The Liberal Democrat party has passed an amendment to its healthcare motion – Stop Brexit to Save the NHS – which would cut waiting times for pupils with special educational needs to receive an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).
Legally, EHCPs must be finalised within 20 weeks from the day they are requested. However, in January, Tes reported that long waits for EHCPs were preventing children with SEND from receiving the support they need.
And the BBC found that 40 per cent of EHCPs were missing the 20 weeks target.
The amendment, which was passed today at the party’s conference in Bournemouth, proposed by Liz Green of the Kingston Liberal Democrats, called for the party to ensure that no parent waits “more than 12 weeks for the outcome of their child’s assessment for an EHCP, whilst strengthening the requirement that all EHCPs are in place within 20 weeks of the date they were requested.”
The amendment said that all support in a child’s EHCP must be based on professional evidence. The party has raised concerns that some EHCPs are copied and pasted from child to child, including irrelevant information that is not tailored to each child’s needs.
The motion also called for a reversal of school budget cuts to provide additional funding for students with an EHCP through giving schools and councils thousands of pounds for every child with an EHCP. And it said that a national SEND strategy was needed to support more joined-up provision for children with SEND.
“Starting well should be a priority, and that means for all children and young people, including those with SEND,” Ms Green said.
She added: “Funding for SEND children and young people who need an EHCP is on the edge of a precipice, with the Local Governments Association predicting a shortfall of £1.6 billion by 2021-2022.”
She said that in Kingston the council has needed to draw on its reserves because of the rising deficit of the high needs block. According to the National Audit Office, the high-needs budget has been cut by 2.6 per cent per pupil in real terms between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018.
The latest figures from the Department of Education show there has been an 11 per cent increase in the number of children and young people with an EHCP between 2018 and 2019.
Ms Green said that “government enforced barriers” to new SEND school provision increased councils’ reliance on independent, out of borough schools.
And she cited the 2014 Children and Families Act, which increased councils’ responsibilities for children and young people up to the age of 25 without providing extra funding.
“The sooner the right professionally led, evidence-based, individually tailored plan is in place the better the outcomes for the children and young people. It eases the stresses for their families and ensures the right help is being delivered for that person,” Ms Green said.