Delays, poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence when issuing new Education Health and Care plans (EHCPs) are having a “significant impact” on children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), the ombudsman has warned.
The local government and social care ombudsman Michael King has said his office has upheld four-fifths of the complaints it has investigated about EHCPs – the documents which set out the support a child is legally entitled to.
The plans were introduced in 2014 to replace statements of special educational needs. Statements are meant to be transferred to EHCPs by 1 April 2018.
But Mr King, speaking at a SEN Law conference this week, said that he was seeing significant delays in this process – with children waiting up to 90 weeks for their statement to be transferred to an EHCP.
He added that the provision set out in children's statements should continue after April, even if a new plan is not in place by then.
“We know many authorities are struggling to meet the April deadline for transferring statements – and I want to stress they need to ensure provision remains in place if transfers to EHCPs have not occurred by the deadline,” he said.
“In the cases that come to us, we are seeing worrying patterns of delay, inadequate evidence gathering and poor administration – and this is having a significant impact on the children and families the new plans were designed to help.
“While we recognise the increasing pressure on children’s services departments, we will continue to make decisions based on the law, guidance and rights and not on diminishing budgets.”
A Tes investigation into delays for children requesting EHCPs for the first time found that almost 1,000 children with SEND had to wait longer than a year for a plan in 2016 – despite councils having a deadline of 20 weeks to issue a plan once it has been requested.