I’m going to split this into several posts because I want it to be detailed and comprehensive. My post about Drafting the LDA gets the most number of hits on my blog and I’m guessing there’s a good reason for this.
Let me make this quite clear. Parents are not supposed to write the Learning Disability Assessment or EHC Plan. However, they have every right to have input into the report and, considering that they are the people best-placed to know their child, theirs should be considered the most valuable input.
If you are coming to this post without knowing much about the LDA or S139a please take some time to read this post first; especially the ‘tips’ section towards the end.
WHAT IS INVOLVED?
Our input into Harry’s LDA was substantial (one workshop, seven drafts, several requests under the Freedom of Information Act) but don’t let this put you off. Provided you give yourself enough time (I would allow at least 3 months) and can be methodical in your filing you can do this.
WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR AREA?
You will already have established that your child needs a LDA or S139a or EHCP. Go onto your council’s website and search using the acronyms shown above. Find out all you can about their strategy. Your child’s SENCo, Careers adviser, teacher/headteacher should all be sources of information and guidance. I can pretty much guarantee that you will be left in no doubt that what the local authority would like is for your child to continue in a local, mainstream setting because that is the cheapest and easiest option. This may be exactly what you want for your child and so you will tailor your LDA to show how best this will work. If this is not what you want then your LDA will need to show the opposite. This was our position.
WHAT TIMESCALE IS INVOLVED?
Before you begin, find out what you are up against. When does the LDA decision go ‘to panel’? i.e. When does the decision get made? In our case the panels sat in April 2013 (but we weren’t informed of the decision until mid-May). The LDA had to be completed by the end of January 2013. I spent October-December 2012 gathering information, writing emails, collating, filing and making absolutely sure I had at least as much information at my fingertips as the ‘panel’ would have; if not more. Be prepared to go to appeal and make sure you know what the appeal process is for your area and how long it takes to put into action. In North Yorkshire it was a maximum of 20 working days.
WHAT DOES AN LDA LOOK LIKE?
Our local authority is North Yorkshire County Council and in January 2012 their initial draft of the LDA consisted of the following. Their headings in bold and their responses contained in “quotes”. My thoughts in italics.
Personal Details: Name, date of birth, address, school attended and whether or not there was a Statement of SEN in place.
Nature of Special Additional Educational Needs: “Harry has Specific Learning Difficulties and a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder which can cause impairment in social interaction and communication. Limited literacy and numeracy skills and also as a result of his autism, needs instructions to be clear and precise when asked to complete tasks. Finds difficulty coping with change and needs significant preparation.”
Nature of medical/health needs: “Not aware of any.”
Current level of educational attainment (e.g. Pre-Entry, Entry Level, GCSE, etc.): May 2011 – here our advisor listed Harry’s attainment levels in Literacy, Numeracy and Science as shown on his Annual Review Report of that date. There then followed an update from January 2012 when our advisor must have been into school to gauge Harry’s progress. It mentions communication skills, confidence, physical coordination skills, ICT skills, the ability to apply learned knowledge and attention span. From this you can glean that such observations are important within the LDA.
Individual Education Plan: This consisted of 9 bullet points taken from the 2012 Annual Review, including things like: “to follow instructions when preparing lunch” and “to ask an unfamiliar person for directions”. Hardly an IEP!
Details for Transition Plan of long term post 16 objectives (and Pastoral Plan where appropriate): This section went into the past and showed what the plan had been from 16-19. It goes on to say that local and specialist residential college options had been discussed, as well as Personalised Learning (a massive buzzphrase in our area) and that our preferred option was for ISP (Independent Specialised Provision). It mentions that Harry lives in a remote area and “access to any activities will necessitate travelling by car.” This sentence is actually hugely important because there are massive financial implications.
What support and strategies are currently provided for this young person now and what will be required post 16 (outline the post 16 educational and training options as part of this)? “Harry needs help or to be reminded, to keep on task to complete work or let others know when he has finished. Frequent reminders and reiteration of his routines as this helps reassure him and will hopefully help him settle into his new environment. Harry struggles with pencil control and although he can write over his name he cannot write it independently. He also has difficulty in typing his name independently.” You can see how basic this was and why seven drafts were needed …
What equipment/technological aids are required for this young person post 16?
