Do you know your SEN rights?

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How parent partnership services provide vital support for families

Parent partnership services (PPSs) give information, advice and support to parents and carers of children and young people with SEN and disabilities. They also have a duty to ensure that parents’ views are not only heard and understood, but that they inform and influence local policy and practice. While many PPSs have been in place since 1994, they became statutory in 2001 when the SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) amended the 1996 Education Act. So while there is significant variation in size and resources, there is one in every local authority (LA).

What do parent partnership services do?

The work of PPSs involves a wide range of activities, including:

  • running a confidential helpline
  • giving impartial information and advice around SEN issues
  • offering support in preparing for and attending meetings
  • providing help in filling in forms and writing letters/reports
  • supporting parents/carers in resolving disagreements with schools and LAs
  • signposting other statutory and voluntary services
  • linking to local parent support groups and forums
  • ensuring that parents/carers views help inform and influence local policy and practice
  • offering training opportunities for parents and professionals.

Many services also have independent parental supporters (IPSs) who are volunteers trained to provide individual support to parents. All services will be able to signpost parents to independent sources of information and advice.
PPSs spend a lot of time with parents and carers explaining an often extremely complicated SEN system. Indeed, PPSs gave advice and support to over 67,000 parents and carers from April 2008 to March 2009.

Parent partnerships can help parents get involved in decision making.Working strategically

PPSs can play an important strategic role with schools and the local authority. PPSs feedback the views and experiences of parents and carers, whilst adhering to confidentiality, so that the local authority can improve their SEN services and ultimately have happier parents and children.

Derby and Derbyshire have a parent partnership service that works very well and strategically with their local authority. A representative from the council said of their PPS:

“The presence of an effective parent partnership service is critical for a local authority to establish and develop its services for children and young people with special educational needs. A strong parent partnership service will provide the appropriate level of support and challenge to enable a local authority to listen and respond to parents honestly and confidently, welcoming them as partners and valuing and acting upon their views.

As a local authority with an effective parent partnership service we have learnt so much about how to work with parents, seeing them as a key for resolving any difficulties, not being part of the difficulty. This has extended to our work with the wider parent population and not just those who are parents of children with learning difficulties. It is an invaluable service.”

Good services work with schools in their area to ensure that they hear the views of parents or carers of children with SEN. Sometimes, they help schools to develop their SEN policies and to involve parents and carers in their decision making. They also work with parents and schools to build relationships that have broken down by attending meetings and supporting parents and carers to express their concerns and views.

Impartial service

30 per cent of PPSs are based wholly or partially in the voluntary sector (responsibility for the resourcing and quality of the service remains with the LA) but most remain within the LA. Those PPSs should be at arm’s length to the LA so that parents are assured that the advice and information they receive is impartial and that the people they receive it from are independent of any decision-making. All PPSs offer a confidential service and will be able to give you more information about how they work in an impartial way

In late 2007, the Government published a document setting out its expectations of good practice in the provision of impartial PPSs in order to increase parents’ confidence in them. This document gives further guidance on how services and LAs should meet the original minimum standards from the SEN Code of Practice 2001, which are exemplified and set out as a self-review tool ranging from “Best practice” to “Non compliant”. This document is currently being re-written, as recommend by the Lamb Inquiry into parental confidence into the SEN system, to have more emphasis on the legislation and SEN Code of Practice.

Recent developments

Changes to the law
The Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 states that parents and carers are now able to appeal a decision not to amend a statement after an annual review. Previously, parents were unable to appeal an LA decision even if they and the teachers agreed that the statement needed amending. This new right to appeal means that unless parents are listened to, the number of appeals that are lodged should be expected to rise significantly. LAs will need to work with their PPSs strategically to ensure that annual review issues are resolved before it gets to the tribunal stage. This ultimately increases the amount of time that children are without appropriate educational support and is a significant cost for the LA.

Academies
Parent partnership services are currently getting to grips with the new style of academies. The National Parent Partnership Network has produced some online resource materials to inform PPS of the rules in regards to academies and SEN. Academies are different to maintained schools in that Part IV of the Education Act (known as the SEN legal framework) that applies to maintained schools does not apply to academies. Instead, academies have obligations to children with SEN written into their funding agreements signed with the Secretary of State. It is through these funding agreements that academies are held accountable. It is important that PPSs can access the funding agreements of the academies in their LA so they can inform parents and carers of their rights. It is therefore vital that these new academies have their funding agreements put on the Department for Education’s website as soon as possible.

New training for new PPSs
In December 2009, the Lamb Inquiry found that PPSs should be trained in the law so that they can provide parents solely with their statutory rights, which parents can often confuse with local policy and practice. This accredited training was developed by the National Parent Partnership Network in collaboration with IPSEA and is currently being rolled out nation-wide.

Further information

Martha Evans is Information and Communications Officer at the National Parent Partnership Network.
To contact your local parent partnership service, or to find out more about the work they do, visit:
www.parentpartnership.org.uk

This article was first published in issue 49 (November/December 2010) of SEN Magazine.

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