range of support is now recognised a more effective and is often preferred by children especially as they get older.

Social Care Direct Payments

We are in the midst of a formal review into aspects of Direct Payments and Short Breaks; eligibility, threshold criteria, monitoring and oversight. This was prompted by a whistle-blower’s allegations. You will be aware that confidentiality must be very strictly maintained in response to any whistle-blowing allegation

While this review is underway, we can’t commit to any changes in policy and practice guidance. The outcome of the formal review may lead to change, but I cannot assume that this will increase flexibility. I can assure you that any proposed changes will be shared with you. At this stage I do not know when the formal review will be concluded.

Direct Payments must respond to the assessed need of the individual child or family, not external events. National Government is responsible for payments for wider relief. Where needs have changed, as in the examples shared, they can be reassessed and payments adjusted accordingly.

Social Care Parent Carer Assessments

Within the legislative framework, the Parent Carer Needs Assessments can be provided as part of a broader assessment of the child and parent/carer needs (in Devon via a Single Assessment and Resource Allocation System (RAS)). It does however need to be possible for this to be produced as a stand-alone document. Currently, both single assessment and RAS cover the elements of assessment of parent carer needs but it is not easily separated as an individual document.

Work completed
• Recruitment and induction of Designated Social Care Officer, Eleri Taylor, to lead on process and policy development across SEND and DCS.
• Research has since been undertaken by Eleri with other local authorities (including Warwickshire and Somerset), the Council for Disabled Children and checking legal requirements. Consideration also given to carer assessment process and expectations in Adult Services. Learning from these sources built into proposal.
• Proposal paper written and currently being consulted on.
• Draft working method produced based on the wellbeing section of the Care Act 2014 and relevant elements of the Children and Families Act 2014.

Work in progress/ Next Steps
• Consultation with Parent Carer Forum – session booked to share proposal re PCNA assessment and short breaks assessment (6th August 2020)
• Advice has been sought from the Eclipse team regarding the type and timeframe of any changes – advised to create template word documents for PCNA due to workload of eclipse development team. This will facilitate swift implementation.
• Planned launch of PCNA, with information about this being uploaded to local offer website, by 21st August 2020.

SEND Transformation Phase 1 Report

This document will be made available shortly on the Devon County Council website.