By Special Needs Jungle
New research from the Centre for Research in Autism and Education has explored what SENCOs think about Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans,
The full research article by Laura Crane, Deputy Director of CRAE at UCL Institute of Education, and Lauren Boesley, formerly a postgraduate student at CRAE, has been published in the Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, but they’ve written a summary of the key findings exclusively for Special Needs Jungle.
In September 2014, the Children and Families Act introduced reforms regarding how children and young people in England with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) received support. These reforms were made to rectify some of the criticisms and challenges associated with accessing educational support through the previous Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) system.
Two of the key principles that formed the foundation of the SEND reforms were person-centred planning (recognising that young people and their parents are experts in understanding their needs, empowering families to take the lead in decision-making) and multi-agency working (involving collaboration between education, health and care services).
Central to the SEND reforms were the replacement of Statements of SEN with integrated Education Health and Care (EHC) plans. These documents are used to identify the educational, health and social needs for children and young people, and describe the additional support required to meet those needs.
Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) are often responsible for the application of EHC plans yet, despite their critical involvement in the process, surprisingly little attention has been given to SENCOs’ experiences of initiating applications and transferring Statements of SEN into EHC plans.
Sixteen SENCOs were interviewed about: the process of accessing an EHC plan in their region (application success rate; positive and negative experiences, comparisons to the Statementing process, future outlook or improvements);
their experiences of working with parents and other professionals through the process (ease and difficulty); and any training they had attended on EHC plans (positive and negative experiences; potential improvements).
Three key results
The Perceived Role of the SENCO. While SENCOs felt that coordinating EHC plans was very much a part of their role, they reported that disengagement from health and care professionals made the EHC plan process challenging. SENCOs also felt responsible for supporting and managing parental expectations. SENCOs told us that a lack of understanding about the EHC plan process could contribute to parental anxiety and parents sometimes had unrealistic (albeit very reasonable) expectations about the way the educational system should work. A common misconception was that parents often expected children with a formal SEN diagnosis to get an EHC plan implemented as a matter of course. However this is not always the case; if a child’s needs could be met through school provision and the child was seen to be making expected progress, then a plan may not always be required. SENCOs were concerned that sometimes this meant children weren’t getting support until they were struggling. Acknowledging the impact of these factors was crucial for helping children not just meet expected progress, but to exceed them.
Challenges and Changes.
An Evolving process. SENCOs spoke about difficulties with the EHC plan process. Regional disparities around paperwork and practice was particularly frustrating for SENCOs who bordered more than one county. A lack of transparency around thresholds and EHC plan refusals was seen as particularly obstructive to the process. Further, diminishing funding for SEND was a collective concern as SENCOs felt increasing pressure to support children in schools without the necessary resources and services. Some SENCOs felt that EHC plans were introduced before they were fully defined and during a time of widespread reform, resulting in a continually evolving (and often confusing) process for implementing EHC plans.
Difficulties in Accessing an EHC plan for Children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs. SENCOs reported difficulties with accessing EHC plans for children with SEN who were making academic progress, particularly those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. SENCOs were concerned that an over-emphasis on academic progress meant that children were having to fail or reach a crisis point in their behaviour before needs were taken seriously.
SENCOs felt that EHC plans were still being perceived as education documents and were not yet the wraparound care plans that had been envisioned. Despite frustrations with the process, when person-centred planning and collaborative working came together, experiences and outcomes were encouragingly positive, and SENCOs felt that EHC plans had the potential to be powerful tools.
Improvements to the process may include: the establishment and integration of evidence-based frameworks to improve person-centred and multi-agency working; greater collaboration between Local Authorities and SENCOs to reduce procedural challenges (e.g., regional disparities); and greater awareness of the challenges of accessing EHC plans for children with SEMH needs.
About the authors
Laura Crane is Deputy Director of the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) at UCL Institute of Education (see crae.ioe.ac.uk). Lauren Boesley was a postgraduate student at CRAE (2016-17) and now works as a Research and Development Assistant at Norfolk County Council. Later this year, Lauren will return to UCL Institute of Education to train as an Educational Psychologist.