Thanks, Apu [Councillor Bagchi, a Deputy Chair of the Local Government Association Children and Young People Board]. It’s a pleasure to be here and in such diverse company. I know that many of you come from social care, health and education as well as across local authorities and from other agencies - an encouraging demonstration of how far we’ve come in bringing people together to provide a brighter future for some of our most disadvantaged children and young people.
As you know, our reforms to special educational needs (SEN) promise to be far-reaching.
Aside from promoting much greater collaboration, they keep existing protections in the system and extend them from birth to 25, with a clear focus on outcomes and a better transition to adulthood.
And they give children, young people and their parents a much bigger say in shaping and reviewing services - whether through the local offer, setting out the support that’s available in an area, or through new education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Radical changes that aim to put families, who have so often faced endless battles to get help, at the heart of everything we do.
Children and Families Bill and the new code of practice
As you know, these changes are central to the Children and Families Bill, which is currently at report stage in the Lords.
Many of you have contributed very constructively to the debate surrounding these measures and I’m pleased that we’ve been able to further improve them with your input.
We want to establish a framework to help you be more responsive to local needs. Which is why, for example, we’ve not been as prescriptive as some would have liked on the local offer.
In addition to the bill, we’ve also recently consulted on a new 0 to 25 code of practice - statutory guidance that makes it clear what will be expected of local authorities, health bodies and other agencies in future. I’d again like thank all of you who’ve engaged with this and shared your views and advice - they’re greatly valued.
But as we all know - and as you’ve doubtless heard me say before - a change in the law isn’t enough. It must go hand in hand with a change in culture to make a real difference.
I appreciate that making this shift is far from easy, but as we can see from the pathfinders who are testing the reforms locally, the rewards can be huge - families taking charge of their support, professionals freed to innovate and young people empowered to find their voice as individuals.
Case for change
A far cry from the current system that too often leaves families feeling that they succeed in spite of it rather than because of it. That picks up issues too late, that prizes processes in all their complexity and duplication, rather than children’s prospects - prospects, that as we know, are often so poor.
For instance, we know that just under a third of young people with statements at 16 are not in education, employment or training at 18, compared to 13% of their peers. Employment rates for those with learning difficulties are much lower still, at less than 10%.
This is despite local authorities spending over £5 billion a year on SEN provision, not to mention the longer-term costs, both in money and wasted potential.
The 2011 National Audit Office report into special education for 19- to 25-year-olds found that supporting a person with a learning disability into work could lift their income by between 55 to 95%.
It could also cut lifetime costs by around £170,000. And if they can also be supported to live semi-independently rather than in residential care, these costs could drop by around £1 million. Not only improving outcomes and cost effectiveness of provision, but also yielding sizable savings in the toughest of financial climates.
So there’s every incentive, economic as much as moral, for us to do much better by these vulnerable children and their families.
Our reforms, to create a clearer, more joined-up, more ambitious system, aim to raise our game in just this way.
But as I’ve said, their success will depend not on the bill, but on how they’re introduced on the ground. On how you now co-ordinate to secure the best outcomes and on how effectively you drive a change in culture.
We want to do all we can to support you in this so that there’s a smooth transition to the new system and the foundations laid for a sustainable transformation in life chances.
Giving families a stronger voice
Which means, first and foremost, getting young people and their parents on board as soon as possible - at a strategic level; reviewing provision and developing and reviewing the local authority’s local offer, and individually; in education, health and care assessments and in devising a package of support, including, if they wish, a personal budget. Keeping an unwavering focus not just on aspirations and outcomes, but also on the experiences of families, individually and more broadly in shaping services.
Giving them a strong voice is pivotal to this.
Which is why, at a national level, we’re working with groups like EPIC, a group of disabled young people brought together by the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) - our strategic reform partner, which is represented so ably here today by Christine [Lenehan]. EPIC are providing us with valuable advice on the SEN and disability reforms - they’ve held my feet to the fire on a few occasions too!
We’re also giving young people a chance to mould the system through the tailored consultation we’re running for young people on the new code of practice. And we’re supporting the National Network of Parent Carer Forums - I was pleased to attend their recent AGM.
At a local level, I know that many areas are actively involving young people and working with parents through local parent partnership services and parent carers forums to develop policies and plans. It’s important that this happens in every local area and I urge you to take every possible opportunity to engage families.
Because I know, from speaking to parents, just how much this means to them. Helping smooth the way when things get difficult and hopefully driving down the use of tribunals - something we all want to see.
Better SEN identification
As we know, one of the biggest bones of contention is poor identification of SEN, with opportunities to pick up needs early, particularly in a child’s education, frequently being missed. By the time support is provided, the child has often given up, on themselves and on education.
Ofsted found that School Action and School Action Plus were doing little to remedy this, placing the focus too much on categories of support and too little on whether the support actually worked. Which is why we’re removing these labels and instead focusing support on good teaching for every pupil; on early and effective intervention and tracking its effect.
It’s an approach that’s been welcomed by experts like Brian Lamb and the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN) which has commended its “emphasis on quality teaching and on measuring the impact of (the) support”.
I look forward to working with NASEN and others to ensure schools are as well-prepared as possible for the changes and to share the best approaches.
Closer working with health
Now, another significant bugbear is the frustration young people and their parents face in having to repeat their stories over and over again to different agencies.
Again, our reforms to compel education, health and care services to work more closely should go a long way towards addressing this. In particular, the new duty on health to work with local authorities, to jointly assess and plan for local needs, promises to be a real breakthrough.
This was the subject, in fact, of a roundtable meeting I held last month with members of health and wellbeing boards from around the country. We discussed how we could make the most this fantastic opportunity to collaborate, with health playing a full and active role, and boost outcomes in every area.
