The Working Document - Potential to settle?
As you may remember from the January edition of our newsletter, in 2017/18:
Families registered 5,679 appeals with the SEND Tribunal (20% up on last year) which is the highest total ever recorded.
5000 of those appeals were seen through to completion.
Of those 5,000 appeals, 2,300 had to be decided by the SEND Tribunal - 85% were concluded in favour of parents
This means 2,700 were concluded without the need for a hearing.
How these 2,700 Appeals were concluded will vary considerably. However, from our own experience, many appeals concluded before the Hearing date are as a result of the parties engaging in the Working Document process.
A Working Document is a copy of your child’s EHCP (that you as a parent appealed) in
word format. The LA initially sends version 1 to the parents, then both parties (parents and LA) have an opportunity to amend the document passing it backwards and forwards with changes about the needs and provision that you consider your child should have contained within their plan.
The insertions and changes you are requesting must be evidence based. It is important if you are getting independent expert advice from an Educational Psychologist, Occupational Therapist or Speech and Language Therapist that they are willing to defend their work in a Tribunal and provide recommendations that are ‘specific.’ If they will just write you a report and will not defend their work, you run the risk of not having an expert witness if you find that you need to go to a hearing. Having your experts with you to justify their recommendations, is important.
If you are working through the Working Document process currently, these key points may help;
Sections B,F & I are legally enforceable. Do not waste a large volume of your time amending Section A.
Being concise is key. It can be very easy to want to include everything that ever happened to your child in the EHCP. “EHC Plans should be clear, concise, understandable and accessible to parents, children young people, providers and practitioners. They should be written so they can be understood by professionals in any Local Authority”
The document has a key (*below), always follow it. As a parent the additions you make will always be in bold. The LA’s will be in italics.
Ensure you renumber the draft each time you submit it - version 1 will be first issued by the LA, version 2 will then be the parents copy and you will keep changing the number every time it goes back and forth between the parties. You do not want to do a lot of work on the document to find that it was an earlier version. It also helps to be able to refer back to older versions if needed.
Ensure anything you add is specific. Vague, unspecific and meaning words in Section F will dilute enforceability. Specificity particularly in Section F is key.
If you are not able to reach an agreement and do require a Hearing, the Working Document removes discussion on the day between both parties and the Tribunal will focus on the areas in dispute. Remember, do not settle for a poor deal for your child, no matter how much pressure at the last minute or the temptation of being able to adjourn the hearing, ensure that what is being proposed will actually provide you what your child needs.
Take your time, think about what your child needs and the evidence you have and good luck, as a parent the figures are in your favour!