A report issued by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman shows that families of children with special educational needs (SEN) can face a “disproportionate burden” when trying to ensure they get the right support.
The report looked into the issues raised through the first 100 investigations made by the Ombudsman into complaints relating to the new Education Health and Care (EHC) Plans, replacing Statements of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in 2014.
It was thought the new system would provide a more holistic way of support for children with SEN. The replacement system was thought to make it easier for families but in reality, for some it is not.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King stated:
“When councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support: some families have to go well beyond the call of duty to confirm the type of support their children should receive.
“We issued a report in March 2014, highlighting the shortcomings which needed to be addressed with the new EHCP system.
“Regrettably, our first 100 investigations show this has not happened.
“The system is not failing universally. But for those people who come to us, we are finding significant problems – sometimes suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential.”
It is thought that children still with Statements of SEN should be transferred to the new plans by April 2018.
Government statistics highlight that by January, under a third of those with statements of SEN in place 12 months earlier were transferred to EHC plans. It has also been reported that many plans are not being completed within the 20 week timescale they have been given and in 2016, figures show that less than 20% were completed on time.
There have been a small number of complaints to the Ombudsman however investigators have upheld nearly 80% of those that have been received which is in excess of the 53% deemed the Ombudsman’s average.
Inquiries and complaints are on the rise, doubling in the last two years. It is believed that this will increase further, due to the fact that many Statements are still to be transferred and it can take up to 9 months for someone to begin the council’s complaints process before approaching the ombudsman.
The ombudsman’s report issued last week has highlighted some of the common issues that investigators have identified in their first 100 cases. Issues include; significant delays in the process, failing to involve parents and young people properly in the decision process, not gathering sufficient evidence to make well informed decisions and a lack of proper forward planning as young people move through key educational phases.
The report provides local authorities with best practice guidance to help councils get things right and offers councillors and scrutiny chairs a number of questions they can ask their local authorities to ensure they are offering young people and children with SEN the best possible start.
Deborah Robinson, Education Solicitor at Cartwright King comments:
“Unfortunately the issues raised are all too familiar for some of the parents who come to Cartwright King for assistance. While it is encouraging to read that the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman does not believe that these problems are universal, that will be of little comfort to those families who feel they are stuck without the support that their child needs.
"Here at Cartwright King we have a team of education lawyers who can help you navigate through what can often be a daunting EHCP process, including making formal complaints to both the Local Authority and the Ombudsman where appropriate.”
The quote used from Michael King, The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has been extracted from the LGO website.