Learning from pathfinders
But you don’t have to take my word for it - the experiences of the pathfinders doing workshops here today, from Wigan, Southampton, Hartlepool, Manchester, Wiltshire and the South East, speak for themselves.
I’ve seen some of their work myself and have been hugely impressed.
In Surrey - part of the South East pathfinder - young people and their parents told me that they felt much more involved in drawing up their package of support through the education, health and care plans.
I was also heartened to see how the Manchester pathfinder is working with employers to offer young people a wide range of work experience, helping many of their students to find paid work.
In Wiltshire, the pathfinder is doing good work with young people, parents, the local college and a range of alternative providers to generate a wider range of opportunities in the area.
And in West Sussex, Wigan and Hartlepool, families are using personal budgets to improve the continuity of care between home and school and in, one case, to set up a work placement at a local charity for a young person with autism that will count towards an accredited course.
But it’s not just the places piloting the reforms that are taking the initiative.
Wolverhampton and Richmond aren’t pathfinders, but they’ve already begun involving families in developing education, health and care plans and a draft local offer.
Inspiring examples that, along with work being undertaken by partners like the CDC and Preparing for Adulthood, offer vital, tangible pointers as you gear up for implementation next September.
Implementation and savings
One message, above all, rings out loud and clear - step up your preparations now. Don’t wait until the summer.
Pathfinders report that it takes a least a year to get ready, not least for the cultural change to take hold. So it’s essential that everyone involved; local authorities, education, health and other services, intensifies their efforts now.
Doing more now saves time and energy later and can even lead to savings - as seen in Gloucestershire, where a new approach to short breaks, which involved working with individual families to reshape provision, saw costs plummet from £10,000 to £1,600 per year per family. So families actually got a better service at a much lower cost.
And I know that Southampton, which has an integrated health and social care service, has succeeded in cutting back on duplication of assessments through joint visits and by co-ordinating information provided in previous assessments.
Wins for quality as well as efficiency. Another spur, if it was needed, to kick-start your preparations.
I’m pleased to see that, in a lot of places, these preparations are already underway - our recent survey of readiness showed good progress and engagement in many areas.
But we know that there’s still a lot to do and will continue to monitor the readiness of local areas as we approach wider rollout.
To support you, we’ve made it easier for local areas to draw on lessons from the pathfinders through our nine regional pathfinder champions and our delivery partners.
Just yesterday, my ministerial colleague Dan Poulter and I wrote to chief executives and lead members in all local authorities as well as health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups with an information pack on implementation, announcing that we’ll be extending the pathfinder champion programme until March 2015. The pack includes lots of useful learning materials from pathfinders that I hope you’ll put to good use.
Last month, we also made an extra £9 million available to non-pathfinder local authorities - which equates to £75,000 per local authority - to further assist preparations.
Now, I’m aware that not all of our changes have gone smoothly, with some local difficulties following the introduction of the new high needs funding arrangements.
The move to a single 0 to 25 system, with local authorities having a bigger role in funding post-16 provision, aims to encourage closer working between services. But I appreciate that it’s taking time to bed in.
We have put in place safeguards to help during the transition period such as funding to protect post-16 specialist provision this and next year. And a role for the Education Funding Agency (EFA) in working closely with local authorities and institutions to resolve any outstanding issues.
I’m hopeful these measures will help establish robust funding arrangements that support our overall changes to the system.
But I realise, of course, that these changes are being played out against the toughest of financial climates. All of us are having to make precious resources stretch even further whilst ensuring that this doesn’t blunt our ambitions.
Which is why I’m pleased to announce today an injection of £70 million to create a new SEN reform grant. This money will be provided to local authorities on a formula basis, with no ring-fencing, so that authorities have maximum flexibility over how they use this money.
The funding will come from the £150 million early intervention grant topslice next year - we’ll be releasing full details later this month as part of the local government settlement.
I’m hopeful this will really help local authorities as they implement these ambitious reforms, which range from introducing personal budgets and developing joint commissioning with health to engaging with families and others over the local offer.
And I’m hopeful that the money will also help smooth the path as we move from the old to the new arrangements.
Like you, I want this transition to be as smooth as possible.
So while I’m keen for children and young people to benefit as soon as possible, transferring them from statements and learning difficulty assessments (LDAs) to EHC plans must be more than just a rebadging exercise to deliver real benefits.
So there won’t be any overnight switch to the new system. We’re, instead, looking at a gradual changeover that happens at a manageable pace and maintains high-quality support throughout.
Which is why I’m clear that existing statements and learning difficulty assessments will retain their legal force until all children and young people have moved to the new arrangements.
And why we consulted on transitional arrangements alongside draft regulations and the new code of practice. We will consider your responses carefully and continue engaging with the LGA and others before publishing details of the final arrangements in the spring.
Now, I appreciate that change on this scale to a system largely untouched for 3 decades is a big challenge - a challenge I want to do everything to help you meet.
But it’s also a big opportunity to get a much better deal for some of our neediest children and young people; to help them aspire and excel in school, college, work and in life as independent adults as other children do. For parents to see their children supported to make the most of their unique talents and be the very best they can be.
It’s a prize that I believe, with these reforms, is well within our grasp. Which is why it’s vital that we make it a priority to plan and prepare well in advance for the new system.
I want to thank you for all the hard work and commitment you’ve put in so far. As I’ve just said, we’re providing support on several fronts to continue helping you in this and want to work together with you to make it a success in every local area.
The sooner everyone knows what’s expected of them under the new arrangements, the better - and the sooner children and young people can begin to benefit and see lives changed.