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Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families, LIVE webchat about SEN reforms, on Tuesday 13 November at 12:00pm

(142 Posts)
FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 09-Nov-12 22:37:27

You may remember that we were due to have the previous Children's Minister, Sarah Teather, on Mumsnet for a webchat back in September but she was reshuffled just hours beforehand. So we're very pleased that the new Children's Minister, Edward Timpson, will be here for a LIVE webchat on Tuesday 13 November at 12:00pm to discuss the Government?s proposed changes to special educational needs policy.

The Department for Education has been consulting on draft clauses for the Children and Families Bill since September. This is what the DfE says the aims of the bill are:

-Local authorities and local health bodies would be required to plan and commission education, health and care services jointly and publish a clear and transparent 'local offer' of services for children and young people and families.

-A more streamlined assessment process would be put in place, integrating education, health and care services and involving children, young people and their families at its heart.

-A new birth to 25 Education, Health and Care Plan, replacing the current system of Statements and Learning Difficulties Assessments, would reflect the child's or young person's aspirations for the future, as well as their current needs and have a stronger focus on preparing them for adulthood.

-Young people aged 16-25 in further education would have comparable rights to those in schools.

-Families and young people with an Education, Health and Care Plan would have the option of a personal budget for their support.

More information is available here.

Prior to entering Parliament, Edward was a family law barrister in Cheshire, specialising in the cases of vulnerable children. He has two adopted brothers and his parents have fostered 87 children over the last 30 years, many of whom Edward grew up with.

Until his ministerial appointment he was Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Adoption & Fostering and Looked After Children & Care Leavers and Vice Chairman for the Runaway & Missing Children group. He is married with three children.

We know that many posters on Mumsnet are deeply involved in the issues highlighted in the draft bill, and that some of you have already responded to related consultations; now's your chance to put your questions and concerns directly to the minister, so please join us live on Tuesday if you can. If you can't make it on the day, please post up your questions in advance here.



HotheadPaisan Tue 13-Nov-12 12:15:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:15:52


Dear Edward,

I have a child with a complex and severe disability and my child has recently been statemented. As you might be well aware, a statement does need to specify and quantify provision. My child?s statement does not. We are going to tribunal over our LA?s refusal to issue a statement that is in line with current legislation. We cannot afford legal representation. However, our LA will attend the tribunal with a tax payer funded legal team. My disabled child on the other hand has no access to legal representation.

How will the changes to the current ensure that:
a)LA will no longer be able to use delaying tactics in order to prevent children with SEN to access the provision they need in order to make progress?
b)How will you ensure that the disable child has access to legal representation when faced with an LA that is clearly not meeting its statutory duty in meeting the child?s needs.

Oh, and will I be able to access ABA under the 'local offer'?

Thank you.

Thanks for those points. We want to change the whole system so that parents and young people are fully involved right from the start so that cases like yours are far less common but where necessary parents will still have access to the tribunal and it is being extended to post 16 too. Current access to legal aid will remain.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 13-Nov-12 12:16:19

Will you add home programmes like aba to types of education parents can request of right.

devientenigma Tue 13-Nov-12 12:18:59

so what happens when theres conflict abd the child is slipping through the net, where do you turn?

Statemented child from 2 year old, severe!!

See previous Q.

devientenigma Tue 13-Nov-12 12:19:21

and not abd blush

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:19:51


Hi Ed- this is a question from UK disability charity Scope

Over the past few weeks, significant numbers of users on Mumsnet, Gransnet and other parenting communities have contacted their MPs in support Scope?s ?Keep us Close? campaign for local services for disabled families.

As other posters have mentioned, you have spoken about the need for a ?local offer?. Many would like to know if you will commit to go beyond this by requiring councils to provide services for disabled families locally?

Hello Scope - good to hear from you. We want parents and young people to be involved in the development of their local offer so that they can best and most easily identify local needs and the services required to meet them. We don't think a national presciption is the best approach, but we are looking closely at how pathfinders are co-ordinating their local offers so they are as transparent and robust as possible.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 13-Nov-12 12:21:11

Current access to legal aid is on parents income and you have to be very low income qualify. An EP report and attendance at tribunal is £2500. How can parents who have given up work to care afford this. base legal aid on Childs means

kaz1119 Tue 13-Nov-12 12:24:23

Thank you for answering.

You said that Current access to legal aid will remain..

however, we are above the income threshold for legal aid but too poor to afford legal representation. I think this applies to a lot of families. so clearly, children like my child will remain without access to legal help.

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:24:31


Welcome, Mr Timpson. A lot of the questions I wanted to ask have already been asked smile. However I would like to know if you will impose a minimum timescale for the issue of the new EHC plan.

