Making the most of the Local Offer: five tips
Every local authority should provide a comprehensive, transparent and accessible picture of locally available services: a Local Offer. However, it isn't always clear to school leaders and SENCOs how they will benefit from engaging with and contributing to their Local Offer.
So how can schools make the most of the Local Offer? What role should they play in creating, publicising and reviewing it?
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The Local Offer is a guide to the services that are available, in each local authority, for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), aged from birth to 25.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to publish a Local Offer, publicise it, maintain it and obtain feedback on its effectiveness each year. They must also state what course of action is taken as a result of the feedback.
Page 22 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015 states clearly that, 'local authorities must consult children with SEN or disabilities, their parents, and young people with SEN or disabilities in [...] preparing and reviewing the Local Offer.'
Maintained nurseries, schools (including academies) and colleges have a duty to 'cooperate with the local authority in drawing up and reviewing the Local Offer' (pages 55 and 58).
The Local Offer must also include information on how to make complaints about services.
In theory, the Local Offer is a dynamic, responsive and accessible source of information about SEND services. It should also inform strategic assessments of local needs and reviews of education and care provision (see Section 27 of the Children and Families Act 2014).
But in practice, there is great variability in what local authorities have produced. Over the implementation period of the SEND reforms (2014–2018) I carried out three separate analyses of all 152 Local Offers in England. I found that they all vary in format, functionality and accessibility.
- Most are written in plain English and some have stuck rigidly to the local authority branding style, making them almost robotic in nature. Others have created a separate site.
- Some do not contain all the information they are required to. This has been noted by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in their local area SEND inspections.
Despite the differences and difficulties, the Local Offer has a significant role to play. The more we can improve its quality and effectiveness, the better it will serve children, young people and their families. This is especially important in a time of diminishing school budgets and greater focus on integrated services.
I would encourage readers to look at the following documents.
- 0-25 years SEND Code of Practice 2015 (see chapter 4). This provides a comprehensive guide to the Local Offer and the statutory duties placed on local authorities. It is also worth reading paragraph 3.20 (page 41) to understand the link between education, health and care plans (EHCPs), joint commissioning and joint strategic needs assessments. An accurate definition of need (and how it will be provided for) is not only vital for the child/young person, but also local provision decisions.
- SEND Regulations 2014 (Schedule 2). This contains a full list of what must be included in a Local Offer. If you think some information is missing in the Local Offer then let your local authority know! In some cases I have found that the information is there, but not easy to access. Again, this is vital feedback.
Here are five ways in which SENCOs and school leaders can make better use of the Local Offer.
1. Check your own submission to the Local Offer
Working with your governors or proprietors of academies, check your submission to the Local Offer regularly. Is it accurate? Do the links to your website work? Ideally this link should be directly to your SEN information report page.
Working on local authority change projects, I often carry out random checks on different settings. I am amazed at how often the information is inaccurate and links broken. Check at the beginning or end of each term and report any inaccuracies as soon as you find them.
2. Check what you are expected to provide
Local authorities are required to state what they 'expect' all schools to provide as part of the Local Offer. Each local authority will set these expectations out differently.
In Wirral, for example, they are called 'threshold documents'. The purpose behind this is to ensure that all settings are inclusive and support children and young people with SEND.
3. Find out what is available locally from other organisations
I had the privilege of working with Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder authorities in setting up their Local Offer. Many local authorities used the previous Family Information Service (FIS) to set up their Local Offer.
One authority carried out an audit to find out how many school leaders and SENCOs had heard of or used different services listed in FIS. It concluded that many local services were underutilised, when they could have provided effective support for respite, the development of social communication skills and physical development.
4. Share details of the Local Offer with parents and carers
Signpost parents and carers to the Local Offer via your website, newsletters, social media and notice boards.
You could also organise a Local Offer surgery: dedicated time each week (usually between 8.00am and 9.00am or 2.00pm and 3.00pm) for parents and carers to receive advice on navigating the Local Offer. This could be something the SENCO delegates to a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA). It would be ideal for parents who:
- speak English as an additional language
- do not have internet access at home
- need support in accessing services.
Accessibility is crucial. All Local Offers include a search function and some will also have Google Translate. Most also have an accessibility link to simplify the text and ensure that viewers can benefit from Browsealoud.
Some Local Offers will offer a free app for parents and carers to download, and others will have associated accounts on Facebook (see Derby City Local Offer) and Twitter (see @LONorthants), which can be useful for keeping parents up to date on changes.
5. Participate in reviewing the Local Offer and its associated services
Most Local Offers provide the option of giving direct feedback, and also include a page of what's been done as a result of consultation – Reading is a good example. Think about how you can get involved or what feedback you and your community could provide. How could you involve children and young people?
According to the SEND Code of Practice, the Local Offer should be:
- up to date
Does your Local Offer match up? More importantly, what role will you play in shaping it? The Local Offer will only be effective if we all play our part in keeping it accessible, responsive and up to date.
- Devon is further developing their SEND Local Offer information and has included a detailed method for recording SEN Support and support for different types of need. This is still a work in progress.
- How to engage young people in the Local Offer
- Informing children about the Local Offer and their rights
Note: the Local Offer examples included in this article were deemed accurate at the time of writing.