Tag Archives: SEN

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.

Harry Gets An Offer of a Residential Placement

I now know the meaning of a ‘red letter day’. On Monday we got an offer for Harry of a residential placement at our (and his) first choice college. I was unable to open the letter straightaway; instead I had to make myself a coffee in preparation. When I read the words, “I am pleased to be able to offer Harry a residential placement…” I felt tears spring to my eyes. This was what we had been waiting four weeks to hear.

Attached to the letter were a further four pages: one was a summary of their pre-assessment report. Another was a more detailed assessment of Harry’s numeracy and literacy both of which indicate that he is working at a Pre-Entry Level. The remaining pages give an outline of the programme of learning on offer and a provisional weekly timetable, both of which fill me with hope and delight that they will provide Harry with a fulfilling and meaningful time at college.

I realise that I am jumping the gun somewhat in setting so much store by this offer. And that I probably shouldn’t even be blogging about it. But I intended this blog to be ‘warts and all’. So, if, ultimately, Harry doesn’t get this place those who have read the blog will have a sense of what he has missed out on.

The offer letter makes it clear that funding approval is yet to be granted (and is something we will not receive confirmation of until May 2013) and mentions a fee banding of F. I managed to find out that that indicated annual fees of £42,000 which is an extraordinary amount of money. However, I have to remain optimistic that the Local Authority will approve funding, especially since there is no provision for Harry locally.

So, forgive me if I wax on about the offer but I find it interesting in that it is so specific. They have obviously spent the last four weeks working out an individual programme for Harry which is:

  • The development of Functional and Key skills, which will be integrated throughout his curriculum (his curriculum!)
  • A general programme of vocational education with access to external accreditation
  • An Independent Living Skills programme to enable him to achieve the maximum independence possible for post-college life (be still my beating heart…)
  • A Personal Development programme to encourage him to acquire the skills for citizenship and support in forming relationships with his peers (something which Harry desperately needs)
  • Teaching matched to his identified preferred learning style (verbal instruction in a practical setting)
  • Leisure activities which will include out of college trips, supported use of public transport to access local facilities and a wide range of sporting options and clubs, plus a full programme of College entertainment during evenings and weekends (sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?)

This last element is not perceived by LAs to be of importance. When applying for college places we have been advised not to mention extra-curricular activities as a reason for applying. But it is absolutely vital that our children can have access to a social life, especially during this formative years of late teens going into early twenties. When a neurotypical child goes to university one of the key reasons for going (whether parents like it or not) is to experience the social life of a student. Why shouldn’t our autistic children have the same opportunities?

The offer letter goes on to detail Harry’s support requirements as follows:

  • Specialist teaching and enabler for 28hrs/week (1:4)
  • Structured programme of residential learning – 3hrs of 1:1 equivalent
  • Social, creative and leisure activities – 1hr of 1:1 equivalent
  • Support with personal care and activities of daily living at approximately 1:7 making 7.85hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Medical Centre support 0.4hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Immediate access to counselling support 0.2hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Immediate intervention for emotional support 0.2hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week
  • Speech & language therapy 0.25hrs of 1:1 equivalent per week (this is the only area I have a slight quibble with, it doesn’t seem very much)
  • At the end of the first term the College Assessment Tutor will prepare and forward a Baseline Assessment Report
  • Guidance by the College Assessment Tutor to develop his Individual Learning Goals
  • A first year review meeting to discuss his Individual Learning Programme and progress
  • A three-weekly 1:1 Personal Tutorial to review his progress and support needs
  • A Transition Review meeting in the first or second term of his third year to plan his post-college opportunities

In summary the college will provide 13.5hrs of 1:1 teaching equivalent and 8.9hrs of 1:1 care and therapy equivalent.

Finally, the college attached what it refers to as a ‘pro-forma timetable’ showing that if he went, Harry would be doing, e.g. Breakfast Life Skills on a Friday morning from 8.15am till 10am, a Vocational Course leading towards Skills for Working Life with Speech and Language Therapy integrates on Monday afternoons and Community Access 1:3 on Friday afternoons.

I can’t tell you how happy that single page makes me. His days will be filled from 9am till 5pm with meaningful learning, extra-curricular activities he loves and opportunities for integration. At this very moment my cup is much more than half-full; it is overflowing. And I’m going to savour it for some time to come.

Draft Strategy for meeting the needs of Children and Young People with Autism in North Yorkshire

On Friday I attended a meeting entitled ‘Consultation on draft Strategy for meeting the needs of Children and Young People with Autism in North Yorkshire’.

It was the last of 13 such meetings organised by the Access & Inclusion office of North Yorkshire County Council conducted over a 12-week period. As such, it was billed as

an opportunity to let us know what changes and improvements you would like to see and also to tell us what is working well.

The results of the consultations are to be reported to the Executive Members for the Children and Young People’s Service (so called since 2006 when the Education and Children’s Social Care departments were amalgamated) in September this year.

We received notification of the consultation via a letter sent home from school with Harry. It was explained at the meeting that parents of all children with a Statement of SEN had been sent a letter but that those of children in mainstream school had not. In those cases, the SENCOs were given the responsibility of informing parents. However, it became clear at the meeting that news of the consultations had not filtered through to some parents of children in mainstream school and there was a feeling expressed that such children were ‘invisible’.

The meeting took place on a day when extreme weather conditions were forecast. There were deluges across Yorkshire and parts of Scarborough and Filey suffered flooding. Perhaps for this reason the consultation was poorly attended (or perhaps because it was the final meeting scheduled). There were only 5 parents along with 3 members of staff from Ryedale Special Families.

