Exclusive: Law flouted as pupils forced to wait more than a year for SEND support

Statutory 20-week deadline for pupils to be issued with their education, health and care plans missed in at least 900 cases

Helen Ward

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Around 1,000 pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have had to wait over a year for the specialist support plans to which they are legally entitled, a Tes investigation reveals.

Education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – billed by the government as a means of “changing the landscape for children with SEND” – set out the extra provision that some pupils must receive, such as the number of hours they should spend with a teaching assistant each week.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to issue them within 20 weeks of a parent asking for their child to be assessed for one, although the government has been clear that the process should be made faster “wherever possible”. 

However, a Tes investigation reveals that, across the country, about 1,000 children have had to wait for longer than a year for their EHCP.

Lengthy delays

In 2016, 903 children waited for longer than a year for their plan, according to the 81 local authorities that answered a Freedom of Information request. This amounts to about 4 per cent of all pupils who were assessed.

If the same pattern was reflected in the remaining authorities across the country, the total number of children who waited longer than a year would be 1,238 in 2016 – the most recent year for which figures are available.

EHCPs were brought in to replace statements of special educational need in 2014. Exceptions to the 20-week deadline can be made, such as when a child is absent from the area for at least four weeks, or in exceptional family circumstances. But all our figures exclude these exceptions.

Experts and campaigners say the lengthy delays uncovered by Tes not only risk damaging the education of children left in the system with inadequate support, but can also force schools to fill the gap with their own stretched budgets.

'Not right'

Adam Boddison, chief executive of special educational needs association, Nasen, said: “It’s not right. I understand that there are some complex situations that take longer than 20 weeks. But this means that for some young people there is at least a year when needs are not being properly met because a plan is not in place.

"Families and young people are left in limbo. No young person should have to wait more than a year.”

Official figures published earlier this year revealed that, in 2016, nearly half – 44 per cent – of plans, excluding exceptions, were not issued within this 20-week time limit. But the government does not collect any information on how long plans are taking after they have passed that 20-week cut-off.

Eight of the 81 authorities that answered the FoI had taken longer than a year to complete at least one in 10 of the plans that they issued in 2016.

SEND resources stretched

The problem is not confined to a handful of areas: in 35 councils, at least one plan was outstanding after a year.

Malcolm Reeve, an independent education consultant and former director of SEND at the AET multi-academy trust, said the plans can take time to get right. But he added: “Twenty weeks is ample time to do it. It is really damaging if we end up with a system where many children are waiting over a year for an EHCP.”

Councils say SEND resources are already stretched. The delays are also being blamed on a shortage of therapists to carry out the assessments, and the growing number of tribunal appeals against draft plans.

A DfE spokesperson says: “EHCPs have changed the landscape for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Where there are particular concerns that an authority is not fulfilling its duties to children with SEND, we provide support and challenge to improve services.

“We are clear that where it takes longer than 20 weeks to issue a plan, the council must work with the family and ensure support is put in place with minimum delay.”

This is an edited article from the 5 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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