Croydon is among the worst local authorities in south London for delivering Education, Health and Care plans for young people with complex educational needs, according to a survey published this week. The specialist lawyers who conducted the research say that the council has broken the law and could face dozens of costly Judicial Reviews court cases as a consequence of its failure to complete the EHCs before a government-set deadline.
This is the same Croydon Council which in the past year paid more than £100,000 to a “despicable” firm of legal experts to block appeals from parents of children with special educational needs from getting the proper support to which they are entitled by law.
The survey, with figures from 135 local authorities, revealed widespread delays in delivering the required education plans to young people with special educational needs.
The EHC plan is a legal document drawn up by the local authority that is supposed to outline that young person’s special educational, health and social care needs, and the extra help they should receive. The EHC plan is a legal requirement on the council. Without one, young people aged between 19 and 25 could find themselves without the necessary college support or placements.
All local authorities had until August 31 this year to complete the EHC plans.
In Croydon, the council managed to complete just six EHCs by the deadline, leaving 35 young people without a legal plan for their education and development.
Inside Croydon is aware of at least one case where, following lengthy delays in getting a proper assessment from the council, a young resident has been denied specialist training this term because the council has failed to pay the company providing the course, and there has been no alternative funding available.
In July this year, the Department for Education wrote to local authorities, including Croydon. The instruction was quiet clear:
“Local authorities must make every effort to ensure that, where Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are needed for those young people who currently have a LDA [Learning Difficulties Assessment], they are in place by 1 September 2016. However, there may be some exceptional circumstances where local authorities, despite their best efforts, are unable to complete the full transfer process for a few individual young people by 1 September 2016.
“In order to avoid any disruption to high needs support for the young person, EFA-funded institutions can continue to deliver programmes to 19-25-year-olds, where needed, in the following specific circumstances:
“• Where the young person has an LDA and is already attracting high needs funding and the local authority is in the process of an EHC assessment and has not yet decided to make an EHC plan
“• Where the local authority has decided to make an EHC plan but has not yet finalised the plan.
“These cases should be the exception not the rule, and cases where an EHC assessment is still underway by 1 September should be particularly exceptional. […] This flexibility applies until 31st December 2016.”
Croydon is by no means alone in failing to carry out this essential work for some of the community’s most vulnerable people, though judged by figures from other south London councils, it is among the worst locally.
- In neighbouring Bromley, there are 5 cases still waiting for EHC plans.
- In Sutton, 42 cases were submitted on time, and 13 cases still await EHC plans.
- In Wandsworth, 68 cases were completed on time, while 20 remain.
- In Southwark, 59 cases were completed by August 31, 12 remain.
- Of boroughs in this part of London, only Lambeth has a worse record than Croydon. But even they managed to prepare 10 EHCs on time, while 37 still await their EHC.
Law firm Simpson Millar, which acts on behalf of parents of some of the young people affected by these delays, conducted the research and found that across England, more than 4,500 EHC plans had not been done by the government deadline.
“The assessment and planning reforms for children and young people with special educational needs were announced years ago, and the deadline for making sure EHC plans were in place was well-known to local authorities,” said Imogen Jolley, the head of education and community care at Simpson Millar.
Thomas Mitchell, a specialist education law solicitor at Simpson Millar, said, “No legislation was passed to allow the Department of Education to grant an extension to local authorities in this matter, which effectively makes it unlawful. The local authorities that have not met the original deadline could all face Judicial Review proceedings.
“Having an EHC plan is necessary to attract the necessary funding from the Education Funding Agency and local authority. I’m struggling to see how local authorities can justify the delay of thousands of plans which are necessary for young people with special educational needs to continue learning.
“It paints a picture of a system that lacks the necessary resources, and which is allowed to operate outside of the law with no repercussions for widespread failure.
“Although further EHC plans will clearly have been completed since our request for information was made, I’m concerned about whether all of them will be completed by December 31, given the high number of plans that were outstanding. If all EHC plans aren’t in place by December 31, these young people could find themselves without the necessary college support or placements.”
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