Councils and health bodies face a wave of judicial reviews as they fail to meet the deadline for implementing new systems to meet and assess special educational needs.
By Monday 1 September local authorities should have put in place a ‘local offer’, transitional arrangements, have a new format for statements – which now include health and social care needs – have co-ordinated assessment processes and provide information on personal budgets.
Irwin Mitchell lawyer Polly Sweeney told the Gazette: ‘Some local authorities are nowhere near ready. We hear reports that they are either not complying with their duties or are rushing through changes, and we’re already advising parents on possible legal challenges.’ The lack of progress at many local authorities was, she added, of ‘immediate concern’.
Interviewed at the start of August, children’s minister Edward Timpson (pictured) insisted that as of May 2014, 90% of councils were on track to meet the 1 September deadline. That confidence, Sweeney noted, was ‘surprising’ given that statutory guidance for councils was made available only in June. Full statutory guidance on the transition to the new system was published yesterday.
Under the Children and Families Act, statements are replaced with a single combined education, health and care plan, and have been extended to cover provision for young adults up to the age of 25. Following objections, the much of the statement carries the full force of legal obligations, and many appeals related to statements remain supported by legal aid.
The weakest link in provision, Sweeney noted, were the health partners: ‘Local authorities will be relying on the health partners to comply with their new duties - including having joint commissioning arrangements in place. But we are seeing evidence that getting health partners to engage with this is a struggle.’
That pointed, she added, to desperate councils resorting to judicial review, as health partners would not be complying with their duties.
Sweeney's firm has produced a range of fact sheets and template letters which parents and guardians, and those supporting them, can use when making requests for assessments or support under the new system. The firm has also teamed up with deafblind charity Sense and Steve Broach, a barrister at Monckton Chambers, to design legal training for ‘Independent Supporters’ – a government-funded programme to provide support to families who have children with special educational needs and need additional advice on the reforms.