The DfE has published a notice under the Coronavirus Act 2020 as well as amending regulations and guidance which make some changes to the special educational needs and disability (SEND) framework arising from the Children & Families Act 2014 and the SEND Regulations 2014.
Please note: the information contained in this legal update is correct as of the original date of publication
The DfE has published a notice under the Coronavirus Act 2020 as well as amending regulations and guidance which make some changes to the SEND framework arising from the Children & Families Act 2014 and the SEND Regulations 2014. The changes broadly reflect the previous indications for change given by the DfE over the past few weeks and will impact on local authorities, health bodies and parents of children, or young people, with SEND.
The Secretary of State’s notice is set out here.
Section 42 of the 2014 Act places an absolute duty on local authorities to secure the special educational provision in an EHCP and on health commissioning bodies to secure healthcare provision in an EHCP. This is an absolute duty for these bodies and, in the case of local authorities, had been linked to the need to ensure sufficient funding was provided to ensure the specified provision could be provided by the relevant school or other institution.
The notice, which is in force initially until the end of May 2020, replaces that absolute duty with a duty to make reasonable endeavours to secure the relevant provision. This does not mean that local authorities or health commissioning bodies can step back from making provision available during this period. The accompanying DfE guidance here, makes it clear that both bodies must consider the individual needs of the child/young person and decide what provision they can reasonably make in the current circumstances. The DfE guidance suggests that:
This process of reviewing provision will have resource implications for local authorities and health commissioning bodies. It will be important to look at how these decisions are made and communicated in situations where many SEND Teams or health authority staff will be working from home. There will need to be some form of virtual decision making and moderation to ensure a consistent approach is maintained that meets the needs of the child and young person as well as reflecting the reality of practical provision during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Given that it is possible that some children or young people with EHCPs may still be attending a school, communication between local authority, health commissioning body and school will be vitally important. Where services/provision may no longer be available to the school, it may be necessary for the school and local authority to revisit the SEND risk assessments that should be in place to determine whether a place can remain open at the school for the child/young person during the lockdown period.
These changes disapply timescales, mainly found in the SEND Regulations 2014, for certain aspects of the processes leading to the assessment or making of an EHCP. The amending regulations operate where it is impractical or not reasonably practicable for the local authority or another body to comply with a timescale in the original 2014 regulations for a reason relating to Covid-19. In such cases, the local authority, or other body, must undertake the task as soon as reasonably practicable.
The changes permitted under the 2020 regulations only apply to the timescales for complying with the duty. The changes do not remove the requirement to comply with the duty.
The areas which are potentially subject to relaxed timescales are:
Clearly, these will have implications across the sector. It may reduce immediate burdens on local authorities, health bodies and other agencies involved in EHC needs assessments, decisions over EHCPs and annual reviews. However, there may be consequential impacts on parents and/or schools awaiting decisions on EHC needs assessments and EHCPs which are required to inform appropriate provision for children and young people. Again, communication between all parties will be key to ensuring that the process continues to work and that decisions are made (and effectively communicated) within reasonable timescales.
The DfE guidance does indicate some areas are not changing and these are important to note:
Browne Jacobson’s Education Team has extensive experience of advising on SEND matters, including tribunals, and is able to support you with any concerns or queries arising from these changes. Should you wish to have a further discussion, please contact Richard Freeth or Sophie Jackson.
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