Category Archives: Post-16

Drafting the S139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) for 16-25 year olds

All students with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) who are likely to leave school to move on to post-16 education and training are entitled to a Section 139a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA)…

The S139a LDA is a written report of the young person’s educational or training needs and the provision required to meet them… [It] helps the young person, their parents and Children’s Services staff to identify and agree the most suitable post-16 learning provider to ensure that their needs are fully considered when matching a placement to meeting their individual needs.  They can then put into place the support the young person needs to achieve new goals in life.

This is a direct quote from Y-Gen’s website.

The S139a LDA is a very important document, not least because it covers the young person up to the age of 25. It is at least as important, if not more so, than the Statement of SEN. Of course, all of this will change when the EHCP comes into operation and it will take the place of the Statement and the Learning Disability Assessment.

As shown above the role of igen/Y-Gen/Connexions should be to assist the student and parents. In reality many of these services cannot be wholly impartial because they have been taken over by county councils. This is where we parents have to become pro-active (don’t we always?) and get really involved in the formation of this important document.

Taking the Department of Education’s guidance to LAs as a starting point:

Early identification of those requiring a LDA is essential to allow time for the commissioning of any necessary provision and support to take place. If your child has a Statement of SEN it is likely that they will require a LDA. Start checking with your Connexions Adviser/SENCO whether your child will be getting a LDA at least by Year 10.

The LDA report must be specific about the level of need required and the support and learning provision required to meet those needs. If your child currently has 1:1 support, a Teaching Assistant, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational aids, etc. it is likely that they will continue to need such aids and support in their continuing education. Make sure that you get regular assessments and check whether targets are being achieved.

The LDA should have a specific focus on the learning programme that is required to enable the young person to progress towards greater independence and where appropriate employment. What sort of educational environment/teaching has worked best for your child? Check out what courses/placements/day services/work opportunities are available. Visit ‘Moving On’ workshops from Year 9-10.

The LDA should take account of the young person’s aspirations and views. Seems obvious, but start talking to your child and exploring the various options with them. Visit colleges and  try to imagine your child in that environment.

The LDA should build on the views, and where appropriate, expertise of other people who have already supported the person being assessed. If it is helpful and will support your case, garner as many reports as possible from, e.g. form teacher/SENCO, educational psychologist, SALT, OT, GP or school doctor, etc. I asked Action for Children to provide a report based on Harry’s attendance at Independent Support Group. Anybody who has had any recent dealings with your child may be able to provide useful information.

Unless the learner/parent/carer has expressly refused permission, the local authority should share the LDA with the college or other education or training provider and do so in sufficient time to ensure provision and support are in place from the outset. The LA must seek your permission before doing this. Make sure that the document you sign refers only to this aspect of sharing, not to signing the LDA itself.

The local authority should ensure that the young person and their parents/carers understand the Learning Difficulty Assessment process and the decisions that are made as part of that process. Find out when the LA panels sit in your area. Check how soon you will be informed of the decision. Be aware of your LA’s appeal process. Some students have missed the first few weeks of their college course because the appeals process was so lengthy.

The LDA should provide robust and impartial information. This is where the supporting reports are vital. They provide impartial, informed, recent, relevant information about your child. You must have copies of all the reports that are submitted to the LA. If you have any queries or there are mistakes in the reports you must get in touch with the writer and ask them to clarify and, if necessary, revise and resubmit their report. Go through each report and pick out the details which will help support your child’s choices, e.g. it was useful for me to be able to identify those professionals who had identified Harry as a socially vulnerable adult.

It is for the local authority to assure themselves that they have made fair and reasonable decisions and have met their responsibilities as set out in legislation. Can the words ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ be applied to your LDA? If they can then you have done all you can to ensure that your child’s case will receive the best possible hearing.

My Top Tips, in no particular order:

