My name is Cate Aghorighor, one of the Assessment Officers in SENAT (Special Educational Needs Assessment Team) in Luton Council. SENAT is the team that is responsible for the whole process around Education, Health and Care Plans, guided by the SEND Code of Practice 2015 for children and young people aged 0-25, a comprehensive guide informing the Local Authority of the duties and statutory processes for EHC Plans.
I have been in this job for nearly 5 years now and I am still learning daily! There’s no day the same in this job as it continues to stretch my knowledge and skills. The job is challenging, frustrating, interesting, exhausting, yet rewarding and fulfilling all at the same time. An Assessment Officer needs to have a wide variety of skills and attributes necessary to be successful, be an asset to the team and deliver service to the parents, children and schools. It requires a person to have a high level of resilience, efficiency, ability to deal with stress and conflict, having a level of empathy, professionalism, a great deal of teamwork, interpersonal skills, communication skills and a degree of IT skills.
Our team writes and reviews Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC Plans) based on evidence provided by professionals such as Educational Psychologists, Health professionals, Social Care colleagues and advice from the setting (nursery/ school/ college) and of course the views and input of the family. Everything we do revolves around this legally binding document and it is our job and duty that the content of the EHC Plan is correct, updated and implemented into daily school life.
I am a fulltime officer and have about 330 children on my caseload, ranging from 3-24 years old. As you can imagine, there’s never a dull moment with this amount of cases as at any time a child could be excluded from school, needs a change of placement, parents may not be happy with what the school is offering, school may ask for an increase of funding as the child is requiring a lot more support than expected, I may need to ask advice from an Educational Psychologist or any other service, and I have to update/ amend 330 EHC Plans every year following the child or young person’s annual review.
On a daily basis we deal with a wide variety of tasks and queries. We communicate with parents, school SENco’s, Educational Psychologists, our colleagues in the SENS team (Early Years, Autism Advisory Teachers) and colleagues in Health such as the Edwin Lobo Centre, CAMHS or Speech and Language Therapists. We work together with the Virtual School who support and oversee the education of the Looked After Children and also with the Transition Team who support young people from year 9 onwards with regards to their transition to college and beyond. When children/ young people are unable to attend school for a variety of reasons such as illness, high levels of anxiety or emotional dysregulation, we work closely together with the Alternative Learning Progression Service (ALPS) to mutually agree the best way forward and which service or alternative provision the student would attend. This multi-agency approach is incredibly important to ensure we look at children’s and young people’s needs in a holistic way and brainstorm together when there is a crisis in the child/young person’s life disrupting their education.
In Luton we pride ourselves in working closely with parents, listening to their voice and of their child to ensure we find a suitable school placement, make sure the EHC Plan accurately describes the needs of the child and work through any difficulties that may occur.
Unfortunately, there are occasions that we can’t come to an agreement together, even after reviews and discussions. In those cases a parent/carer may appeal the Local Authority’s (LA) decision to the Tribunal and it will be our job to represent the LA by writing case statements based on the evidence available to us and ultimately defend the LA’s decision in a Tribunal hearing. This is an intense and time consuming part of the job that will stretch any officer’s knowledge, stress levels and resilience.
The role of an Assessment Officer is quite process driven and is guided by processes, time scales and panels. The team manage a number of decision making panels, are represented by various professionals to ensure equitable and transparent decision making around requests for EHC needs assessment, requests for school placement and financial decisions around specialist resources and bespoke packages of education required. A lot of decisions involve financial commitments or consent from a multi-disciplinary panel and the panel usually has a high number of complex cases to discuss. Decisions are not taken lightly to ensure there’s a level of equitability, best value for money and ensure the suggested provision is appropriate for the need of the child.
I hope this article has given a flavour of the job as an Assessment Officer. There’s much more to tell, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. On a closing note I want to express how grateful I am to be part of such a fantastic team of hardworking, dedicated and passionate professionals, striving for excellence in all aspects of the job and whose pleasure it is to serve Luton’s children and young people with Special Needs.