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Guest blog: Improving statutory SEND in Hertfordshire

Published 25 April 2022

We are committed to improving the service we provide to families and schools during EHC assessment, plan and review processes.

In this blog, we'll update you on the changes we have made, and are making in the future, to improve the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) experience for families.

Over the last year, we reviewed the way that we manage processes for statutory SEND. We carried out over 50 individual and group sessions with over 130 individuals across education, health and care, capturing feedback and ideas. We've also received over 100 communications from parent carers through emails and comment boxes.

We listened to families' experiences and feedback and have identified a number of reasons why we haven't always delivered the quality of service we're committed to. We know that we need to improve the communication with our families and make legal processes, such as applying for an EHCP, more efficient and transparent.

 

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As a result of the review, we developed a detailed plan of recommendations. We are pleased that we are now implementing some of these changes and hope that families will start to see a real improvement in the way the processes for statutory SEND work going forward.

The recommendations include both a short-term action plan which aims to improve families’ experience right away, and a more long term plan which we will be working on over the next few years and will involve organisational changes such as a restructure of the statutory SEND service.

We know how important it is to support families through the challenges of EHC assessments and plans, and how frustrating it is for families who are going through the system and are dissatisfied with the level of service they are receiving. However, we are confident that by introducing these new ways of working, we will be making a lasting and positive change for families going through the EHCP process in the future. 

What changes we've already made

  • There is significant increased investment for EHCP services in the local authority, with a recognition of the need to increase staffing as case numbers grow. As a result, the service will grow by 25% from April 2022 - you might have seen all the jobs we're advertising!
  • We're carrying out a restructure of statutory SEND which will aim to make it clear who is responsible for what, and improve communication between families, professionals and staff (see below for more info). 
  • We have recruited staff from other teams across Hertfordshire County Council to help support the SEND team and relieve some of the pressures caused by an increasing number of requests for assessment and EHC plans. For example, our Customer Service Centre are now supporting the SEND team with enquiries to their duty lines.
  • We have an introduced an updated training programme for statutory SEND and partners which includes the importance of co-production, and legal responsibilities.
  • We have created a dedicated annual review team which will mean that more families are receiving their decisions and review outcomes more quickly.
  • It is not easy to recruit to SEND Officer positions, so we have recruited a number of agency staff to support the team in the short term, and the updated SEND team structure will support a new approach to longer-term recruitment and retention of staff.

What changes we're making next

Some of the things we're working on will take longer to embed and the impact of these will not be seen immediately.  They include:

  • We are working hard on improving links with all professionals across health, social care and education. This will make sure communication happens at the right time and better supports the child and family.
  • We will continue to review and change processes where needed – always making sure that we analyse the data available to us to understand the scale of need and can manage this within the service.

The statutory SEND restructure

We’re currently completing a restructure of the service, meaning that the statutory SEND team will be organised into teams who work on specific aspects of the statutory process. We’re doing this to ensure that we can suitably train and support our staff with the range of complex knowledge and skills that are required to support families and schools at different parts of the statutory SEND process. This will also make it clearer, to families and professionals alike, who is responsible for what. The new service teams will be:

Assessment and the SEND Front Door

This team will aim to respond quickly to the initial request for assessment through to the implementation of the EHCP. 

They will ensure that we’re getting good quality information to inform the initial assessment, and that we're providing information and advice for the family.

They will focus on providing quality person-centred plans and will work with other partners to ensure the successful implementation of these plans.

Provision, Outcomes and Placement

This team will focus on making sure that we’re up to date with changes following EHCP reviews, and that we’re responding quickly and effectively when schools and parents notify us of a change in need or a request to change provision in a plan. We’ll be focusing on quality of EHCPs and monitoring children and young people’s progress using our new goal based outcomes.

Resolution and Reconciliation

This team will support the service to provide early resolution, providing solutions and support for families and settings to find ways forward when there is a disagreement or differing views.

How will these changes affect me?

Named officers for families:

Due to the significant changes in the team, there will be some changes to named officers for families who are currently in the EHC assessment process or whose child has an EHCP. We recognise that some families have already had a number of named officers and that this is frustrating. Please bear with us – these changes will enable us to support all children and young people more effectively in the future.

If your child is currently undergoing assessment and your officer is changing, they’ll be in touch shortly to introduce themselves. If your child has an EHC plan and you need to get in touch with your officer, you can contact the SEND duty line on 01442 453300 and they will be able to let you know who is best to speak to. 

Contacting the service:

We are introducing some new inboxes which should make it easier for families to contact us. These are outlined below:

This email address is monitored by the SEND front door and assessment team for the whole county. This email address should be used for new requests for statutory assessment, and communications relating to the first 20 weeks of a child’s EHC assessment process.

These email addresses are monitored by the annual review teams for the East and West. This email address should be used for queries relating to EHCP reviews including communication about arranging a review, sending review paperwork, and responses to draft EHCPs.

This email address can be used if you do not think that your query/contact relates to an assessment or review, and the SEND front door team will route your query to the correct place within SEND.

We will continue to monitor all incoming emails to previous area team inboxes in line with the customer service standards but we appreciate your support in using the new inboxes above where possible.

Duty line numbers for the service haven’t changed. To contact someone in the statutory SEND Team, you can call the Customer Service Centre on 01442 453300 - they will direct you to the right place if they can't answer the question right away.  We are continuing to work with the Customer Service Centre to improve the experience of callers to the service.  

Have your say

As always, we would really welcome your thoughts. 

If you have comments or suggestions about this, or any other aspect of the SEND services, we would like to hear from you.

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