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Specialist SEN solicitor Douglas Silas answers questions about “outcomes”, a key concept in the new SEN system

What are outcomes?

The new SEN framework, now in place, has brought in the new concept of “outcomes” in relation to education, health and care (EHC) plans. The SEN Code of Practice 2014/15 (paragraph 9.66) states that: 

An outcome can be defined as the benefit or difference made to an individual as a result of an intervention… it should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART)… Outcomes are not a description of the service being provided – for example the provision of three hours of speech and language therapy is not an outcome. In this case, the outcome is what it is intended that the speech and language therapy will help the individual to do that they cannot do now and by when this will be achieved.

Why do we have them?

The opening section of the Children and Families Act, which ushered in the new SEN framework, contains four principles, which a local authority (LA) now needs to have regard to. The last, but most important, of these states that an LA must have regard to “The need to support the child and his or her parent or the young person in order to facilitate [their] development … and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.”

Does the Code of Practice add anything?

Yes, paragraph 9.68 of the Code also adds the following information:

Outcomes underpin and inform the detail of EHC plans. Outcomes will usually set out what needs to be achieved by the end of a phase or stage of education in order to enable the child or young person to progress successfully to the next phase or stage. An outcome for a child of secondary school age might be, for example, to make sufficient progress or achieve a qualification to enable him or her to attend a specific course at college. Other outcomes in the EHC plan may then describe what needs to be achieved by the end of each intervening year to enable him or her to achieve the college place.

Has support for SEN changed then?

Yes, there is now a clearer focus on the participation of children and young people (and also their parents) with decision-making, both at individual and strategic levels. There is also a stronger focus now on “higher aspirations” and “improving outcomes” for children with SEN. It is therefore expected that everyone (both parents and professionals) will now be “working together towards agreed outcomes”. 

Are outcomes the same as “objectives” in a statement?

No, “outcomes” are not just “objectives” by another name – and they are not meant to be. One of the criticisms of objectives in a statement was that sometimes they were too vague. For example, objectives often referred to just general aims, such as to develop things like communication or motor skills. Outcomes, and EHC plans in general, are now striving to be more targeted and precise in relation to the child or young person’s individual circumstances.

Are there any problems with this?

Theoretically, no; practically, though, there may be problems. This is because, unfortunately, whilst everyone appears to be trying to be more specific now in relation to agreeing outcomes in EHC plans, not everyone appears to be in agreement about what they actually are meant to be. For example, some LAs are focusing only on short to medium-term outcomes – such as in relation to the end of a school year or Key Stage – while others are trying to separate them into short or long-term outcomes. In fact, some are even trying to do all three. 

Where do outcomes go in an EHC plan?

Outcomes are meant to be put in Section E of an EHC plan. But they need to be agreed to by everyone when the EHC plan is first drafted or at an annual review of it. However, both parents and professionals have expressed concern that disputed outcomes are not challengeable, like the objectives were previously in a statement. Some have even been cynical about this and pointed out that, although we have been told that EHC plans now go up to 25, an EHC plan actually only goes up to 25 if the outcomes in it have not yet been achieved. There is no automatic right or entitlement to have an EHC plan kept in place until a young person reaches 25.  

So age makes a difference?

Yes, paragraph 9.68 of the Code goes on to say: 

From year 9 onwards, the nature of the outcomes will reflect the need to ensure young people are preparing for adulthood. In all cases, EHC plans must specify the special educational provision required to meet each of the child or young person’s special educational needs. The provision should enable the outcomes to be achieved.

Therefore, the real question for young people (those who have reached the end of the academic year in which they turn 16) is whether their educational or training outcomes have yet been achieved. However, a young person may need extra time, compared to someone without their needs, to complete or consolidate their learning.

Can I challenge the outcomes in an EHC plan?

Unfortunately, you can’t. In the same way as before 1 September 2014 in relation to statements, a parent (or a young person themselves now if they are 16 or over and have mental capacity) can only appeal against the contents of an EHC plan in relation to: 

  • the description of special educational needs (in Section B of an EHC plan, previously Part 2 of a statement)
  • the special educational provision (in Section F of an EHC plan, previously Part 3 of a statement) 
  • the school or other placement, which now includes colleges (in Section I of an EHC plan, previously Part 4 of a statement).

But some people have pointed out that whilst outcomes are now also being put in EHC plans, there is no way of challenging them, so it is like giving more with one hand and taking away with the other. Because of this, some argue that LAs may even be encouraged to write low achieving outcomes in EHC plans, so that the LA can then later argue that these outcomes have been met and there is no longer the need for an EHC plan to be kept. This is very worrying for many people, especially parents.

Are outcomes reviewed regularly?

Yes, paragraph 9.69 of the Code states that: 

The EHC plan should also specify the arrangements for setting shorter term targets at the level of the school or other institution where the child or young person is placed… These can be reviewed and, if necessary, amended regularly to ensure that the individual remains on track to achieve the outcomes specified in their EHC plan…”

Whilst shorter-term targets may be easier to determine, the difficulty is always going to be trying to decide the longer-term outcomes for younger children, as this may involve a bit of crystal-ball gazing.

Further information

Douglas Silas is the Principal of Douglas Silas Solicitors and runs the website: www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk. He is also the author of A Guide To The SEN Code of Practice (What You Need To Know) which is available for all eBook readers: www.AGuideToTheSENCodeOfPractice.co.uk

The advice provided here is of a general nature and Douglas Silas Solicitors cannot be held responsible for any loss caused by reliance placed upon it.

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