Successful special needs complaints at record high
England’s local government ombudsman Michael King has revealed that breaches of children’s legal rights to special educational needs support have reached record levels and called for reform to the "crisis" system.
King revealed than nine out of ten complaints were upheld in 2018-19, amid a high in the number of such complaints being made.
The Local Government Association also highlighted that the number of education, health and care plans, which set out the additional support that children are legally entitled to, increased by 11 per cent in 2018.
This has left the increasingly-stretched resources of local councils unable to keep up with the demand for extra support. Now there is concern that some local authorities are rationing their resources rather than basing provision of support on children’s individual needs.
King’s report into the matter, titled Not Going to Plan, looks at the number of applications for special support against the support that was provided.
King said: “We are now upholding almost nine in 10 investigations we carry out about education, health and care plans. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work.”
He called it an “alarming” situation which hinted at a system “in crisis” when looking into the common issues that parents were raising.
Some of these issues included delays of up to 90 weeks in the issuing of EHC plans, a gross underestimation of special needs locally, miscommunication and poor planning, capped by aloofness from senior staff.
King believes these failings are letting many vulnerable children down by depriving them of the support they need to the detriment of their educational attainment.
King said: “Two years ago when the system was bedding in, we were concerned we were upholding around 80 per cent of investigations. That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.”
He added: “I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children's needs.
"While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.”
The Department of Education hit back at some of the findings in its response, claiming that the majority of EHC plans were completed within a 20-week timeframe.
A DfE spokesperson said: "Over 48,000 children were issued with new education, health and care plans in the last year, and the majority of these were completed within 20 weeks.
"During the assessment process children continue to attend their school and receive additional support, until their tailored support package is put into place.
"We've also announced an extra £700 million for pupils with complex needs in 2020-21, an 11 per cent increase on this year.
In the backdrop of King’s report, a legal battle continues in the High Court between the government and parents over the lack of provision of special-needs support in some local authorities. A ruling is due to be made on the case soon.
Referring to the legal battle, King said: “I hope this report puts the children and their families' experiences in the spotlight…and ultimately more urgency on the whole special needs and disabilities system improving.”