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Councillors criticise delays in education plans for children with special needs

Norfolk has fallen short of the government's target timescale for the completion of education health and care plans (EHCPs). Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

Norfolk has fallen short of the government's target timescale for the completion of education health and care plans (EHCPs). Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

Education and care plans for children with complex needs in Norfolk are still not being delivered quickly enough, a council committee has claimed.

Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Liberal Democrats.Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Liberal Democrats.

Members of Norfolk Council Council’s children’s services committee accused the authority of failing to deliver education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for the county’s young people in a timely manner, or to reduce the amount of resources spent in tribunals with parents.

But senior officers defended their efforts at the committee meeting on Tuesday, saying that the delivery of EHCPs was “constantly” under review.

Young people under 25 who have complex special education needs or disabilities (SEND) can apply for an EHCP to offer support and help them secure appropriate educational provision.

The government’s target is for all EHCPs, which replaced statements of special educational need, to be completed within 20 weeks – but as of September 2018, just 13.4pc of EHCPs in Norfolk were being completed within this timescale.

Sara Tough, executive director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilSara Tough, executive director of children's services at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said the council still had a low rate of completion of EHCPs.

He also urged councillors to seek more feedback from families on the EHCP process. “It would be interesting to know what kind of impact it has on families which is difficult for us to judge, and also the impact of plans which are rejected,” he said.

Sara Tough, executive director of children’s services at the council, said SEND provision was a priority for the council in its “transformation plan”, which focuses on preventative measures.

“There is a real effort being made to get the resources needed to decrease the time for EHCPs,” she said.

Independent Norfolk county councillor Sandra Squire. Picture: Norfolk Independent Group.Independent Norfolk county councillor Sandra Squire. Picture: Norfolk Independent Group.

Chris Snudden, assistant director for children’s services, said the 20-week target was “arbitrary”, adding: “The children who need to be prioritised we are working with as quickly as possible.”

Committee member Sandra Squire said only around 10pc of the 100 tribunals brought against the council because of EHCPs last year had been upheld.

She called for a thorough report on EHCPs, adding: “If we could do this properly we would not be having tribunals and putting these families through this. We cannot build on a broken foundation, we need to know what the problem is.”

Ms Snudden said the majority of tribunal cases related to “timeliness or parents wanting a special needs school place” rather than refused applications.

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