  1. Make sure your child’s Statement of SEN is up-to-date and accurately reflects current diagnoses and levels of support.
  2. Ensure that your advisor (the person compiling the LDA) is educated to at least NVQ Level 4 and has experience of working with learning disabled students.
  3. Keep a ‘Day Book’: dates (and times if necessary) of all correspondence, emails, phone calls regarding the LDA. Mine is in the form of a spreadsheet and dates back over a year including, e.g. dates of visits to ISPs, when agencies began working with Harry, etc.
  4. Get your paperwork in order: most recent statements, annual reviews, reports, assessments, etc. Mine are filed in a large A4 ring binder, tagged so that they are easy to find and refer to.
  5. Which agencies are involved in supporting your child? Don’t let SALT/OT/etc slip. If your child is discharged from a service is it because support is no longer required or is it due to a lack of resources/funding?
  6. Ask to be copied in on all reports written about your child. You should have at least as much, if not more informaton than the LA. Do not be afraid to query what is written and ask for revisions.
  7. If it would help your child’s case to have a Social Services Needs Assessment carried out then ask for one to be done. Reports need to be less than 12 months old to have weight at panel. Harry’s is detailed because we had had a great deal of input. It will be valuable at panel because it accurately reflects Harry’s needs and abilities.
  8. Be as informed as possible about the types of provision available to your child at 16-25: local FE colleges, ISPs, day services, work opportunities, placements, etc. Go to ‘Moving On’ events/workshops. Talk to other parents, professionals, agencies, anyone whose opinion you trust/value.
  9. Compile your own LDA. You are the person best-placed to provide information about your child. Get a copy of the LDA template from your advisor and make a start. Gather information relating to headings like: nature of SEN, background to learning difficulties, current level of educational attainment (draw attention to PIVATS if your child is working below Entry Level 1), post-16 objectives, language and communication skills, attention skills, equipment/aids required, what assessments and by whom (and when – must be within last 12 months). We are on draft 5 of Harry’s LDA which has been going backwards and forwards for 4 months.
  10. I am currently trying to get the following headings into the LDA: personal and social development, personal care and independence, fine motor difficulties. These sections contain factual material which is relevant to the LDA. I have challenged our advisor to put his objections to their inclusion in writing.
  11. Compile your own Learner Needs report and try to get it into the LDA. What is your child aiming for? Phrases like “vocational training” and “the desire to live independently” are what the LAs are looking for. Parents need to get across the future plans and aspirations of their child; their desire to make a valuable contribution to the community and to the economy. My 2 page report has also been rejected by our advisor, despite the Guidance for LA’s stating that “The LDA should have a specific focus on the learning programme that is required to enable the young person to progress towards greater independence and where appropriate employment”.
  12. Compile your own Local Provider Assessment Reports if necessary. Consult Ofsted reports, find out how many students drop out of the course your child is interested in and at what stage, ask what the outcomes are for students on the course, assess how your child will cope with the environment and what support they will need.
  13. If there is any information which has not been included within the LDA which you feel is relevant include this in your Parental Submission which can be listed as one of the reports/assessments.

Remember: there is no requirement for you to sign the LDA if you do not agree entirely with its contents. The only part which needs signing is the agreement to share information for Data Protection purposes.

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The Sixth Form Prom in Pictures

I wanted this to be a quick picture post about Harry’s Sixth Form Prom night. They say every picture tells a story and I think that is especially so in this instance.

There are three classes in Harry’s sixth form, with about ten students per class. All students are invited, along with their families, to a sit-down meal followed by a disco. Attendance at the meal is optional and people can just come along for a dance if they want. This suits those students who have difficulties around eating in public.

DJ Ashley finds a fan

The highlight of the evening for the students is undoubtedly the dancing.

“You look good on the dance floor”

Like last year, Harry couldn’t keep off the dance floor.

Take your partners for the tango!

The more confident boys like asking their teachers to dance.

Grace gets a dance partner

The teachers weren’t the only ones getting asked to dance.

Even the shy ones get up to dance

These guys are best friends and both leave school this year. J finds big social occasions very difficult and his teachers were amazed that he even turned up. A very big deal.

L has fun with a balloon sword

L won this year’s prize for the leaver who most clearly demonstrated the school’s ethos. He had a great time celebrating his achievement at the prom.

Everyone takes to the floor

The evening was scheduled to end at 10pm but dancing went on until 11pm.

A lovely way to end the school year and say goodbye to the class of 2012.

The End of Statements

Last week I attended a Pathfinder workshop on the government’s green paper into the future of the assessment process for children with Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND).

It was entitled “A new way to help young adults to plan what they [sic] want for their future: a single assessment process and one ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ bringing together support for children and young people from birth to 25, and focusing on better life outcomes beyond school or college.”

You will notice that this title mentions ‘young adults’ and it became clear that the primary focus was on school leavers in the area aged 16 plus. It may be that other workshops focus their attention on other age groups and I would urge parents to find out if there is a workshop in their area and attend in order to make their views known.

The government tender to run these workshops was won by Preparing for Adulthood and the one I went to was attended by about 30 people, mostly from the education, health & social care organisations in the area. They included deputy head teachers of Special Schools, staff from Further Education Colleges, representatives of council departments and careers advisers but noticeably few parents. Although some parents attended under the auspices of the local Parents & Carers Forum (PACF) I counted only two independent parents/carers, of whom I was one.

