Last Updated 6:28pm, 29 July 2020
During the coming weeks, there won’t be as many staff in our children’s services available to work because of COVID-19. They may be sick, self-isolating with their families or looking after children at home. Schools and colleges will be closing or part closing. This will all affect how well we can process education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments.
We know this is a difficult and worrying time and we want to be as clear as possible about what you can expect while we all try to manage our usual practices and services.
The EHC Hub will stay open for parents and schools. There may be less communication and information from professionals because of the impact of COVID-19.
We’re working closely with parents and carers during this difficult time to help you to use your child’s direct payments and short breaks plan flexibly and creatively and to make sure your family is receiving the most appropriate support that is available to you.
Things are changing on a daily basis, but we are updating these webpages all the time to keep you informed with the latest information and have worked with the Parent Carer Forum Devon to make sure it’s as easy to understand as possible.
We are regularly talking to the co-chairs of the Parent Carer Forum to jointly identify issues and try to resolve them and make sure you have all the information you need.
Supporting SEND learners returning to education
We’ve created a toolkit help support schools/colleges in the planning for SEND learners as they transition back into school/college following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Further advice and guidance is available in this video from The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and this blog post from Raft Psychology.
Temporary changes to the law on Education, Health and Care needs assessments and plans
The government has announced temporary changes to the law on Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessments and plans. This is to give local authorities, health commissioning bodies, education settings and others who contribute to these processes more flexibility in responding to the demands placed on them by coronavirus (COVID-19).
Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Children and Families and Helen Whately MP, Minister of State for Care, have written a joint ministerial letter to children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers to let them know what is being done to support them during this difficult time. You can read it on the Council for Disabled Children’s website.
The secretary of state has recently announced the following short term modifications to the section of the Children and Families Act regarding EHCPs. Please note that no changes have been made to Annual Reviews, appeals and schools admitting children.
Delivery of EHCPs has changed
This started on May 1st 2020 and is to last until May 31st.
This should not mean any immediate changes to how schools and the SEN team are already working with children and families; it does describe we may be delivering our duties differently using reasonable endeavours.
There is detailed guidance and over this week the services across education, care and health will be working together with the Parent Carer Forum to look at what information we can add to this about how we are managing this in Devon.
Reasonable endeavours to provide the provision in EHCPs
We have discussed the new guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) focusing on reasonable steps and endeavours which will alter the way we delivery EHCPs in Devon.
We have agreed to carry out the following 7-step approach:
- We are going to ask schools/colleges to have the conversations with families about the EHCP as they know the child and family best. We will ask that the DfE framework for securing or arranging provision is used in discussing the changes to education for children and young people with EHCPs.
- We are going to ensure schools/Colleges provide feedback to the Local authority that confirms there has been a conversation and agreement between school and children and young people and families about these changes.
- We will store feedback to the Local Authority from schools/Colleges around the conversations being held with families.
- We have asked all professionals share information with SENCOs and schools/Colleges about what they are doing differently.
- We will provide advice and guidance to SENCOs through Babcock SENCO newsletter.
- We will coordinate across professionals sharing of information about children and young people.
- We will provide Devon examples of reasonable steps/endeavours to ensure professionals and families getting a better understanding of what reasonable endeavours are.
The Department for Education have raised reasonable endeavours can include:
- Specific local circumstances (workforce capacity and skills and that of other whose input is needed, temporary closures of education settings and guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus).
- The needs of and specific circumstances affecting the child or young person
- The views of the child, young person and their parents over what provision might be appropriate.
- Alternative arrangements will be dependent on; the needs of the child or young person, the provision specified in a plan and the local circumstances.
- Delivery is dependent on a range of factors, the availability and capacity of specialist staff and the extent of the arrangements schools can make to provide home learning programmes.
Examples of alternative arrangements include:
- Alterations to the frequency and timing of the delivery of provision in school, e.g. moving to a part-time timetable.
