Education Department - COVID-19 update

Education Department - COVID-19 update

As a department, we are well equipped to continue to provide support. Many of us already work remotely as do many Local Authority workers and other solicitors. In this sense, many aspects of SEN continue. 

The government have issued updated guidance: Coronavirus(COVID-19): guidance for vulnerable children and young people. At the moment the government is proposing to amend the regulations to provide for flexibility over matters such as the timescales in EHC needs assessments, and the reviews, reassessments and amendments processes where particular cases are affected by the COVID-19 situation.

The guidance (paras 20-21) confirms that SEN duties *have not changed* until the Secretary of State makes a notice, Local Authorities must secure the special educational provision in all EHC plans (unless it is impossible to do so) 

The Coronavirus Act 2020 allows the Secretary of State, where appropriate, to temporarily lift the statutory duty on local authorities to maintain the precise provision in EHC plans; with local authorities needing instead to apply ‘reasonable endeavours’ to support these children and their families. As such, where the Secretary of State has issued a temporary notice and a local authority is unable to secure the full range of provision stated in a plan, as long as they use their ‘reasonable endeavours’ to do this, they won’t be penalised for failing to meet the existing duty in section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people

Local Authorities should still be able to process decisions. We are aware that this is a concern regarding panels meeting to agree decisions as part of the SEN process. There is as the guidance suggests no formal legislation amendments that allow for Local Authorities to breach timescales due to COVID-19. We would, therefore, consider challenging the Local Authority whereby measures have not been explored to ensure that Panels go ahead by telephone or alternative measures. In any event, there are decision-makers within Local Authorities who can ensure decisions such as agreements to assess and agreements to issue EHC plans still go ahead. 

At Watkins Solicitors, we can continue to assist in regard to all SEN education matters and admissions.

Please note the Local Authority must review and amend any young person’s EHC plan before the 31 March 2020 if they are due to attend post-16 provision in September 2020. These are priority cases, and if you need assistance because you have not received your amended EHCP, please contact us for assistance.

All of our cases are managed remotely through telephone and email correspondence with our clients. 

In terms of the specific areas of work which could see delays incurred, this is likely to affect those wanting to register an appeal or are currently within the appeal process.

Tribunals are currently still going ahead via video hearings, and where this happens, we will provide you with guidance on how to attend the hearing by video link. The deadlines given are still in force, and we are continuing to work to these deadlines and advise you accordingly. We acknowledge that it may be tricky to obtain independent reports, and we can assist in having these accepted as late evidence/evidence submitted on the day of the hearing if required. We would encourage professionals to look at alternative methods such as skype to attempt to carry out the assessments.

The Tribunal will likely prioritise those who are phased transfer and as such those awaiting consent orders will likely have to wait a significant amount of time for these to be finalised by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal are prioritising:

  • School transfers, i.e. secondary school placements for September 2020, post 16 for September 2020
  • Any child / young person not in Education
  • Any child / young person who has been excluded

Refusal to Issue appeals and Refusal to Assess appeals will still be considered. However, they will look at whether Refusal to Issue Appeals can be forced to be considered on the papers only.

A useful resource is - https://f528279b-dcf0-4117-b5aa-563b48d7bd12.filesusr.com/ugd/6f42ce_08b18fc703f74e08b639d57606113e3b.pdf Coronavirus & SEND Law eBook (free)

If you have any concerns, please email educationdept@watkinssolicitors.co.uk.

Watkins Solicitors