Andrew Terry, Assistant Director for Access & Inclusion set about explaining the draft strategy and how it would move things forward. He noted that, whilst there was a legal requirement for an autism strategy for adults, there was no such requirement for children and young people, a fact which shocked me.

I pointed out early on that the draft strategy referred to the age group of 0-19 and that, in the light of the government’s Green Paper, the strategy ought to mirror the new age range of 0-25. They acknowledged that there had not been time to alter this but that it would be changed by the time the strategy was finalised.

One of their priority actions is to work with the Voluntary Sector in increasing autism awareness  through TESS (there are an awful lot of acronyms bandied about in such documentation) – Training Education Short Breaks Service. And to widen training in autism for professionals within NYCC. Parents noted examples of teachers in mainstream school who seemed to have little if any understanding of autism. It was also apparent that in some cases there was little by way of support for the child in school via ASCOSS (Autism Spectrum Condition Outreach Support Service) and none at all for parents.

They intend to increase the provision of parental support programmes such as Cygnet, Ascend, EarlyBird and EarlyBird Plus. I noted that I had never heard of these programmes and they needed to be more widely publicised. The council intend to produce a pack of information for parents of newly-diagnosed children. Those present noted that support groups were not always the first port of call for parents in this situation and I wondered whether a web page or other use of social media might provide a useful means of support for parents who felt physically and psychologically isolated.

The council has embraced the need for integrated assessment. It acknowledged that until quite recently there had been a ‘blockage’ in the assessment process based in Scarborough but it was felt that this had now been removed and the waiting period had been reduced to approximately 6mths. It was noted that during this time some parents had gone to Newcastle and had had a very good experience of the diagnosis pathway there. Unfortunately, this then caused difficulties back in North Yorkshire to the extent that one parent was accused by healthcare professionals, and I use the term loosely, of being ‘disloyal’. The council were aware of this particular case.

Another focus area is to give parents greater control and influence. Parents stated that they felt they had little choice when it came to choosing the right school for their child; that any choice was in fact removed. It was made clear that parents are the best sources of information about their child’s needs but that very often their voices are not heard.

Mr Terry then went on to talk about North Yorkshire being a Local Pathfinder for SEND. The council needs to identify gaps in provision and encourage better integration of services. They are aiming to achieve National Autistic Society accreditation for ASCOSS which may be difficult considering some parents experience (see above). I asked that they remove the requirement for students to apply to local post-19 colleges even when they had no hope of attaining the minimum entry level requirements. They seemed shocked and surprised that this was the case, agreed that it was pointless and promised to look into it.

He talked about the ‘Local Offer’ and that they were looking to introduce an element of residential living to provision in Scarborough. One of the parents present said that her children had chosen residential college courses because they wanted something to do after 4pm. I added that students are discouraged from mentioning extra-curricular activities when applying to these colleges becasue they are not supposed to be taken into account by the Local Authority. I also stated that courses needed to be ‘meaningful’ to students; not just opportunities for role-play. This is why residential living is an essential aspect of such courses.

Others attending the meeting were also able to highlight their own particular grievances. Mr Terry noted that they had had one or two cases brought to their attention at each consultation they had held and they had been able to look at them individually back at County Hall.

One parent noted that the provision of summer holiday activities was mired in unnecessary paperwork resulting in her son missing out on activities. Mr Terry did not see why multiple applications needed to be made.

Another parent who attended pointed out that the lack of social workers (there is only one) for the post-19 age group was having a serious impact on families in the Scarborough area. As a result she has two children who will be completing their studies at residential colleges this summer and will be coming home with no support package in place. She has been forced to resign from a job that she loves and which she is good at (in autism advocacy) as a result and pointed out that she and her adult sons will therefore become a burden to the state through no fault of their own.

I found this particularly depressing. What is the point of the council funding such expensive residential placements (approximately £40,000 per year) to give young people the independent living skills and job training they need if all they are going to do when they complete their courses is to end up back at home with mum and dad?

If parents or carers have been unable to attend a meeting and would like to inform NYCC of their views you can respond by the end of July 2012. I would urge all those with responsibility for young people or children with autism to make their views known. I will certainly be putting my views in writing.

Red Tape & Bureaucracy Wastes Parents’ Time

Our preference is for Harry to attend a residential college. We have gone through all the processes listed in my previous post: read the NATSPEC directory from cover-to-cover, decided which colleges to visit, attended Open Days, made visits & taken Harry for assessments.

We picked out three colleges and visited them all within a space of ten days in Autumn 2011. In so doing we were easily able to make comparisons between the colleges because all the visits were fresh in our minds. All three of us came to the same conclusion: we dismissed one college and had picked the same two remaining colleges as our first and second preferences.

The process is far from over, but as far as application deadlines are concerned we are ahead of the game.

However, in order to comply with advice given by our Connexions advisor we also have to approach our nearest college of further education. I bit the bullet this week and decided to contact them.

I had Harry’s most recent Statement of SEN to hand and phoned the Learning Support Unit to ask them about the only course they run which is suitable for Harry. The upshot was that Harry was nowhere near the required entry level in the National Curriculum. Whereas he is at M4 & M5 (Milestone levels) for literacy & numeracy; the minimum entry level for the course is Entry Level 3.

So, my question is, why do we need to continue with the farce of making an application? Harry’s most recent Statement should be sufficient to prove to any funding body that our ‘nearest local college’ cannot meet his needs.

I asked for this to be put in writing (a requirement in order for us to pursue residential college applications) and was told that it was not a priority for them, i.e. because Harry is not due to start college until September 2013.

A basic e-mail would suffice. Is that so much to ask for?

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?