- A temporary placement in another school – mainstream or special, with the agreement of the parent or young person.
- Attendance at a local hub.
- Video class sessions for children to keep in touch with classmates and teaching staff.
- Home learning reading programme, provided by SENCo, reviewed weekly.
- EPs providing brief therapy interventions.
- Specialist SEN Teachers providing advice and support to parents re autism, visual or hearing impairment or literacy.
- A SaLT delivering sessions via video link.
- An OT video linking to a child’s home and modelling exercises that the parents could do with their child.
Timing of EHC assessments
This started on May 1st and will last until Sep 25th.
There is also a change to how assessments time will be monitored, and coronavirus (COVID-19) will be noted when affecting delays.
EHCPs are still in place, and we will use reasonable endeavours to deliver the education and the support in the plan. However, this will mean alternative methods of delivery. The spirit of co-production will remain a focus while we work together to manage the difficult situation. We will put information on the Local Offer and the Schools Information site etc as soon as possible.
Delays in assessment because of coronavirus (COVID-19)
We are still undertaking EHC assessments and professional are still being asked to provide what they are able to during this time. We have asked that this advice notes if any of the following apply:
- Staff are not available due to symptoms (own/family)
- Staff capacity use to service redeployment
- Social distancing affecting assessment quality
- Children not in setting affecting context of the assessment
If any of the above do apply, it could mean that part of the assessment may be delayed; we will tell families when this is the case and give a timeline of when we expect it to be completed.
Requests for statutory assessments
Schools/colleges and parents will still be able to request a statutory assessment. If professionals are already involved with the child or young person, and the education provider has been implementing the advice they have provided, it is likely that there will be evidence to support a full assessment of need. We will then be able to describe any needs and provision.
In some cases, there may not be any professional evidence of needs yet. This will make it more difficult, as schools/colleges are closing, and so professionals will not be able to see your child to assess them in the usual way. In these cases, you may need to think about whether this is the most appropriate time to make the request.
When we decide that we need to complete a statutory assessment, we usually ask a range of people (like teachers, educational psychologists (EPs) and other professionals) for advice. During the Coronavirus outbreak this will be more difficult because:
- health and care staff may be asked to work in front line services instead of their usual role
- professionals may not be available – they may be sick, self-isolating or caring for children
- EPs will not be able to see and assess children and young people in school/college in the usual way
The Special Educational Needs (SEN) 0-25 Team will keep working but with fewer people than normal, doing our best to make the right decisions for children and young people. We will try hard to keep parents updated where there are any problems. Parents can also access the EHC Hub and will be able to see the progress.
Issuing EHC plans
It will be harder for us to consult with schools/colleges to name in EHC plans because of school/college closures and fewer teachers being available. Where we have completed an assessment and we are due to issue a final EHC plan, we will most likely name the current school/college for now. This will mean that the child or young person will still be supported by that school/college during the COVID-19 crisis.
The SEN 0-25 Team will work together with schools/colleges to make sure that children, young people and their families feel safe and supported.
SEND provision in schools and educational settings
At present, for May the duty has been relaxed to reflect that EHCPs are delivered using reasonable endeavours. It will be reviewed regularly by central government, and we in Devon will be monitoring this all the time.
Children with EHC plans are likely to fall into one of two categories
Those who would be at significant risk if:
- their education, health and care provision and placement did not continue
- they could not safely be supported at home
This may include those with profound and multiple learning difficulties and those receiving significant levels of personal care support.
Those whose needs can be met at home:
- Those who are not receiving personal care from their educational setting or whose limited need for personal care can be met in their family home.
Whichever category they are in, it is important that as many children as possible remain at home during this time in order to help slow down passing on the virus. Schools and parents may have already had discussions about this and will continue to do so – we know things may change over this difficult period.
At home or in school, the provision in their EHC plan is likely to be delivered differently for now.
