EPIC was the Department for Education’s (DfE) young people’s advisory group on the SEND reforms. EPIC convened in October 2012 to advise, challenge and support the government about how the SEND reforms would affect disabled children and young people directly.
EPIC stands for Equality, Participation, Influencing, Change. In the words of the members they describe themselves as:
"A national advisory group of young disabled people aged 13-25 years old. We support and advise the DfE on the Children and Families Act to make sure young people’s views are taken into account and young people feel they can use us as an access point to the DfE. We discuss issues that affect us and other disabled young people; we advise from our own experiences. We believe that young disabled people’s opinions are valuable and young disabled people should be supported to get their views across and be heard equally with other members of society by professionals and politicians."
EPIC met regularly over three and a half years to discuss particular issues posed by DfE on how the reforms would affect young people. They began with social model of disability training, then training to understand parliamentary process and also learned how to work with a range of stakeholders. Each meeting focused on one or two policy areas and latterly included local participation champions to understand implementation issues and how local areas could better support and develop young people’s participation in their reforms agenda.
In addition, EPIC attended meetings, conferences, events, training workshops and SEND reforms delivery partners meetings to promote their work and help professionals and practitioners understand the issues for disabled children and young people on key elements of the reforms.
As well as this, we worked to ensure that EPIC were offered training and development opportunities that developed their skills and confidence, for example training through the Your Rights Your Future work and work experience through DfE.
EPIC was key in ensuring that the voice of disabled young people and young people with SEN influenced government through a reform and change process. The group influenced key points in the system that affected disabled children and young people. They advised on several key policy areas including Education, Health and Care plans, the Local Offer, Personal Budgets, Post-16 decision making. They also contributed to a young people’s guide on the SEND Code of Practice and produced several resources that support young people’s understanding of the reforms.
Four key issues were raised by EPIC and other young people:
1. Taking control of your rights at age 16
- Younger children want parents to help make decisions for them
- You want more involvement in decision-making as you grow older
The Children and Families Act:
- Gives young people some rights at 16 to make decisions about their education, even if their families disagree.
2. Decision making and access to information and support
- You want better information and support
- You want opportunities to develop skills
The Children and Families Act:
- Says local authorities have to provide information and support for children and young people
3. Privacy and sharing personal information
- You want to agree who can see personal information about you
- The Code will recognise your concern
- There will be guidance on how to agree who sees what
4. Having an EHC plan at university
- You wanted EHC plans to continue at university
The Government says:
- EHC plans stop when a young person goes to university
- Disabled Students’ Allowances will cover support at university