The “local offer”
What is the local offer?
The new SEN Code of Practice, in operation from 1 September this year, states that the “local offer” is the term used to describe the way that a local authority (LA) must set out information about provision that it expects to be available regarding education, health and social care for children/young people in its area who have SEN or a disability. It must also include provision outside the LA’s area that it expects is likely to be used by children and young people with SEN for whom it is responsible. This includes those without statements or the new education, health and care (EHC) plans.
Why is this important?
For a long time, parents and carers of those with SEN found it very difficult to get information about what provision and services were available in their vicinity. The local offer is important because it is the first time that there has been a legal requirement on LAs to provide a comprehensive resource of provision about SEN in one place to address this.
What does it include?
There are regulations which specify the requirements that all LAs must meet in developing, publishing and reviewing a local offer, including:
- the information to be included
- how a local offer is published
- who is to be consulted about it
- how children, young people and their parents are involved in its preparation and review.
There is also a requirement on LAs to publish views about it, together with its response about any action that it intends to take in relation to those views.
Will families be listened to?
Young people with SEN and their parents must now be involved in planning the content of the local offer. This includes things like deciding how to publish and review it. For example, LAs can engage young people and parents by setting up a range of forums to get their views directly, and cooperate with partner bodies and agencies (such as schools and health services) so that they can get views indirectly as well.
LAs must publish a summary of comments received at least annually. This includes comments about the quality of existing provision and any gaps in provision, the accessibility of information and how the local offer has been developed or reviewed. The LA must also publish their responses to these comments and include details of the action that they intend to take. The LA must keep their educational, training and social care provision under review. This includes the “sufficiency” of that provision with a view to improving it. For example, if considering any reorganisation of SEN provision, the LA (or other relevant decision makers) must make it clear why the proposed alternative arrangements are likely to lead to improvements in the standard, quality and range of provision.
What does a local offer look like?
There are five principles to how a local offer should look; it must be:
(1) collaborative (LAs must involve children, young people and their parents in developing and reviewing it and they must cooperate with those providing services)
(2) accessible (it should be easy to understand, jargon free and structured and the information must be well signposted and publicised)
(3) comprehensive (it must include eligibility criteria for services and be clear about where people need to go for information, advice and support)
(4) up to date
(5) transparent (it should clearly say how decisions are made and who is accountable).
It should also detail how people can make complaints about provision and appeal decisions.
What support is included in the local offer?
Although there is more detail in regulations, the SEN Code of Practice states that a local offer must include information about:
- special educational, health and social care provision for children and young people with SEN and disabilities (including online and blended learning)
- arrangements for identifying and assessing children with SEN
- how parents and young people can request an assessment for an EHC plan
- other educational provision (such as post-16 education, training, apprenticeships, traineeships or supported internships)
- helping young people prepare for adulthood
- travel arrangements for early years providers, schools and post-16 institutions
- support for those moving between phases of education
- sources of advice, information and support
- leisure activities
- support available to young people in higher education
- arrangements for resolving disagreements, mediation, complaining and appealing
- the LA’s accessibility strategy
- any “approved” independent educational institutions.
What does this all mean in practice?
The local offer is supposed to be comprehensive and cover everything from early years right through to post-16 provision. It also covers educational provision that can be provided in non-maintained special schools, independent schools and specialist colleges mainly catering for children with SEN, which can be named in a statement or EHC plan. As well as education, though, it should also cover health and social care, and include information about things such as short breaks and respite care. The aim overall is to provide support to children and young people into adulthood. Ideally, the local offer will become a one-stop-shop for those who need it to get access to the information they require.
Will local offers make a difference?
While the idea of a local offer is a positive step, at the moment the quality of a number of LAs’ local offers leaves a lot to be desired. For example, I have found LA’s without proper information available yet and websites with broken hyperlinks and a lack of comprehensive information. Of course, something as big as this always has teething problems at the start. So, parents and young people may still have to research information for themselves. Unfortunately, the provision identified in the local offer itself is not actually legally enforceable on an individual basis. Like before, it is still going to be important to try to sometimes get special educational provision identified in a statement or EHC plan.
How do I find my LA’s local offer?
The SEN Code of Practice states that LAs must make their local offer accessible on a website but must also publish their arrangements for enabling those without access to the internet to get that information. LAs must additionally have arrangements for making any information and advice accessible for different groups and people with different types of SEN. If it does not provide the information itself, the local offer must detail how to get information and advice. Both LAs and clinical commissioning groups must publicise the availability of information, advice and opportunities for people to participate in strategic decision-making.
Douglas runs the website: www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk and 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. Unfortunately, Douglas cannot respond to questions sent to him directly but if you have a question you would like answered in a future issue of SEN Magazine, please email: email@example.com