Inclusion Now 68

How might Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs) be improved?

By Sharon Smith, Parent and PhD Researcher, and Michelle Daley, ALLFIE Director

Image: Head and shoulders shots of article authors, on the left hand side is Michelle Daley, a Black Disabled woman, and on the right hand side is Sharon Smith, a white woman.


The national SEND Change Programme has begun with the intention of making improvements to the SEND system. Over the past 40 years (since the implementation of the 1981 Education Act), there have been so many attempts to deliver on SEND legislation. There have been a myriad of reports, inquiries, green papers and new codes of practice and yet it is clear that the SEND system remains in deep trouble. In fact, things have gone backwards with more and more Disabled children and Young people being turned away from mainstream schools and colleges even when it is their right to be there. For us it is completely mystifying why the system is so problematic for the Government and local authorities to get right. The system should be delivering a service that intersects with the other departments which enables children and Young people to have a good education, having a happy childhood and fulfilled adult lives.

The SEND Change Programme is about a few local authorities in each of the nine English regions trying out some new ideas. One of these ideas is to have a standard national Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) template. This means that every local authority in England would use the same template, leading to more consistency across the country. This is being seen as one of only a few possible positives that have been presented within the SEND & AP Improvement Plan. However, its success will depend on the full and meaningful involvement of children, Young people, and their parents in collaboration at all levels of testing, implementation and ongoing evaluation. Also, there needs to be sufficient flexibility within the template to allow for a wide and varied range of needs and desired outcomes. The template should not lead to homogenous EHCPs.

The introduction of a national template presents the SEND system with a big opportunity to think again about the purpose of an Education, Health and Care plan and how it can enable children and Young people to have the support they need to have the best life possible, whatever their socio-economic background. For this to happen and be meaningful, they need to be included in their communities and in society with access to the same things as others. Disabled children and Young people have consistently said that they want the same opportunities as everyone else and to not face prejudice and discrimination. Their parents have said they would like to achieve this for their children without the continual fight and conflict.

The 2015 SEND Code of Practice already sets out clearly what should be in a plan. The plan must be clear, accessible, jargon-free and understandable to the child, parents and all professionals who will work with them. The plan must also include outcomes that will take the child towards their (and their parents) aspirations for the future. However, EHCPs are often long, detailed and full of inaccessible language, lifted from professional reports, which many children and Young people – especially those with learning disabilities/difficulties – may well fail to understand. The detail and specific wording within the EHCP is often subject to lengthy negotiation between local authority SEN teams who will only want to make changes if a professional report states it is necessary. This disregards parents/carers who are wanting to ensure that their child or Young person has a meaningful education and is able to be supported as they approach adulthood to make their own choices about their future.

We hope that, as the regional Change Programme Partnerships (the local authorities that will be testing the new ideas) test the new template, they will think hard about how to achieve plans that are truly understood and owned by Young people and their families. This is necessary to ensure that the EHCP becomes a helpful document which sets out how the partnership between school (or nursery or college), child/Young person, family and other services (such as health, social care, employment, housing and the local community) will work together.  This in turn will ensure the child/Young person enjoys school, has friends and a social life and moves into adulthood with a job and all the information they and their family need to live an ordinary life, included in their local community with the support they need.

For this to happen, the plan needs to be developed by the child/Young person, their family and the people around them who know them best. It is often a good idea for friends and siblings to be involved too. The conversation needs to be person-centred and would think about the following:

  • What is great about this child/Young person from the perspectives of the people who love, know and care about the child/young person?
  • Who are the important people in the child/Young person’s life?
  • What is important for this child/Young person? (now and in the future)
  • What is working well and should remain in place?
  • What is not working so well and needs to change?

This approach leads to a fruitful discussion about outcomes. What we are trying to achieve are outcomes that build on what is working, that reduce or eliminate the things that are not working, and that take the Young person towards their personal aspirations. For example, some children and Young people do not have friends but really want friends, so we would then look at what we know works to support friendships and set outcomes to be achieved over the next year or key stage. This could be setting up a circle of friends at school, using a Personal Budget within an EHCP to support friendships out of school or identifying things that are already out there in the community that the child/Young person could join in with, with the right support.

As Young people begin their journey into adulthood, the Code of Practice sets out clearly that from school year nine, when children become aged 14, planning must be focused on preparing for adulthood. The Code says:

“8.9 Local authorities must ensure that the EHC plan review at Year 9, and every review thereafter, includes a focus on preparing for adulthood.”

Transition planning must be built into the revised EHC plan and should result in clear outcomes being agreed that are ambitious and stretching and which will prepare Young people for adulthood:

  • There must be a focus on Preparing for Adulthood
  • The discussions must centre on the Young person
  • The Young person’s aspirations and what they want to achieve must be explored
  • Outcomes should be ambitious and show how they will enable Young people to make progress towards their aspirations

This all means that all EHCPs must include outcomes around employment, independence (having a meaningful voice), friends, relationships and community participation and health. And yet, so many parents and Young people report that these things are not discussed at all at school or at annual reviews.

One of the problems is that plans are so often requested as a way of getting additional resources or as a way of changing a school placement, often due to mainstream schools stating that they cannot ‘meet need’. They have become a bureaucratic nightmare – not being produced on time, full of jargon, not person-centred, not including Young people’s voice and not being reviewed and updated properly every year. All of this, instead of being a positive plan to support a child or Young person to have a great life. Too many plans include endless stuff that should be ordinarily available in schools and an integral part of teachers’ standards. This lengthens the EHC Plan document to such an extent that it becomes unlikely anybody will ever sit down to read it.

Outcomes are often not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), and not focused on taking the child/Young person towards their aspirations but rather things that should really be part of day-to-day classroom practice. Outcomes in plans should be holistic and about the whole of life.

We sincerely hope that the Change Programme testing leads to a brilliant national template that is not ‘one size fits all’. That it is genuinely based on the beautiful uniqueness of the child/Young person, is truly person-centred and supports their full inclusion in mainstream educational setting and support to live the life they want for themselves now and in the future.

By Sharon Smith, Parent and PhD Researcher, and Michelle Daley, ALLFIE Director