Ideas for writing to MP about changes to SEN legislation (England)‏
It would be great if you could send something on the following lines to your MP:
"I showed your letter to Fiona Nicholson who met with the civil servants responsible for drafting the SEN Code of Practice earlier in the year. Fiona tells me that the civil servants do not know what the Minister wants in the new Code about home education.
The home education section in the indicative draft code remains blank even though the Bill has almost finished its journey through the Commons.
The Department for Education thinks it has answered the question by saying officials are "working with home education representatives" but in practice this is meaningless, because there is no point in any dialogue with the Department until there has been a steer from the Minister.
Officials have two choices: they can continue to delay or they can play safe and conclude that there is to be "no change". In other words, the home education section of the new Code will either remain blank or it will be filled by text copied-over from the current Code.
The problem with copying and pasting is that there are ambiguities and tensions for home educating families in the current Code which have never been resolved.
For this reason I would be very grateful if you could raise the following points on the floor of the House at Report in order that we have the Minister's answer on the record.
1 When will the Minister give further information as to what should be included in the home education section of the new Code of Practice?
2 To any question where the answer from DfE officials is "nothing changes/it will be the same as now" is the Minister aware that there are ambiguities and tensions in the current Code as evidenced by the highly varied practice amongst different local authorities all of whom believe they are following the Code?"
well as you know..sigh...I'm not allowed to link to my own website because that would be self-promotion but..there's a Contact tab on the bar across the top, and my address also comes up if you put "fiona nicholson email" into google
Had a look on your website - can't find an address to send you the info.
I would be very grateful if you could send me John Denham's reply. It is of course piffle to say that we've already had answers (not sure what "guidance to the Bill" could mean...)
Bad news - received a letter back stating that John Denham won't be asking the questions as the answers to the questions were already in the guidance to the Bill. I can send you the detailed reply if you wish. It has quotes from the guidance and how those are interpreted in relation to the specific questions.
We know it makes a difference if questions are asked. At Second Reading of the last Children and Families Bill in 2010 (where the previous Government was defeated on plans to change the law on home education) there were a number of MPs who raised the issues on which we had petitioned.
I remember John Denham as Skills Minister.
John Denham has said he will pose the questions for me.
goo.gl/6pgUD (same link only shorter)
SEN is covered Part 3 of the Children and Families Bill and the way the Bill is written, it looks as though the LA is responsible for children with SEN. This will cause problems for home educating families where parents retain responsibility for education. There is no acknowledgement that while parents are of course entitled to make their own arrangements, families must not be denied access to services and support if children are educated otherwise than at school. DfE is unwilling to change anything on the face of the Bill, saying that details can be sorted by regulation, including the new SEN Code. The indicative draft of the SEN Code published in March 2013 merely has placeholders where something about home education can be added later.
The Children and Families Bill has almost reached Report Stage. If you write to your MP now, there is a chance that your points can be raised on the floor of the House of Commons at Report.
You should explain your personal interest in home education, and ask your MP to put questions to the Minister about whether the SEN clauses in the Children and Families Bill are intended to introduce a proactive duty for local councils to screen children for SEN [cls22/23]; whether it will be the local authority and not the parent who becomes responsible for the child with SEN [cls23/ and cls36]; whether parents will have to convince the authority that their home education arrangements are "suitable"[cls42]; whether the authority will have power to refuse home education on the grounds that SEN services can only be delivered via a school [cls56] and whether it is the Government's position that home educating families have effectively opted out of services and that the LA has no duties unless everyone agrees that the parents have "failed."
The easiest way to write to an MP is to use www.writetothem.com/ If you are able to meet your MP in person this will add to the power of your message. While it is very useful to put some links in your email to give a reference which backs up what you are saying or to help your MP with a quick fact check or some preliminary background reading, please be aware that for maximum impact your email should be personal to you, should be self-contained and should not involve your MP having to click on anything or download anything in order to understand the basic point you are making.
Useful Information For Writing to Your MP
The current SEN Code [paragraph 8.95] says that the authority must ensure that parents can make suitable provision and if parents arrangements are suitable "the LEA are relieved of their duty to arrange the provision specified in the statement." Freedom of Information responses show that in many areas this is taken to mean that the LA has to approve the home education, and that once it is approved, the authority has no duty with regard to anything in the statement including anything which might be provided via health.
The current SEN code also says that if parents' attempt to educate the child at home results in provision which falls short of meeting the child's needs, then the parents are not making 'suitable arrangements'. Once again, FOIs show that some LAs take this to mean that the main purpose of the Annual Review is an inspection of parents' provision. In this context, parents are understandably reluctant to ask for SEN support - including access to health services - since they fear the consequences of being judged as having "failed" at home education.
At a time when budgets are being cut, any appearance of a new statutory duty could justify jobs and processes. It has already been pointed out that LAs might think there is a new statutory duty to screen all home educated children to see whether they have SEN. We've been told this is highly unlikely, but in response we point to what happened with "Children Missing Education" where sustained pressure was put on Government to change its interpreation of the law via statutory guidance and also where there was a cry for "new powers" to deal with what was perceived as "the new duty".
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
LAs might change their procedures to avoid getting penalised by Ofsted
Home educated children might be turned away from services which come under "health" unless they have a new EHC Plan
Personal budgets will be touted as the answer but personal budgets will only be available to children with a new EHC Plan
Many home educated children with SEN do not have a statement but the new EHC Plan will focus on transition from statements
Home educators might be denied access to services for SEN support unless they surrender "responsibility" to the LA
Services might effectively be restricted to school pupils eg because of council contracts with service providers
More LAs might move home education to SEN
Home educated children with SEN might be hived off and treated separately and differently
Parents of children with SEN might have to satisfy the LA that their arrangements are "suitable" before being allowed to home educate
Parents of children with SEN might have to prove that school is inappropriate before being allowed to home educate
What Could Go Wrong With The New Code Of Practice?
The new SEN Code might miss the opportunity to say that parents don't have to carry out the EHC Plan at home
The new SEN Code might miss the opportunity to say that LAs are expected to respond positively to parents' requests for help with access to services and support
The new Code might miss the chance to say something sensible about deregistration from special school
The Code might be reasonable at the outset but it is set to be reviewed regularly and could change in the same way as the CME guidance has changed
services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/childrenandfamilies.html Parliament web page Children and Families Bill
www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DfES%200581%20200MIG2228.pdfCurrent SEN Code of Practice published 2001
media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/s/sen%20code%20of%20practice%20indicative%20draft%20for%20committee.pdf New Draft Indicative Code of Practice published March 2013
www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0168/2013168.i-v.html Latest version of Children and Families Bill after Committee stage end April 2013
Freedom of Information Requests SEN and Elective Home Education March 2013 edyourself.org/articles/2013foissenandlocationehe.php and www.ehe-sen.org.uk/senquotes.php
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