Council investing £1.5m to address failings in children’s care plans
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A council has pledged to pump £1.5m into a service for children with special educational needs which is currently ranked the second worst in the country.
Department for Education (DfE) data puts Norfolk 148th out of 149 local authorities in England for the number of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – detailing support for children with the most complex needs – which are completed in the government's target time of 20 weeks.
Of the 615 new EHCPs issued in Norfolk in 2017, just 7.3pc were completed in this timescale.
While it is an improvement on 2016's rate of 5.6pc, it is far behind neighbours Suffolk and Essex, where the county councils completed 47.2pc and 73.6pc of EHCPs within 20 weeks.
But on Tuesday Norfolk County Council announced a major investment to double the size of its specialist education team and speed up assessments for EHCPs.
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It comes amid a steep rise in the number of EHCPs being issued in the county, which rose from 172 in 2014 (when EHCPs were introduced) to 1,060 in 2018.
Stuart Dark, chairman of the council's children's services committee, said: 'Like many authorities, we've been facing unprecedented pressure across special educational needs services but we are investing, recruiting and lobbying to ensure we have the right resources for Norfolk's children.
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'We want our performance on EHCPs to be as good as it possibly can be and have focussed activity in place to enable us to achieve this and are already making progress.'
Sandra Squire, a parent of children with special educational needs and member of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee, has raised questions about EHCP completion times since becoming a councillor in May 2017 – but feels it has been to little avail.
'Most of that is down to budget, and I know the service is chronically underfunded but we need to do better,' she said.
'There are too many schools that don't know what they should be providing and need the EHCP to tell them.
'It is also down to staff, we need more staff to go through the applications and be more thorough.'
She added: 'You hear a lot about reducing need, but we need to think more about the children and what they need. We are letting too many children down.'