On 2 October, we provided an update on our attempt to obtain clear information from the Department for Education (DfE) about the implementation of the Local Offer.
The DfE's response, which you can read here, confirmed that 99% of LAs had now published a Local Offer or, perhaps, something which the DfE referred to as 'an initial Local Offer'.
We queried this figure. Did this mean that 99% of LAs had now published statutorily compliant Local Offers, e.g. had the Local Offers been published as a result of statutory consultation, or had LAs just been told to stick something (anything) on their websites?
We also queried the term 'initial Local Offer'. The term is, of course, entirely meaningless legally. The law recognises only one type of Local Offer: the Local Offer set out in the Children and Families Act, its Regulations and the Code of Practice.
This week we received this further email response.
Dear Dr Sayers,
Thank you for your email dated 25 September 2014 about the local offer.
I am sorry not to have replied sooner. As you rightly point out, there is not a separate legal definition of an “Initial local offer". I can explain why I used the term in my earlier reply. Under the statutory requirements in the Children and Families Act, local authorities are required, from September 2014, to consult children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities and the parents of disabled children and those with SEN in developing the local offer and publish it on a website. The implementation date is the same for both aspects of the requirements: the duty to consult and the duty to publish information, but you would expect publication to follow consultation. Since a key feature of the local offer is that it should be developed, reviewed and kept up to date and local authorities have been required to publish different information about support for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN for some time, we encouraged them to publish information in a local offer in September and work with families to develop and update it. Our initial check of local offers - and the basis of my '99% figure' - was a check to see that there was a local offer website up and running. Of course, local authorities will be developing those local offers over time.
I am happy for you to publish my responses to your queries - and there is no need to redact my name. (I also agree that using the generic email address can seem rather impersonal - however, it has the advantage of ensuring that the correspondence is properly logged on the Department's systems.)
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2014/0063754. If you need to respond to us, please visit: www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.
Childcare, Special Educational Needs and Children’s Strategy
We are grateful for this response. However, it seems clear to us that all the DfE has done is made sure LAs have something on their websites and that it is simply hoping that compliance with the law may 'develop over time'. An approach which parents will be all too familiar with and which is unacceptable.
Then, today, we have noted a flurry of tweets from the DfE making wholly unevidenced claims about the reforms such as:
"'Parents are delighted, equipment is cheaper and their personal budgets are really successful' - LA Pathfinder #SEND"
We think a bit more Departmental time spent on protecting children's rights and a bit less on pumping out obvious spin is needed. There will be no long-lasting change to this dated 'SEN model' while the legally rights of children and young people can be so easily pushed to one side and given a lower priority than the needs of the authorities charged with their implementation.