Denials of requests for SEND pupil plans up 14%

New figures reveal councils are considering more requests for EHCPs but approving fewer plans

Tes Reporter

An investigation has shown thousands of families who appeal for help through an EHCP plan are unsuccessful

Councils are agreeing to consider more requests for education health and care plans for pupils with special needs but are approving fewer of them, new figures reveal.

Official data shows that despite councils considering more requests, there has been a drop of 2.7 per cent in the number of EHCPs agreed between 2017-18 and 2018-19, falling from 31,136 to 30,291.

And there has been an increase in the numbers of EHCPs being denied, with 2,694 rejected in 2018/19, up from 2,364 the year before – a change of 14 per cent.

Analysis: Why SEND funding is in crisis

NumbersEHC plans increase by 11 per cent

Hearing: Council boss says too many people are applying for EHCPs

EHCPs identify a child's educational, health and social needs, and set out what support the young person should receive.

The figures obtained by the Press Association show that the number of initial requests for a child or young person to be assessed for an education, health and care plan (EHCP) has risen by more than 10 per cent in just a year.

According to the data, obtained through freedom of information requests to England's councils, the number of initial requests for plans rose by 10.6 per cent between the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years - from 53,307 to 58,950.

This is in line with scale of the increase shown in official figures published by the DfE earlier this year.

And the data shows councils are agreeing to assess a large majority of the requests.

In 2017-18, authorities assessed 38,843 of the 53,803 requests – rejecting 27.1 per cent of initial applications.

And in 2018-19, councils assessed 42,152 of the 57,249 requests for an EHCP assessment – rejecting 26.3 per cent.

Despite more cases being looked at in 2018-19, fewer plans were actually granted.  Not all decisions are taken within the timeframe of a year. 

However, from the 77 councils that gave full, comparable data, figures indicate that in 2018-19, around one in eight (12.1 per cent) initial requests that were originally refused were later agreed, for example, on appeal.

Charity leaders warned that many children were being "unfairly turned down" for EHCPs, leaving families to fight for support.

And council leaders said they were concerned that authorities are in danger of being unable to meet their legal duty towards children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Ministers have announced an extra £700 million for children with SEND next year and announced a review which will look at how services can be improved.

Lynn Baker, who leads the National Deaf Children's Society's legal support for families, said: "Countless children are being unfairly turned down, leaving stressed and physically-exhausted parents to wade through legal battles they're not qualified for and can't be expected to fight.

"Many have nowhere left to turn and no option but to give up."

Parent Mark Gill, who estimates he and his wife Shelley each spent around 100 hours working on an EHC plan for Albie, his five-year-old son,  said: "It very much feels like you have to be good at playing the game,  negotiating. We were successful but not every parent has access to that information.

"The EHCPs are legal documents, they're quite complex and hard to understand. You can read it and think 'that sounds alright'. It's only when you get legal advice that you realise it doesn't meet the needs."

Official figures show there are currently 354,000 pupils in England with EHCPs, up 11 per cent on 2018.

Councillor Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "These findings support our long-term concern that councils are in danger of being unable to meet their statutory duties for children with special educational needs.

"While we were pleased the government has provided an additional £700 million for children with special educational needs next year, without sustainable long-term funding, the situation will get worse as the number of children who need support continues to increase."

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Tes Reporter

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