Is an ECHP (Education, Health and Care Plan) just an Education Plan?
Last week I decided to tidy my office. It wasn’t untidy by my own standards yet it has been noted that it was looking a little unruly. As I shifted files into their new cupboard, it struck me how much paperwork I had accumulated.
Making an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) request has become a paperwork nightmare and it’s only getting worse.
When I started as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) under the old statement system, making a request was straightforward: educational advice, educational psychologist report, Individual Education Plan (IEP) and anything from anybody else you could think of thrown into the mix for good measure. A request might amount to 20 pages at the most. Once the paperwork was in, I generally got a phone call just to chat about the pupil. I felt that my opinion and professional knowledge stood for something and Special Educational Needs (SEN) then went away and asked other professionals for their knowledge.
Fast Forward, Step Backwards
Jump forward in time and I have become less of a professional and more of a circus animal jumping through an ever increasing range of hoops.
The 2014 changes started okay in this respect and the system just seemed a bit more formal, with the importance of Health and Care being noticed. Then, almost silently, the word spread that only Education had a statutory role: in reality the EHC had dropped to ‘E’ alone.
Over the last year the hoops have come out in force. Now an EHCP request could stretch to 60+ pages!
Instead of handing reports over that I have in my possession, I appear to be responsible for hounding the NHS and Social Services knowing that I run the risk of a request being turned down for lack of evidence if other professionals do not share their reports. I cannot force them to give me paperwork.
I knew I needed a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) report so I called the office and left a message.
Then I called again…
Then I emailed…
When I eventually spoke to someone, they asked me to fax a request to them!
Fax: the MySpace of communication methods.
It took me over 2 months of hassling to get an updated report and all that time I sat watching a young man rapidly deteriorate and had staff feeling frustrated that they felt nothing was progressing. The young man himself was barely holding on and his father was falling apart with the stress of waiting.
So, for the next request, I learnt. I bombarded professionals at every opportunity from TAFs (Team Around the Family) to chance meetings. I was ready and, in order to preempt any hoops being added, I sent into SEN a paperwork heavy request with the full works attached. But it still got turned down and this time for a new reason and added hoop: no TAF notes.
In a rebellious mood, I copied everything that came from the TAF over a year period: illegible handwritten notes and all; 70 pages of them. When I eventually sent the email, the request was over 100 pages long.
Low and behold it was accepted; I doubt anyone read a single extra page I sent. What annoyed me the most was that none of the other professionals in the TAF (and I had named them all) were asked to contribute or chased for their reports.
Schools are the only ones pulling these requests together and the weight of the request is on the SENCo. I totally understand the pressure that CAMHS and others are under; I don’t think for one moment that they like the way things are now. But the simple fact is that SENCos are picking up the pieces; it’s all on the shoulders of schools and that means the EHC plan is a myth: it should be called an E plan.
What To Do
So how would I do it differently? Firstly, I would reinstate the professional judgement of SENCos; I would take their advice seriously and treat their opinions with respect.
Secondly, I would love to see a time when I was called to discuss a case with the SEN panel; some kids are just too complicated to fully express on paper, no matter how many reports you have talking about them, having space for people to ask questions might speed up the process of making a decision.
Finally, I wouldn’t expect schools to do all the leg work chasing other professionals; surely there can be support and additional clout coming from a local authority level?
Sending off an EHC plan request is a logistical nightmare that is too time consuming and paper heavy. Getting one shot at building a case is virtually impossible when you are alone in doing it. The idea of a joint plan was so positive and had so much potential.
In an ideal world I would go for broke: either keep it as an EHC plan and encourage full multi-agency working, or be honest and change the title!