When education health and care plans were first described I had a great sense of anticipation for a future in which agencies were encouraged to work together, documents were written in plain English and interventions focused on the individual child.
But perhaps this was too much to ask for, because what we have now is not the system that I or many others hoped for. Here are my three biggest problems with EHC plans as they stand.
- It is very difficult to get agencies to the table to support writing
Health professionals are extremely stretched; they usually have a large case load and therefore a large number of plans to contribute to. Therapists working with children in schools are usually at some distance from health commissioners, so while they can describe needs and provision, they are not able to get that provision signed off readily or quickly. Those working in social care are stretched even further, so it’s difficult to get any contribution from them at all. And while parents are also important to the process, there is considerable variation in their involvement.
- The plans are not aligned with other systems
The old statements may have been written in legal speak rather than plain English, but many practitioners had found a way to make those work for them. However, we are now leading the creation of a document that is not aligned with other systems and processes. Collecting and collating the evidence is time consuming because it is produced in a format which, although consistent across the local authority, is significantly different from authority to authority. The format does not readily match other paperwork held and a significant amount of cutting and pasting from a large number of documents is taking place.
- Coordination is an additional burden
In many schools there are members of staff who have taken on the role of EHC plan coordinators as an additional burden on top of their day job. In some situations local authorities are employing staff to write EHC plans who are not familiar with school practices. This means that there are examples of both good and poor practice. In some situations, inappropriate outcome measures are included in the plan and the plan itself is not deliverable because it doesn’t consider how services work on the shop floor.
I am an optimist. I really hoped that EHC plans would represent a process by which we could truly identify needs and provision across agencies and involve families in a meaningful way. This is not happening in practice.
But, it is not too late to re-think these plans now. Let’s not allow them to become more meaningless pieces of bureaucracy. Let’s make sure we address the problems and help agencies work together to produce plans that are both manageable and meaningful.
Dr Penny Barratt is executive headteacher at The Bridge, a special school in London.