‘A disproportionate burden’- families struggling with new special educational needs system when councils get it wrong
Families of children with special educational needs are sometimes facing a “disproportionate burden” to ensure they get the support they need, according to a report issued by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The report looks at the common issues seen by the Ombudsman in its first 100 investigations into complaints about the new Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans, which were introduced in 2014 to replace Statements of Special Educational Needs (SEN).
The new system was designed as a more holistic way of providing SEN support for children. It is supposed to make it easier. But in reality, for some families it is not.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“When councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support: some families have to go well beyond the call of duty to confirm the type of support their children should receive.
“We issued a report in March 2014, highlighting the shortcomings which needed to be addressed with the new EHCP system.
“Regrettably, our first 100 investigations show this has not happened.
“The system is not failing universally. But for those people who come to us, we are finding significant problems – sometimes suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential.”
All children with existing Statements of SEN should be transferred to the new plans by April 2018. But according to government statistics, by January this year just under a third of those pupils with Statements of SEN in place 12 months earlier were transferred to EHC plans. In addition, many plans are not being completed on time, with less than 60% of new EHC plans issued within the 20 week timescale in 2016.
While the Ombudsman has seen a relatively small number of complaints so far, investigators have upheld nearly 80% of those it has received. This is far in excess of the Ombudsman’s average of 53%.
Complaints and enquiries are also increasing, having doubled in the past two years. Because a large number of Statements are still to be transferred - and it can take around nine months for someone to go through the council’s complaints process before approaching the Ombudsman – it believes the number of complaints and enquiries it receives will continue to rise.
Issued yesterday, the Ombudsman’s report highlights some of the common issues investigators have found in their first 100 cases. One of the overriding features is significant delay in the process. Others issues include: failing to involve parents and young people properly in the decision-making process, not gathering sufficient evidence to inform decisions, and a lack of proper forward planning when young people move between key educational stages.
The report gives local authorities best practice guidance to help councils get things right. It also offers councillors and scrutiny chairs a number of questions they can ask of their own authorities to ensure they offer children and young people with Special Educational Needs the best possible start.
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