Provision specified in the EHC plan
- Changes to, or reductions in, the EHCP provision during this outbreak will not be considered to have agreed a permanent change to their EHC plan.
- Schools and local authorities will use reasonable endeavours to support these children and their families and put in place provision – this means will all do what we practically can to enable children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are supported.
Advice from central government
- Government advice about COVID-19 and vulnerable children and young people.
- A letter from Vicky Ford MP can be found here.
EHC plan reviews
Schools and the SEND 0-25 team will work together to ensure that children/young people and their families feel safe and supported. Reviews may need to take place virtually, perhaps over Skype, or could be postponed if everyone is happy to do that.
We know this is a difficult and unprecedented time for us all, and we fully appreciate how unsure schools and parents will be in managing the usual SEN practices.
We have been looking at how we manage annual reviews with you as we move through the next few months.
We know that some schools and colleges are closing or partially closing. Our first priorities are that children and families are safe and supported through this. This may impact on the normal schedule of annual reviews.
To help us help you on annual reviews:
- If there is very little change to needs and no expected significant changes to the provision in the plan – our advice is to postpone the meeting until a more appropriate and supportive meeting could take place, given that key people may be unavailable currently.
- Please only postpone once a meeting has been offered to parents.
If you believe that a review is essential and fundamental to the young person’s education at this time, then the following needs to be considered.
Advice prior to meetings
Advice before meetings may be possible, but be aware that health and care staff will be redirected to our most vulnerable in these times.
- EP availability is likely to be decreased due to self-isolation or illness, and this may affect any updates or assessments of children/young people
- If your school or college has arranged meetings and these can go ahead in any way please do so, this may be virtual meetings. The SEN team are unlikely to be available to come into schools for these meetings
- Please offer a virtual meeting before cancelling meetings
- If you cannot arrange for a way of keeping these meetings in the diary, please can this be discussed between school and parents, and then the school email the SEN team at firstname.lastname@example.org
- If parents still require the local authority to hold a meeting then the SEN team can look into how we could arrange this
Post review response
- The report should be submitted as normal to the SEN team
- The response will be determined by the information and evidence provided. If there is no evidence to suggest any changes then it is likely that the response will be to maintain the plan
The SEN team will continue to operate, but this may be limited availability by phone.
Preparing for adulthood
Earlier in the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, to reduce the pressures on the Adult Social Care team, the Preparing for Adulthood (PfA) team took over managing the majority transitions of young people who are aged 17.5-18 years. However, Adult Social Care Community teams are now able to take over the management of transitions to Adult Social Care (once the young person has turned 17 years old).
This means that the PfA team is returning to early preparation work and earlier engagement with young people and their families. Where the PfA team have started working with a young person and their family on the transition to adult services, the PfA will continue to support the young person until after their 18th birthday.
If your child’s EHCP contains a healthcare provision, please refer to this guidance from NHS Devon Clinical Care Group about continued access to health services.
Devon Information Advice and Support (DiAS) has lots of information to support parents and carers with children with SEND during the current situation on their website. This includes advice on how to manage life at home, guidance about school, education and SEND and a fantastic list of helpful resources.
Devon school nursing service
We have four public health nursing (PHN) hubs to improve access and responsiveness. All calls, referrals and correspondence are directed to the hubs where business support are co-located with duty clinicians.
Please only use Chat Health for health queries. Any appointment queries should be via PHN hub (phone or email). Please ensure you provide your contact details and full name and date of birth of child/young person in all calls and emails.
Single Point of Access (SPA)
You can access a range of specialist services via SPA. This includes services such as: Learning Disability Team, Speech and Language Therapy, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Occupational Therapy, Community Children’s Nursing Service, Autism Spectrum Assessment Service, Specialist Children’s Assessment Centres, Specialist School Nurses, Children in Care Service, Palliative Care Service, and Devon’s Family Information Service for Children with Additional Needs.
You can self refer and information to support this is available online or by speaking to one of the team.