I would also like to know what will happen to statemented children reaching the age of 16, given that the new school leaving age will be 17 this academic year. Will their statements continue to 17, and will they be given an EHC plan up to 25 years?

On timescales, we are looking at this and will be using the code of practice and regulations to set out how we intend to do this. Unlike the current system where at 16 you move into a different system, EHC Plans will flow from 0 - 25 rather than the current staement stopping at 16 and then moving on to an LDA. this has to be better.

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:25:37



Coukd you tell me please personal budgets will work?

Will it be: 'This is what the child needs, and this is what it costs us, so lets offer 2/3 of that to parents to deliver it themselves'?

Or will it be 'Lets only recruit professionals who are likely to underplay or completely miss the needs of the children so they don't cost us much when the parents ask for the personal budgets'?

And what form of appeal will there be if an LA refuses?

Finally, why have you named the local offer 'offer'?. I prefer the term delivery as it gives me a glimmer of hope that some families might actually be able to get access to it.

Sorry about that!

On personal budgets, local authorities will need to be sure that the needs identified in the Education Health and Care Plan can be met, and so will need to ensure that there is sufficient money in the budget to do so - and provide support to parents in using their personal budget. So local authorities will not be able to use personal budgets to side step their legal responsibilities.

devientenigma Tue 13-Nov-12 12:25:51

would love to know what was said to be deleted wink

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:27:17


would love to know what was said to be deleted wink

Nothing - I pressed 'post message' by mistake before writing anything!

insanityscratching Tue 13-Nov-12 12:29:08

Our son's tribunal cost us around £20,000 as we were forced to use an educational law solicitor and a barrister as the LA completely disregarded the law. Only when we had a date for Judicial Review because of irrationality did the LA place our son in the only school able to meet his needs. Still the LA would not agree parts two and three of the statement eventually pulling out two days before Tribunal with the statement word for word as we had wanted six months previously.The costs incurred by us were entirely pointless and were due to incompetence and timewasting on the behalf of the LA whilst my son fell to pieces and was without a school place. The LA no doubt incurred equal costs that were in effect wasted revenues as we secured the provision we wanted without going to JR or SENDt. How do you suggest that the new legislation will make it more difficult for the LA's to evade their statutory duty when you consider drawing health and care into the mix too?

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:29:48


Thank you for answering.

You said that Current access to legal aid will remain..

however, we are above the income threshold for legal aid but too poor to afford legal representation. I think this applies to a lot of families. so clearly, children like my child will remain without access to legal help.

As I said in an earlier post, we want to change the system so that parents and young people are involved right from the start, helping shape their plan and local offer. This is to move away from the battles that parents tell us they all too often face now. By taking away the confrontational nature of current system, the need for redress should fall, but we are introducing mediation by an independent mediator to help resolve as many cases as possible to avoid the need for a tribunal. In the West Midlands for example 4 out of 5 cases were resolved at mediation. The courts service will pay for the administrative costs of the tribunal and the system is designed so that legal representation isn't a prerequisite to a fair hearing.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 13-Nov-12 12:31:44

Yes kaz there are lawyers on here who have had to go into debt to hire sen lawyers as the LA has made the case so complex. Brian lamb said this years ago but report buried

inappropriatelyemployed Tue 13-Nov-12 12:32:32

I wonder if I could press you on your pathfinder authorities who are, nationwide, largely refusing to trial SEN direct payments in accordance with the law. What are you doing about this? It has been brought to the DoE and Ms Teather's attention

coff33pot Tue 13-Nov-12 12:33:13

My child was abused, misunderstood, confined because that was what they prefered to do. He had a full statement of 25 hrs not being implemented and there was nothing I could do about it. I emailed Mr Gove telling him this schools method of running (ofsted outstanding?) and that it was an academy. Told him Cornwall lacks in services and understanding and could he help the children of this school as mine was not the only child suffering.

Got a standard reply template to contact LGO. I pulled my son out of school as I had no choice and it would have cost £8000 to take an academy to tribunal I would not get legal aid either as self employed.

Out of all this reform business what we want as parents is the schools to take responsibility for their actions and actually implement a statement. Which we are told is a legally binding document?

How is this reform going to guarantee that our children are going to be provided for? How is this reform going to guarantee that if parents receive direct payments and send proffessionals to school that the schools will accept it.

Parents and their children need to see something lock tight Mr Timpson because the stress breaks families.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 13-Nov-12 12:33:48

did the children subject to mediation get 100% needs met or did parents feel obligated to compromise

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:34:53


I am a parent of a child with Special Educational Needs, who has a Statement of SEN. She is currently attending our local village mainstream primary, with a significant level of support, which we only obtained after taking the Local Education Authority to the SENDIST Tribunal.

