And now, instead, most SEND children get very little support at all. Schools are expected to fulfil children's support needs out of their budget. If they can't, they can apply for an Educational Health and Care Plan, which covers children until they are 25 and is supposed to be a more holistic representation of needs than statementing ever was. EHCPs have no force in law, but they do have to be agreed with the council and budgeted.
The government expect 2% of all school children to have needs that require an EHCP, which sounds suspiciously like a target to me, but I cannot be ARSED to do all the FOI requests to prove it.
To get your kid an EHCP, you first have to apply to the council. You can do the application yourself, or the school can do it. I have wanted to apply for an EHCP for Jim for two years, but this was the first year the school agreed they couldn't manage without one anymore. I would strongly advise getting the school on board before you apply, or getting them to lead the application. Your SENCo will know whether your child is likely to be awarded one and on what grounds. The application form is long and requires evidence. Lots of evidence. Evidence with clear links showing what has been done, what is in place and why this is not enough. For Jim, this ended up being seventy pages long. If you are even considering an EHCP in the future, check that your papertrail and the school's papertrail is in place. Get copies of every letter that pertains to your child. Be involved. Be honest.
Now, when the council get your request, they have four weeks to get it to panel. The panel comprises various experts in children's health and they decide whether or not your child gets an Education and Health Assessment (EHA). If your child does, then the assessment process begins. If not, you can reapply entirely or appeal. The council usually phone you with the results of the panel, and will advise you to get in touch with their parent-council advisor (also known as SENDIAS or SEND Partnership) for help.
Guess what happened when Jim's case went to panel?
They rejected it because the paperwork didn't demonstrate that his difficulties were due to his autism.
So, after taking advice from the school and the SEND partnership lady, we decided to go to mediation.
First, I had to apply for mediation with an independent charity. Although I did this immediately after receiving the letter from the council, it took me a week to get through to the charity because of being on holiday, and another week to set up the pre-mediation chat about whether to go for mediation or a tribunal. If I had decided to go to tribunal, I would have been issued with a certificate to say that mediation had been bypassed.
The mediation charity then set a deadline of when the mediation had to be done by, and got in touch with the council for a date.
I waited a bit more.
Eleven days, in fact, I waited.
And then they sent me two dates, both after the mediation deadline date. Not only after the mediation deadline date, but in the first week of the summer holidays. Call me cynical, even paranoid, but it felt calculated to minimise the ability of school staff to attend.
I er...expressed my displeasure politely, agreed to the date and then waited.
While I waited, I spoke to the school, I spoke to the mediator in a premediation chat which formed the outline of my case and I spoke to the SEND partnership lady. And I stressed and I vexed and I worried. The problem with being Jim's sole advocate is that it is all on me. One wrong sentence, one form filled in on a bad day, and he gets nothing. The SENCo was confident that the council would overturn the decision but I was not.
Mediation day dawned. I had a very stressed week before, worrying. I mean, ultimately if you're unsuccessful, you just reapply. There's nothing stopping you applying every month until they give up if you want to. But it doesn't feel like that.
Mediation requires someone with decision making capabilities from the school and the council, the parent and the mediator. The parent can invite other people, including the child at the centre of the case. I invited the SENCo, Jim's TA, and the SEND partnership lady (who couldn't come). I decided not to bring Jim as the first day of the holidays is not the time to be dragging an autistic kid back into school. In addition, a man from the council who hadn't sat on the original panel attended, and the mediator. The mediation was held at the school, but you can request it to be held elsewhere if school is not neutral.
And so off we went. We started by signing forms - whatever is said in mediation cannot be used if the case goes to tribunal, no minutes are taken, and it's entirely confidential. We discussed Jim, and his issues, at great length, for two hours. I took my Giant Folder o'Jim and was able to evidence how long his issues have gone on for, and prove his behaviours have deteriorated. This is all important and useful. The decision was overturned.
An action plan was formed. In September, we will proceed as though the rejection and mediation had never happened and I will tell you all about the rest of the process when it's finally done.
If the mediation had not been successful, we could have proceeded to a court tribunal. As this is just for an assessment, the judgement would have been done on paper only - we would not have had to attend and all the paperwork from the initial application, the initial decision, and the mediation would have been used to make a final decision.
The other time you can request mediation in the EHCP process is if you do not agree with the provisions the council are prepared to make. The process is the same, but if you then go to tribunal, it is done face to face in court.
It's such a stress, but it's so necessary for a child like Jimmy with such a classic autism presentation. He's going into year four in September, puberty looms in the future, and it terrifies me. We began this process in April. It's now July and I feel like we're finally getting somewhere.