Almost every aspect of a school's performance is minutely monitored. Local authorities have generally escaped such severe investigation, but this is changing. One area now subject to greater scrutiny than before is the speed at which final statements of special educational needs are issued by local authorities.
A "statement" can make a considerable difference to the level of resources provided for a pupil. The fact that a local authority can be compliant, yet take 26 weeks, or two-thirds of a school year, to complete the process can militate against swift intervention.
Even so, not all authorities can reach the Government's recommended 26-week standard. In 35 authorities this was for reasons such as outside agencies not completing their part of the assessment process within the set time. But, in 13 authorities across England, all assessments were completed within 26 weeks. Children in London and the South East were most likely to face delays, with both regions recording below-average completion rates for statements.
As these figures covered 2008-09, staffing difficulties might have played their part: the recession should help to boost performance as staff turnover in local government falls, unless staffing cuts create new problems.
Authorities with both large and small caseloads featured as good and bad performers. Poole, with 50 statements issued, achieved only a 55 per cent success rate, whereas Hartlepool managed to issue all its 40 statements within the time period. Among the larger authorities, Norfolk only issued 61 per cent of its 820 statements on time, while Birmingham issued all 735 statements within 26 weeks.
It will not be until December that it will be possible for parents and teachers to tell whether these figures are really representative of the time it takes to issue statements. But for some it might be worth asking now why there are such apparent delays in providing support for some of our most challenged children.
John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.