What will happen in the case of children who already have Statements of SEN? Will they have to go through the Statutory Assessment process again? This would be unnecessarily costly for the LA and stressful for parents. Ideally, their Statements will be seamlessly converted to EHC Plans, without the need for re-assessment.

The Tribunal should be able to take into account unreasonable behaviour by LA during the process of the appeal. In my own case, the LA wilfully ignored the professional advice obtained during the Statutory Assessment; which is the reason why we needed to appeal. We wrote to the LA during the appeal, with a copy of the working document, and they refused to negotiate with us. This is totally unreasonable behaviour. The Statement was unlawful, as it did not specify and quantify provision, as required by the Code of Practice.

However, there are no effective sanctions available when LAs behave in this manner, other than for parents to appeal to the SEND Tribunal. The Tribunal agreed that my daughter required the level of support that was recommended by the professional reports and ordered the LA to amend her Statement accordingly. We suffered stress and expense solely due to the unreasonable attitude of the LA. The Draft SEN Bill proposes compulsory mediation, whilst the Green Paper acknowledged that mediation to date has not worked. Compulsory mediation will prove a failure and simply add to an extension of the overall time-scales involved and parental frustration.

The assessment process should be independent from the Local Education Authority or from the Health Authority, who sadly, will both be influenced by their budgetary constraints.

The Draft Bill does nothing to resolve the inherent conflict of interest between the LA both assessing and being responsible for providing special educational provision. In 2006, the House of Commons Select Committee recommended that ?the link must be broken between assessment and funding of provision?, having concluded that ?there is an inbuilt conflict of interest in that it is the duty of the local authority both to assess the needs of the child and to arrange provision to meet those needs, and all within a limited resource.?

It is not unknown for LAs to issue unlawful Statements, that fail to specify and quantify provision, as required by the Code of Practice, as at present there are no sanctions or penalties if they act in this way. The only redress that parents have is an appeal to the SEND Tribunal. LAs have at their disposal well staffed legal departments and ready access to education solicitors, LA Educational Psychologists and others. Parents do not; they either have to represent themselves or obtain legal advice, which is expensive, as are independent expert reports.

An appeal to SEND takes on average 6/7 months, and during that time LA know that they will save money by issuing Statements that do not properly support the child with SEN.

The system is stacked against parents, in favour of the Local Authority. This has to change. But the Draft SEN Bill does nothing to improve the position of parents.

The SEND Tribunal should be able to make an award of costs against a LA that has acted unreasonably - issuing an unlawful Statement is clearly unreasonable!

The threat of having an award of costs made against them by the SEND Tribunal would be far more effective in reaching agreement before Tribunal than the proposal for compulsory mediation.

At the moment no one is responsible for ensuring that LAs meet their legal obligations towards children with SEN. By default the task falls on parents and those organisations in the voluntary sector who advise and support them. When parents challenge LAs it is on an individual basis.

The SEND Annual report reveals enormous differences between the number of appeals lodged per LA; the reasons behind this need investigating. Some LAs habitual flout the current laws on SEN and hence, the higher number of appeals made to SEND. More importantly, the children of parents who either are unaware of the possibility of challenge, or who do not have the resources to challenge decisions, are disadvantaged if they live in LA that persistently and deliberate flout the law and with unlawful local policies on assessment and provision for special needs.

The SEND Tribunal have no power to compel an LA to change its SEN policy and practice in carrying out its duties, despite having heard repeated evidence on the same issue with the same Authority e.g. on speech and language therapy provision. This is an inefficient use of Tribunal expertise and resources as well as those of the LA.

The Government needs to take action against authorities which have "unwritten policies" applied through custom and practice which nevertheless result in unlawful Statements being issued, otherwise these practices will continue with the new EHCP. Central government need to provide information and training re: the local authorities? role, so that they can all know their responsibilities, and put into practice what is needed. Financial sanctions should be introduced for local authorities that do not comply with the SEN Statutory Framework.

There needs to be a better method of ensuring that the provision set out in the Statement/EHCP is provided. At the moment, the only method is by going to Judicial Review, which with proposed cuts to legal aid, is likely to be beyond the ability of the majority of parents to do.

I raised the point about retain the need to specify and quantify provision in the new EHC Plan with the previous Minister, Sarah Teather:

"There needs to be a legal requirement for the EHC Plan to specify and quantify the provision to be made, across education, health and care. The plan has to be legally enforceable, it is is not, then it will not be worth the paper it is written on and parents and children will find themselves in a worse situation than they are now.

Sarah Teather MPs replied:

"The new plan will be legally enforceable in the same way as statement. What we are aiming to do is to add to the protections children and families get and not take away from them."

