LA Changes Local Policy
on education for children out of school due to health
A Success Story for WBPCF
We are excited to report back on an important project we began with West Berks LA back in the summer. Leila, Mary and Dawn, all WBPCF members and all parents of autistic/PDA/ADHD children (who between them had been out of school for over 5 years) were keen to approach the council about educational provision for children who cannot attend school due to health reasons – especially when that ‘health reason’ is anxiety. As many of you will know, UK law states that Local Authorities have a duty to make arrangements for the provision of suitable education for children who are unable to attend school for “illness, exclusion or otherwise” – and that such provision should be available as soon as a child is out of school for 15 days.
Last summer, we wrote to senior members of our LA responsible for providing this continuity of education, outlining how we felt existing measures (at that time) fell short of the legal requirements and that many children in our area were consequently being failed, missing out of vital educational provision, sometimes for months or years at a time.
As it turned out, this same issue was something the LA had also flagged themselves to address, so they willingly accepted our request to listen to our experiences and take on board our suggestions to improve things for future. This is still an ongoing project, but to date we are delighted to announce that as a result of WBPCF efforts, West Berks LA have recently made the following changes, with immediate effect:
- The LA have appointed a ‘named officer’ to take responsibility for ensuring that suitable education is provided for children who cannot attend school due to health reasons, including EBSA (Emotionally Based School Avoidance). This person is Jackie Powell and she can be contacted direct at Jackie.Powell1@westberks.gov.uk by teachers, professionals, or by concerned parents themselves. Jackie’s role is to work with schools, parents and professionals in order to implement suitable interim learning whilst a child is unable to access their normal educational provision (or until a new educational solution is found, if this is deemed necessary).
- Importantly the LA have changed local policy and are now willing to consider evidence from a GP’ that a child needs educational provision because they are unable to attend school due to health reasons (such as anxiety). Previously, only referrals from a consultant paediatrician or specialist from CAMHS would be accepted as this ‘medical evidence’ – which as parents we know is so hard to get hold of, and can take months or even years, if ever. So this is great progress and a hugely significant change. However we realise that for many parents, even getting a GP letter can be problematic, as some GPs are reluctant to write such letters or don’t know enough about a child or their situation, so we are pushing further on this, especially since a recent LGO (Local Government Ombudsman) ruling highlights that not even a GP letter is required as medical evidence (see point 35 here).
- WB LA are expanding the types of educational provision available to children who are out of school, since they recognise that there is no one size fits all solution. Whilst some children will need face to face tuition, others may need work sent home from school or for some specialist online provision will be most suitable – or potentially a blend of some/all of the above. For many children a bespoke approach is required to provide suitable continuity of education until a sustainable longer term educational solution is worked out for them, which may take some time.
- There are an increasing number of creative educational offerings now on the market which the LA are exploring. For example, even before we began working with them, WB invested in some in-class robots which physically attend the classroom in the child’s place, allowing the child to remotely see and hear all that goes on in their usual class without actually being present themselves. They can also remotely control the robot to allow them to participate from home (or elsewhere in the school building) if this helps them to feel more comfortable – but still gain access to their lessons.
In addition to all the above, the LA established new EBSA guidance, a new EBSA Forum and LA EBSA Team last year, even before we raised this project. These measures are all designed to help schools identify children who have difficulties attending school due to anxiety / other reasons, and to supportively address the issue for each individual as early as possible, aiming to prevent it developing into full blown absence from school.
In order to fund all the above, WB LA have been very proactive in seeking out additional funding and had been working closely in partnership with local head teachers (via the WB Schools Forum) in order to achieve this and to collectively improve the situation – something they began prior to WBPCF involvement and are still continuing and going forward we are working in co-production on future developments with this.
We know there is still some way to go before all children out of school due to EBSA / health reasons receive prompt continuity of education, but we hope you agree that these are very promising steps in the right direction and we are thrilled that we have an LA that has been so open to listening to parent feedback and making real positive changes as a result.
Please get in touch with us is you have any comments or want to know more about this project at email@example.com
Hydrotherapy in Berkshire West CCG
We have had ongoing conversations about the state of they hydrotherapy services on offer. Things took a turn last week when a small, quick Teams meeting was had with Rt Hon. Alok Sharma MP (Reading West) on the 7th December to have a swift discussion around a letter received from the CCG about the services being put forward. Please see the letter sent by Mr Sharma on behalf of the 3 Parent Carer Forums.