Chris Evans, Head of Product & Strategy at Idox, explores the challenges around education, health and care plan assessments and how technology can help to make them more streamlined for children with SEN, parents/carers and local authorities involved
In England, there are around 1.4 million pupils with special educational needs (SEN). There is a variety of support available to help their learning and development, ensuring they have access to a fair education. For children that require more specialist support, parents, carers, and schools can apply for an education, health and care (EHC) plan. Currently, 3.3% of all pupils in the UK have one in place.
Being granted an EHC plan is based on the culmination of several processes and a recent edition of BBC’s Panorama explored the challenges some parents and carers have faced when applying. The episode, titled ‘Fighting for an education’, contained many hard-hitting first-hand accounts of the EHC assessment application process and it highlighted where difficulties do exist.
Basing life-changing decisions on paper and email
Such stories are never pleasant and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Yet, the programme didn’t provide a full picture, with little focus on the pressures that local authorities (LAs) are under. There is often so much emotion associated with EHC plan assessments, meaning there must be a greater understanding of the challenges faced by all involved.
LAs, and particularly those employees working in SEN want to help children get the support they need. But, what the programme didn’t make clear is that LAs base assessments on multiple sources of information to come to a well-informed decision.
Assessments are made based on evaluations from experts across health, education and social care, with the LA using this information to decide if children qualify for an EHC plan. Admin is usually heavily reliant on paper and email-based processes, making it incredibly complex for caseworkers, who may be in charge of 200+ children, to make an assessment quickly. A lack of resources means they are under extreme pressure to make life-changing decisions – they simply need more help.
A lack of engagement keeps parents and carers in the dark
What the episode did make apparent, however, is that there is a lack of engagement between LAs and parents/carers, with one parent commenting that she didn’t understand the EHC plan process despite going through it for her son.
Simply put, there’s little transparency of the process. Once a child’s school or the parent/carer have made the request for an EHC assessment, parents may hear very little until a decision letter is received. There are statutory time frames for each stage of the assessment, but with no transparency, it’s very hard for those on the outside to know exactly what is going on. With so little engagement, the journey seems disjointed. This makes it all the more difficult to understand the final outcome should it not be what was hoped.
Understanding the possible role of technology
It’s very clear that something needs to change and there must be a more delicate process that balances emotions alongside transparency and efficiency – that’s where technology can help.
Many of the challenges stem from the reliance on paper and email-based processes. Case workers don’t have the resources to manage their applications, as well as be able to spend quality time communicating with those being assessed – impacting transparency and engagement.
As such, digital platforms can help by centralising all content relating to a case into one accessible portal, simplify case management and, crucially, enabling parents/carers to see what stage assessments are at. This allows them to understand the next steps and the associated timeframes, adding much-needed transparency.
Furthermore, if caseworkers are given tools that alleviate the administrative pressures, it means they can provide more meaningful engagement to those going through the EHC plan process. Open and transparent conversations – whether in-person or digitally – are so important, especially for when explaining why certain decisions have been made.
Another benefit of adopting digital tools is that it allows parents/carers to upload multimedia content. Visual multimedia is so much more powerful than traditional write-ups and it allows assessors to base decisions on images and videos that really highlight the children’s personalities.
Alleviating pressures and increasing meaningful engagement
Digital tools can have a major impact on EHC plan assessments as they enhance management and increase engagement between all those involved. While they won’t have a direct impact on the assessment outcome – that is purely conducted by the caseworker based on the experts’ evaluations – the increased transparency means no one is left in the dark.
Ultimately, every child has the right to an education and the Panorama episode did make clear that challenges do exist. It’s time for LAs to consider how digital technology can help them to enhance processes around EHC plans to ensure all are receiving consistent assessments and the help they need.