But the Draft SEN Bill wording for how an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan must describe special educational provision has replaced the current duty to specify with the watered down requirement it to ?set out?.

?Setting out? is not the same as ?specifying?, and the change of wording may be seen as an intentional difference by the Tribunal and the courts, potentially allowing special educational provision to be described in terms so vague that it will enable LAs to avoid their current legal duty to arrange/secure a specific amount and type of help for the child.

The meaning of ?specifying? has been interpreted by thirty years of case law and is fundamental to the child?s entitlement to the provision called for by their SEN.

Leading on from this, without the duty to specify and quantify provision in the EHC Plan, LAs will be not be able to provide a cost for the special educational provision the child needs. So how will LAs calculate the amount needed to be paid in direct payments to parents/children for these services?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I very much look forward to reading your response to the important points that I have raised.

Thanks for a thoughtful post. On the question of those children currently statemented, they will lose none of their services deemed appropriate within their current statement when moving to an EHCPlan. I want to make the transition from one system to the other as simple and straightforward for parents as possible and am considering how best to do this without causing too much pressure on the system as a whole.

On the 'set out' 'specify' point, the intention is not to change the duties or rights under the current system going forward and I have said I am happy to go back and endure the legislation is clear ion this point.

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 13-Nov-12 12:35:31

Thank you Edward.

'So local authorities will not be able to use personal budgets to side step their legal responsibilities.'

The current lack of accountability and reckless flouting of the law is why the system doesn't work at the moment, and the regulatory bodies are toothless, unable and often unqualified to ensure the laws are uphead which perpetuates it. Given that they side step their legal responsibilities already, how will this new system be regulated to ensure they no longer can?

Hayleybailey Tue 13-Nov-12 12:36:59


What experience do you have of children with special educational needs and disabilities?! How can you know what impact your reforms will have if you don't?


inappropriatelyemployed Tue 13-Nov-12 12:37:14

" By taking away the confrontational nature of current system, the need for redress should fall, but we are introducing mediation ..."

Isn't the problem that we pretend (and so do Tribunals) that this is an inquisitorial system when actually we need to be more honest: the SEN process is a de facto adversarial one.

So, let's allow legal aid, put witnesses on oath and make LAs explain in writing the decisions they take about provision. Let them be judicially reviewable for those decisions and let them be subject to costs orders for prevarication.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 13-Nov-12 12:37:47

Confrontation comes from aggressive gamekeeping not the current rules. You have to stop LA pretending children are less disabled than they are and schools are equipped to deal high level sen when they are not.

EdwardTimpsonMP Tue 13-Nov-12 12:38:05


Hello, thankyou for coming to the Webchat.

Please do respond to me, as a rare condition, our cases are often ignored.

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Hypermobility type is a double curse to have. Firstly there is no NHS centre of excellence. Secondly a very high proportion of EDS children have their childhood blighted, family life crushed and their health destroyed by the very high disproportionate false accusations of FII or Munchousens by proxy on their parents. After the state wastes a small fortune, not once has an EDS parent been found guilty. It was at a recent EDS conference that the full extent became clear off the large numbers of EDS families having this added strain in theie lives. If anything EDS people don't complain enough, imagine dislocating joints daily, blacking out, having the runs, tummy pain, headaches to name a few symptoms day in day out? having to carry on and not being treated, not believed, unless your parents pay to go private or you are especially lucky with your GP.

I know William Hague amongst others is being lobbied by constituants to improve overall EDS care.

I know a question about child protection regarding EDS will be discussed in the House of commons in the near future.

I have to pay Professor Grahame £300 to look at each of my children. It is £240 for them to see Dr Ninnis. £150 to get them a table tilt test for PoTS. I haven't even looked into gastro care yet. My 14yo is due to EDS humiliated as she is bowel incontenant dedpite seeing several peads during her childhood. I can't afford the private EDS physio or EDS specialist psychologists for the anxiety and depression EDS physical symptoms cause. NHS GP's, peads, Chams, physio's are ignorant of the condition and can cause harm or neglect to care for EDS children

I am a lone parent, very disabled with EDS myself, I can't afford this private care.

Prof Grahame at St John's and St Elizabeth's or UCL, and Dr Ninnis at St Mary's are who these children should be seeing, they ars not able to get children NHS care.

This is a very disabling condition, it is an invisable condition.

I plead you look into this condition, it is not going to cost much as there are so few.

Sadly EDS people's voices are often not heard, I will be surprised if you notice this and will be shocked if you help!

Thanks for sharing this with me and I am sorry to read of your struggles. I will of course raise this with the Department of Health on the back of your post

devientenigma Tue 13-Nov-12 12:38:18

I see you were quick with that comment, but not my others hmm

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