What is the Local Offer?
The Local Offer, is formed around one signfiicant element of the SEND reforms of 2014 - the requirement on local authorities to publish and make accessible a local offer. In March 2015 I was asked to contribute to SEND digital magazine with a feature on The Local Offer. The on-line copy of SEND magazine has now been archived, so here, reproduced and adapted with kind permission, is an extract from my article.
The Local Offer - Controversial or Transformative?
The Local Offer is potentially one of the most controversial and talked about aspects of the SEND reforms, particularly given a recent and very public hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice over a West Midland local authority’s unlawful local offer.
It has, simultaneously, potential to be one of the most exciting and transformative elements to emerge from the reforms since rumblings of change first began, way back in 2010, with the promise of a Green Paper on Special Educational Needs. ‘Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.
The intent was simple: a requirement on local authorities to set out a local offer “of all services available to support children who are disabled or who have SEN and their families.”
Of great promise was the aim to develop a “system so that professionals can innovate and use their judgement... (and create) a clearer system so that professionals from different services and the voluntary and community sector can work together; and give parents and communities much more influence over local services.” (SEN Green Paper Consultation: March 2011)
What is The Local Offer?
The Local Offer is a Local Authority’s publication of all the provision “they expect to be available across education, health and social care for children and young people in their area who have SEN or are disabled, including those who do not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.” (Section 4.1 SEND Code of Practice, January 2015)
The Local Offer has two key purposes:
- To provide clear, comprehensive, accessible and up to date information about the available provision and how to access it &
- To make provision more responsive to local needs and aspirations by directly involving disabled children and those with SEN and their parents, and disabled young people and those with SEN, and service providers in its development and review.
Local Authorities in England must publish information about:
- The education, health and care provision & other training provision it expects to be available in its area at the time of publication for children and young people who have special educational needs or a disability
- The provision it expects to be available outside its area at that time for
- Children and young people for whom it is responsible &
- Children and young people in its area who have a disability
- Arrangements for travel to and from schools and post-16 institutions and places at which relevant early years education is provided;
- Provision to assist in preparing children and young people for adulthood and independent living relating to
- Finding employment
- Obtaining accommodation
- Participation in society
The local offer should also set out how to access specialist services, how to complain or appeal and plans for transition to adulthood.
The Local Offer and Private & Third Sector Providers
One could be forgiven for thinking the path ahead will be lined with golden opportunities for collaborative, innovative working. But, not so! Instead, if a regional or national service provider wishes to register their service as part of the local offer, they need to make contact with up to 152 of England's local authority local offer leads and submit an application registering their service in the hope of acceptance and publication. A great many services in the private and third sector have chosen not to do that for many reasons.
- Many private and third sector services have been excluded from training on the SEND reforms and local offer
- Their services are not always known to schools, to parents and carers because they fall outside of public sector control
- They may not be on preferred provider lists of specialist services and so, are not services familiar to schools or early years settings.
It is understandable that authorities may feel threatened by this opening up of the market place, at a time when public sector services have been diminished or have struggled to thrive, yet in reality, there has always been diversity of provision, and of providers.
The Local Offer in context - the landscape across local authorities in 2015
Four years after the first promise of a radical overhaul of SEND policy, the local offer is ensnared in a complex picture, which differs from local authority to local authority. Some LAs have misinterpreted requirements, whilst Warwickshire’s County Council has been slammed for its deficiency in producing a local offer that fell “a considerable distance short of the statutory requirements”, in the judgement of Mr Justice Mostyn, sitting in the High Court.
Warwickshire’s case is the first Judicial Review to consider LA duties to disabled children following the the Children and Families Act 2014. Warwickshire Council were also in breach of their legal duty to maintain a single register of disabled children, as without such a register, the LA cannot make an informed decision about budgetary allocation or the terms of the ‘local offer’.
Key Failings by Local Authorities:
There are a number of key failings by local authorities in respect of the local offer which have poorly served the spirit or ethos of the reforms
- Failure to publish a local offer by the deadline of Monday 1st September 2014
- Pushing the requirement on schools to publish a local offer
- Failure to create and maintain a register of all children with disabilities or SEN
- Shifting all children’s services under the umbrella of the local offer
- Creating local offers that do not reflect local services, or have not engaged fully with private and third sector providers
- Ignoring services that fall in neighbouring local authorities
- Failure to include or use the terminology, ‘the local offer’
- Hiding away local offers within complex council websites
- Giving obscure or highly individual names to the local offer that render them largely inaccessible to outsiders
Key Features of Local Authority's Good & Evolving Local Offers:
- Engagement with stakeholders across all sectors
- A representation of specialist & targeted services from the public, private and third sector
- An accessible and clearly named local offer
- Clear contact points, to make comment on the local offer or register new services
- An attractive, visually appealing local offer that will entice viewers to access information
- Clear distinctions between information for different audiences
- Compliance with all aspects of the requirements for a local offer
- Use of the Dept for Education’s fact and information sheets on the SEND reforms
- A definition of common terminology, some of which is specific to the reforms and can be confusing
The Future of The Local Offer
There is hope on the horizon as some LAs are beginning to see the potential of embracing the great diversity of specialist provision. Some of this derives from the insight, resourcefulness and sheer hard work of professionals who have carved out bespoke services to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, often at great personal sacrifice.
My hat is off to all those specialist providers who work hard to tailor therapeutic riding, or art and play therapy, or wraparound care packages, or create opportunities for social, leisure, cultural and sporting success for young people with disabilities or SEN. There is such a rich tapestry of provision by exciting and transformative practitioners and services, and a context for it to thrive and flourish, in the local offer.
Heather Stack is Founder of The Local Offer, a social enterprise and digital-first brokerage service, increasing access to services for parents & carers of children and young people with SEND.