Reassessing assessment

Within the new Children and Families Act 2014 are changes to statutory assessment and a replacement of SEN statements with new education, health and care (EHC) plans, introducing a more person-centred approach to assessing need and planning for better outcomes for children and young people aged 0–25 years.
The 0–25 co-ordinated assessment process and EHC plan are core components of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms. They sit alongside the local offer, the option of a personal budget for those with an EHC plan, improved multi-agency working and joint commissioning.
Pathfinder authorities have been testing the new arrangements for over two years. Initially, the Government intended a single assessment approach for children and young people with complex needs but it became evident quite early in the testing that this was a challenging requirement. Would educational psychology take a lead? How would speech and language assessments fit within a broader assessment regime? What if the child had significant health and medical needs? Would the assessment then be led by a paediatrician? What role would social care play? And most importantly, what difference would this make to the lives of children with SEND? These questions made it clear that an integrated approach was necessary.

An integrated service plan
Subject to parliamentary approval, EHC plans replace the statement of SEN and the Learning Difficulty Assessment. They will be focused on the outcomes the child or young person seeks to obtain across education, health and care to enable them to achieve at school and college and to make a successful transition to adulthood. Delivering EHC plans for 16–25 year olds in post-school education or training will more than satisfy the legal requirement for local authorities to carry out Section 139A of the Learning Skills Act 2000, Learning Difficulty Assessments.
EHC plans will set out how services will work together to meet the child or young person’s needs and support their outcomes. The co‑ordinated assessment and planning process puts the child and their parents or the young person at the centre of the decision-making.

Within the new SEND reform agenda, [eligibility] must be set out clearly by all local areas in the local offer. It is not anticipated that eligibility will change for an EHC assessment and plan, and it should be based on the current arrangements in local areas.
The statutory assessment process must be co-ordinated across education, health and care to ensure a cohesive experience for children, parents and young people. Information from existing relevant assessments should be used and professionals should share information so that families do not have to keep giving the same information on different occasions. It is important that EHC plans reflect the views, interests and aspirations of children, young people and their parents, alongside detail of assessments and provision aligned to outcomes.
The process should also consider the different ages of the child or young person concerned, particularly for young people preparing for adulthood. The Draft SEN Code of Practice outlines that a core goal of this co-ordinated and personalised overall approach should be that ‘children, young people and families should experience well-co-ordinated assessment and planning leading to timely, well-informed decisions.’
Chapter 3 of the Code reinforces that families should be at the heart of the new co-ordinated assessment process and EHC plan. Person-centred planning is identified as an effective approach to support this, as it focuses on identifying the outcomes that are important to the individual and then the support and services that are required to achieve these. An outcome in this context should be seen as a personal goal and not a service goal.

A person-centred approach
A key element of the SEND reforms is a focus on more person-centred planning and services. It has been central to pathfinder testing to develop an approach which is ‘co-produced’ with families – families should not be passive recipients of services but enabled to be in control of the decision making affecting them and their family members. It has been important to move away from ‘doing to’ and towards ‘working alongside’ families.
Practitioners are familiar with describing activities and services, but this new approach demands a more considered understanding of how actions affect the outcomes which people want in their lives. A new focus on outcomes is creating a workforce development need to work differently. This fits with the culture change that the new reforms also demand.
Leicester City Pathfinder visits the family in their home, following referral for statutory assessment. A family supporter develops a family file in order that information is gathered only once, and this is then circulated by the person in the key working role to all of the relevant parties – families give their consent and information can then be shared more freely than in the past.

The home visit in Leicester also captures the views, feelings and aspirations of the child or young person in creative ways – through pictures and a one‑page profile. This feeds into a person‑centred meeting and an integrated assessment meeting (IAM).

Other pathfinders work in similar ways; for example, the Hartlepool Pathfinder also works initially in the family home to gather important information about the child/young person and their family. Downloaded from the pathfinder website, the information pack on Co-ordinated Assessment and Education, Health and Care Plan gives many more examples and links to individual pathfinder sites.

A focus on outcomes
The new way of working with families requires much new thinking, including a move away from narrow educational ‘objectives’ towards a more outcome-based approach.

Outcomes can be arrived at creatively and from many different directions. Planning with families means that we can decide with them how an outcome could be arrived at, potentially using resources in a different way. For example, families who have previously accessed short-break arrangements from social care budgets, where the outcome was to give other siblings time with their parents, have been able to buy resources such as a trampoline, which a child can use every day, rather than a short time-limited period of attending a club or doing an activity with support.

A main message of the new reforms is to support families through the statutory processes, with a renewed emphasis on key working. Key workers can be a range of different practitioners – in Northamptonshire, several different professionals facilitate the person-centred meetings which establish the desired outcomes and the EHC plan, from educational psychologists, to social workers and voluntary sector key workers. The aim of key working is to support the family, emotionally as well as practically, through the assessment process. The key worker provides the right information and signposting, and ensures that the family understands the steps within the process and is empowered to access each stage, being as well equipped as possible. In the current system, families often feel that they are not in control, that the professionals know what happens next, but they do not. SQW evaluation of the pathfinders has shown that parents and carers have valued the support of key workers enormously – see the pathfinder website for evaluation of the programme.

Implications for SENCOs & schools
Schools will need to be aware of some key issues. For example, the local offer in their own area should be ‘exhausted’ before application is made for statutory assessment – schools must be much more aware of universal offers made through health and social care. Duties placed on local authorities from September 2014 should locate all such arrangements in one place.
Also, SENCOs will need evidence of applying a graduated approach to interventions beyond the universal, including what has worked well, and interventions that have not worked or have ceased to make an impact.

Schools should develop their evidence base of engaging the family in both graduated approaches and planning, and of hearing the views, wishes and aspirations of the family.

Finally, schools and SENCOs will need to be geared up to review existing statements of SEN for children in their care with the local authority in order to convert current statements to EHC plans – a duty which must take effect from September 2014 to 2017. Local authorities have three years for the conversion. This could involve training for schools, or special arrangements with local authorities in holding transition reviews. Key age groups will be identified for conversions in the first instance, especially those age groups at key transition stages –  Years 2, 6 and 9/10/11.
The spirit of new arrangements for assessment and EHC planning is the ability to be better at co-ordinating assessments across agencies, to hold the views and aspirations of the family at the centre of the planning process and to co-produce the plans with the family and agencies. The option of a personal budget will require development over time, but it is an essential aspect of building a more constructive approach to meeting the needs of children with SEND, with an emphasis placed on what children can do alongside their special educational needs and how all parties can improve a child’s outcomes.

Further information