Council’s SEND record slammed by MP as shock report reveals UK-wide failings
- Credit: PA
A Norfolk MP has blasted the county council for failing to support vulnerable children and families, as a shock report found national failings to provide special educational needs plans are damaging children’s lives.
James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk, said he had repeatedly been contacted by constituents who were suffering due to delays in receiving their education, health and care plans (EHCP).
The plans, which ensure pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) receive the appropriate support in accessing education, are provided by Norfolk County Council (NCC).
The council is the 11th worst local authority in the country at completing the plans within the required 20-week timeframe.
The county council provided just 14.1pc of EHCPs within 20 weeks in 2018 - which are the most recent figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) - a 93pc rise from just 7.3pc in 2017.
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But the council said pressure on services was growing, with EHCP requests rising from a monthly average of 60 to 109 over 2018-19, and that they were working hard to understand the reasons for this.
Around a fifth of the UK’s 1.3m SEND pupils are legally entitled to the support packages. Mr Wild said frustration with the delays was a “constant theme” of the complaints he received and said it was an issue he was “very concerned about as these are some of the most vulnerable pupils”.
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His comments followed the publication of a shock report from a parliamentary committee, which found that SEND pupils were seeing their education, well-being and life chances damaged by the failings, and that the (DfE) did not have a grip on mounting pressure.
The report, which was published on Wednesday, May 6, looked at support for children with SEND, and found:
• Many children were being failed by the system,
• Desperate parents were scrambling for “golden ticket” EHCPs to secure support,
• And joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections found “significant weaknesses” in 47 of 94 local authority areas, and “inadequate supervision” of SEND provision.
The report found some failings were down to the “difficult financial position” of councils and schools, but these meant children with SEND were more likely to be expelled or excluded at “unacceptable” levels.
The system was “riddled with unexplained inequalities”, with a lack of provision in mainstream schools and limited independent special schools, the report found.
Conservative MP Mr Wild, who sits on the public accounts committee which carried out the review, added: “There are issues in smaller village schools where they don’t have the capacity to support a number of SEND pupils.
“Educations generally in West Norfolk is a crucial area and I want to work with schools and the DfE on to improve outcomes.
“It’s critical that these deadlines are met because if they’re not, children and parents are left waiting for the support they need.
“That’s been a constant theme when people have contacted me - the delays and issues in getting support and plans in place.
“The DfE have announced a full review of SEND and I’d like to see that get underway. The system needs to improve.”
He added: “During the inquiry, I raised concerns about the lack of consultation by Ofsted and CQC with parents in Norfolk about the support their children receive.”
And Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the committee, said: “Pupils with SEND deserve the same quality of education and to get the same value from our education system.
“Disturbing disparities in identifying pupils with SEND, and in provision for them, point to underlying problems that can only be addressed through proper data collection and information. These children, already facing extra hurdles and challenges, must not find themselves discriminated against several times over.”
John Fisher, NCC cabinet member for children’s services said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to reviewing provision for SEND. We want all children in Norfolk to get access to the very best education appropriate to their needs. This report clearly shows the intense pressure experienced by local authorities across the country.
“In Norfolk we are experiencing pressure on all SEND services, which is why we are investing £120 million in a five-year programme to create 500 additional specialist places in mainstream schools and at up to four brand new specialist schools.
“We’re doing all we can to get EHCP assessments done as quickly as possible and we are looking to invest in more staff to help cope with the ongoing rise in applications and referrals from schools and parents.”