What assessments and by whom have they been undertaken for this young person? “Speech Therapy”
Contact details of other agencies currently involved with this young person. “Connexions Careers Advisers, Igen Ltd; School Doctor”
What other agencies might need to be involved with this Learner post 16 and what action needs to be taken? “All the above”
Additional Information: There followed a page and a half of observations made in 2009 and October 2012 by two separate Connexions Advisers which was in no order and skipped around all areas of education, health, medical, and personal.
Criterion – there is no local provision that is sufficient in quantity and adequate in quality which can meet the learner’s needs. This was the Careers Adviser’s own note which showed what the LDA was attempting to convey.
Criterion – there is evidence that the learner has medical or care needs which cannot be addressed by local providers. Another note which needed expanding.
USING YOUR AUTHORITY’S LDA AS A TEMPLATE
Once you have a draft LDA it will give you some idea of what you need in order to enhance the panel’s understanding of the needs of your child and to make the LDA the best it can possibly be.
At this early stage our LDA consisted of 5 pages. The content was scattered, there were gaps and there was little detail. A good place to start was in getting up-to-date reports on which to build Harry’s case.
GET UP-TO-DATE REPORTS
The panel will want to see reports no more than 12 months’ old; ideally no more than 6 months’ old.
If they have a Statement of SEN start with your child’s final Annual Review Report. Harry’s last review took place in September 2012 (leaving in July 2013). Make sure you submit your parental input in good time to be taken into consideration at review. The Report produced after this meeting will be submitted with the LDA so make sure your key priorities are minuted.
As a result of the review you might find that the Statement of SEN needs to be revised to reflect new information, etc. This was certainly the case with us. The most recent Statement will also be submitted so make sure it accurately reflects your child’s needs now.
Again, as a result of the review it might be suggested that other agencies produce reports to support the LDA. It is for you to know whether these will be helpful. In our case it was felt that a report by the Educational Psychologist would help and we agreed. The report was written with it in mind that Harry would be moving on to an ISP and stressed his vulnerability which we were then able to quote in the LDA.
Harry had previously had an Assessment of Need from his Transitions Manager at Social Services which just needed updating. This document carries a great deal of weight at panel.
Other reports could be from a Speech & Language Therapist (SALT), School Doctor or your own GP, Occupational Therapist, Learning Disability Service and any agencies who have had an involvement with your child. Harry attends regular sessions run by Action for Children and by a local support group and I asked session workers from both to write a half-page report.
NB: If you are unhappy with any aspect of a report don’t hesitate to get in touch with the writer and ask them to revise and reissue.
EXTRACT KEY QUOTES
As each report comes in read them thoroughly and extract key quotes which will be helpful for your LDA.
For example, the local support group reported that Harry’s social vulnerability is an issue which sessional workers became aware of when “there was an incident… where a group of young people.. were encouraging him to do and say things, because of the close supervision of Harry this was very quickly dealt with, but it did highlight the ease in which people can take advantage of Harry, despite high staffing.”
From the Educational Psychologist’s report: “Harry was echolalic throughout the group discussion”; “Harry was unable to engage with me… appearing shy and uncomfortable” and particularly, “Harry presents as a potentially socially vulnerable student as at times he lacks the social understanding and awareness that would be considered to be more typical of young people of his age.” It went on to list 11 minimum requirements for his next educational setting.
From the Learning Disability Service: “I envisage that Harry will continue to require structure and support from staff around his autism and related obsessional behaviours.”
From the Independence Support group: “Unable to use initiative to remove himself from vulnerable situations, and has no awareness of danger, especially when out in the community.”
From Social Services Assessment of Need: “Harry has recently started to receive speech and language therapy in school again and he would benefit from continued support with this” and “Harry would not be able to access public transport independently without support even if it were available.”
From SALT: “He can still become easily distracted and this affects his ability to attend to, and process, spoken language.”
Once the reports start coming in make sure you keep them safe. Buy a large A4 ring binder and create a section called Reports and file them away.
Okay. I think that’s enough for one post and in the next one I’ll outline what else you should have in your file and what research you need to do.