Number of pupils in Norfolk with complex needs rises - but amount with care plan drops

Children in a classroom. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Children in a classroom. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The number of pupils with complex needs in Norfolk has risen - though the proportion with a formal care plan has fallen.

Figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) across the county rose from 18,250 in January 2016 to 18,589 this year - from 15.4pc of the total school population to 15.5pc.

It is mirrored by a rise in the overall school population, up from 118,384 to 119,959 year on year, but the percentage of pupils who have an education, health and care plan (EHCP) - a document which formally lays out their difficulties and support needed - has dropped.

In January 2016, 4,035 pupils had a plan - 3.4pc of all pupils - while this January 3,705, or 3.1pc, did.

EHCPs, which began to replace statements of need from 2014, have proved problematic around the country - parents say they are a complex and lengthy process, with many struggling to see them granted at all.

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Joanna Hughes, from Great Yarmouth, fought to secure an EHCP for her son Jude, four, for 18 months.

'It just felt like we were jumping through hoops,' she said, 'filling in forms and ticking boxes - we were turned down for an assessment initially and we've had to fight every step of the way.'

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A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council, which administers EHCPs, said the plans were for children with the most complex learning difficulties, and that the majority of SEND pupils still receive extra support from their school.

But, with many mainstream schools stretched in terms of what they can offer, they added: 'To boost the number of places available there two new specialist schools opening in September, and we have funded extra places with existing providers to help alleviate some of the pressures which are being felt both locally and nationally.'

They said the move to EHCPs is 'well underway' and the switch should be in place by next year. They said more staff had been recruited to speed up transfers.

In Suffolk, 12.4pc of all pupils have SEND and 2.5pc have EHCPs, while in Cambridgeshire 14pc of pupils have complex needs and 3pc have plans.

More primary school children are suffering from mental health problems, the figures show.

The government data shows that in January 2016, 1,754 children at primary schools were classed as having social, emotional and mental health issues as their main type of need.

The category accounted for 18.7pc of the total number of SEND primary pupils.

But by the start of 2017 that figure had jumped to 1,958, accounting for just over a fifth - 20.2pc.

Growing mental health problems in younger children is an issue that schools are trying to tackle.

A survey by teaching union NASUWT earlier this year found that almost a fifth, 18pc, of teachers polled had dealt with four to seven-year-olds showing mental health issues.

Just over a third, 35pc, had seen problems in children aged from seven to 11.

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