Severe delays in issuing EHC plans suggest English SEND system is ‘in crisis’

Janet Downs's picture
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‘Severe delays’ in issuing Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) suggest the SEND system in England is ‘in crisis’, says the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in a recently published report*.

In 2014, a new system was put in place which saw Statements of Special Educational Needs being replaced by EHCs.    The move was described at the time as ‘a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND’.

But the new system has not met initial expectations.

In addition to these delays, the ombudsman highlights other problems which paint ‘a picture of a system beset with serious problems’.  These included:

1         ‘Poor planning and anticipation of needs’

2         ‘Poor communication and preparation for meetings’

3         ‘Inadequate partnership working’

4         ‘Lack of oversight from senior managers’

The ombudsman criticises councils which erected ‘additional barriers to services in efforts to ration scarce resources’.    This was shown by the large number of appeals against local authority decisions which were upheld by the ombudsman.   The Times revealed last year that LAs spent £100m on fighting these appeals only to lose nearly nine out of ten.  The ombudsman confirmed this figure.

The Department for Education media department responded quickly.  It diverted attention from the ombudsman’s conclusions by heading the blog ‘More funding for SEND…’ 

A DfE spokesperson said, ‘As the Ombudsman admits, this report is based on a very small sample size – covering less than 0.3% of all cases in 2018’.    This is what the ombudsman actually says:

While I recognise we investigate a relatively small number of complaints compared to the number of children and young people with EHC plans, these stories give a barometer of how the system is working for those people. It paints a worrying picture when compared with levels of fault we find elsewhere.

In other words, the number of complaints may be small but the proportion is higher than faults found in non-SEND areas of the ombudsman’s remit.  This higher proportion suggests the system is not working as it should be.

The DfE said children received ‘additional support’ during the assessment process ‘until their tailored support package is put in place.’  Again, that’s not quite what the ombudsman said:

Always on the receiving end of these problems are children missing out on the support to which they are entitled, and families left to pick up the pieces.’

The DfE’s swift response to the ombudsman’s report is in contrast to the silence from the DfE media department addressing the highly critical conclusions about SEND provision in England published by the National Audit Office.   It’s also the first blog containing more than one sentence about SEND since the NAO report.  This contrasts with five about universities in the same time.  This suggests that the DfE's priorities are rather skewed.

HIGHER EDUCATION 5:  SEND 1

UPDATE 10 October 08.36  The DfE's media blog (9 October) has again featured universities.  The DfE media score since the publication of the NAO:

HIGHER EDUCATION 6:  SEND 1

*Downloadable here.

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