Why NOW is time to change the narrative on EHC plans
Our Director, Phil Stock, takes a look at why the quality of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for children and young people with SEND has been an area of much debate recently.
Currently over half of local authorities that have had a SEND local area inspection from Ofsted and CQC, have been instructed to provide a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) to address significant weaknesses in their SEND services. The inspections illustrate that we are in a position where nationally, the quality and standard of EHCPs is inconsistent. On average 40% are not completed within statutory timeframes.
Understandably, there has been a huge response to the BBC’s latest Panorama documentary ‘Fighting for an education’ (aired on 7th Sep), sharing the plight of parents desperately unhappy with their child’s EHC plan. This is despite the promise that came with the introduction of EHC plans in 2014.
The BBC’s Panorama programme raised some difficult and challenging questions:
- What’s at the centre of the EHCP process – children or budgets?
- Why is there a lack of consistency and quality with regards to EHCPs?
- Is the demand for efficiencies (time & cost) overshadowing quality?
- Crucially, what is being done nationally to address the weaknesses relating to EHCPs outlined in the large number of WSOAs?
The national picture
Before attempting to answer these questions, let’s look at the national picture.
In July 2020, the Department for Education published its annual SEN snapshot. The figures reveal that 3.3% of all pupils in schools in England have an EHCP, a rise from 3.1% in 2019. And a further 12.1% have SEN support without an EHCP, up from 11.9% in the previous year. Nobody is questioning that there is an increase in demand on local authorities or that they are operating within considerable budget restraints. However, does this mean a lower quality of EHCP should be expected? Is quality suffering as local authorities focus on timeframes and budget?
To date, 117 of England’s 151 local areas have received a SEND local area inspection. Over half (51%) have been instructed to produce a Written Statement of Action (WSOA). The most common significant weaknesses that inspectors are finding relate to leadership and strategy. This is closely followed by limitations with EHCP process and quality.
The focus, it seems, is on completing EHCPs within the 20-week statutory timeframe. Each local authority is duty bound to annually report on how many EHCPs are completed within timeframe (60% being the average). The national picture highlights a concern with regards to the consistency in EHCP quality (e.g. standard, compliance, lawfulness etc…). It appears that timeframes rather than quality could be prioritised and that a lack of clarity on what a ‘good’ EHCP looks like still remains.
Understanding what ‘Good’ looks like
The answer to the question ‘what does a good EHCP look like?’ is not always clear. This lack of a consistent understanding hampers the quality assurance process.
Each local authority is at a different point in its EHCP quality assurance journey. Some have well developed systems involving education, health, and social care professionals. Others are just beginning to think about the need to review the quality of their plans purely within their SEND teams. As a result, it’s not that easy to make a direct comparison or ‘adopt’ a consistent approach.
Although, there are supporting resources out there. The Council for Disabled Children (CDC), for example, has developed resources and positive examples. However, the interpretation of best practice can still be open to individual subjectivity.
So, what’s the solution?
Invision360 has piloted a new online EHCP quality assurance tool with several local authorities, including Bracknell Forest Council and Birmingham Children’s Trust.
The new tool, aptly named Invision360's online EHCP audit tool, is now a permanent fixture at several local authorities seeking a robust quality assurance framework.
Utilising guidance documents such as CDC and IPSEA best practice and relevant legislation (including the SEND Code of Practice), Invision360's online EHCP audit tool has developed comprehensive and credible EHCP quality assurance criteria. It removes individual subjectivity and promotes consistency of auditing. This supports LA improvement cycles and raises the standard of the overall quality of EHCPs.
As one of the first local authorities to pilot the tool, Bracknell Forest Council’s Head of Children’s Support Services, Kashif Nawaz said:
“The first time I used Invision360's online EHCP audit tool, I was incredibly impressed. The points of reference have been carefully considered. When an auditor uses the tool, they’re mindful of the benchmark criteria at every step. Helpful prompts are there to inform what a ‘Good’ EHCP looks like, which has given us much needed clarity.”
Vicky Robinson, Transformation Lead for SEND & Inclusion at Birmingham Local Authority comments: “The Invision360's online EHCP audit tool has given us the ability to utilise the skills and expertise across Birmingham City Council, NHS and Social Care to develop and improve the quality of our EHCPs……….In the long term, we perceive the Invision tool will be essential in the delivery of the best service, support and outcomes to the children and young people of Birmingham who have an EHCP.”
Invision360's online EHCP audit tool is currently having a big impact in the SEND and EHCP world and is addressing a nationally recognised problem. Having a credible, trusted and comprehensive solution to the quality assurance of EHCPs is something more and more local authorities are proactively seeking. Invision360 is quite simply, closing the loop for children and their families.
To find out more about our tools, please book a demonstration or contact us.