It was made clear from the outset that what goes into the new bill to reform SEN assessments will be informed by what comes out of these pathfinder workshops. There is a sense of urgency to reform and so this new Single Plan is going to come into being quite quickly. However, quickly in legislative terms (2014) turns out to be not so quick for those children/young adults and their families who are desperate to get some sort of plan in place now!

This new document will replace the Statement of Special Educational Needs. The intention is that it will be formulated by the young person and their family and then relevant bodies will have to work out how best to meet that person’s needs. If anyone has ever been involved in Person Centred Reviews or Person Centred Planning then the new document will follow that sort of format.

The government is looking to learn from previous programmes which you may (or in my case, may not) have heard of, including: Transition Support Programme, Getting a Life and Valuing Employment Now. It will also build in elements of existing documents including the Statement of SEN, the Learning for Living and Work Framework and the various needs assessments questionnaires.

During the course of the day we worked through topics such as:

  • What is your vision for SEND young adults in the area?
  • What is working and not working now?
  • The Single Plan: do person-centred planning questions help?
  • What should the next steps be after today?

Of course, as is the tendency with most of these type of events, those in attendance have their own particular agendas. They all want to keep their jobs, their departments and, most importantly, their budgets. However, what will change in future is that there will be joint commissioning, hence references to the ‘Single Assessment’, ‘Single Plan’ and the ‘Education, Health & Care Plan’ in which all services currently engaged in supporting a young person will have to work together.

I have to say that, although we were few in number, parents’ voices were heard (loudly and with some emotion) and our opinions noted.  We were all of the mind that we wanted our children to have the opportunity to attend residential colleges. Whereas local day colleges give students the chance to role-play life skills; only colleges with a residential aspect give students the chance to put those life skills into daily practice in a meaningful way.

If for no other reason, such events are useful opportunities to meet those people whose decisions directly affect your child. For example, I talked to teachers from Harry’s past and present special schools, managed to bend the ear of his Connexions advisor and made contact with members of the adult disability services team. I would advise any parent to do the same. Get your face and name known, along with that of your child.

I hope it was enough…

A New Plan for Special School Leavers

This morning I found an invitation to a workshop day tucked into Harry’s rucksack. We get quite a few of these sent home from school and quite often they will lie about the house for a few days before one of us thinks to pick it up and actually read it.

This one is about: “A new way to help young adults to plan what they want for their future: a single assessment process and ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ bringing together support for children and young people from birth to 25, and focusing on better life outcomes beyond school or college.”

Well, I’m breathless just reading it, let alone trying to comprehend what it’s all about.  And the thing is, this is typical of the literature that gets sent to parents of children with SEN whether via school or by external agencies. You have to read everything three times over to analyse whether it is relevant to you and your child. Then decide if you can work it into your schedule.

Taking a second (and a third) look, I can pick out the phrases national Pathfinders, Green Paper and then ‘Support and Aspiration – a new approach to special educational needs and disability.’ This all sounds very familiar and pretty important and so I Google the phrases and the agencies who are involved in running the workshop.

Hey presto! Only the very issue that got me so fired up last week. Very, very important. I’d better e-mail my acceptance and make childcare arrangements: after all the only way that I can attend a full-day workshop is if my husband can be here to meet Harry’s school transport. And if our daughter can go to her grandparents after school instead of being collected by me.

And then I realise that the event is in four days’ time…. I’d better start reading that Green Paper!

Galvanized!

News this week that, following the report published by the National Audit Office, the goverment plans to cut support for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) galvanized me into action.

I had been intending to start keeping a journal to track my son’s progress as he makes that difficult transition into the adult world. Instead, I decided to start a blog to take into account the changes which would inevitably have an effect on Harry’s future.

I have never been a campaigner or an activist. I have barely any connections with support groups. But this news gave me a sleepless night. I lay awake thinking about all the things we do for our children and wondered how on earth some parents will manage if these reforms take place.

We only have one child with SEN. There are families out there with 2, 3 or even 4 children with varying degrees of need. Each child requires their own Statement of SEN and Individual Education Programme (IEP). Each has appointments with GPs/therapists/consultants. Each has their own particular behavioural difficulties which necessitate special planning in order to get even basic everyday tasks accomplished.

On top of that we have other members of the family we need to consider: partners, siblings, aging parents. Oh, and some parents also have to work…

And now the government wants such parents to take on even more.

Haven’t we got enough on our plates?