Croydon Council staged a(nother) flag-raising at the Town Hall this morning, this time for World Autism Awareness Week.
“Croydon Council is on a mission to increase understanding of what it means to be autistic and bust some of the most common myths surrounding the condition,” the council’s press office stated in a release today.
But one thing that the Labour-run council does not appear to want people to be aware of is the amount it is spending from government grants in attempts to avoid having to pay for young people with autism and special educational needs from actually receiving the education to which they are entitled.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Croydon Council has revealed that at least one-third of its spending from a transitional grant from the Department for Education for SEND, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, is going towards preparing for tribunal cases – where the council disputes whether it has any responsibility to provide education for a child or young person.
“My personal belief is that there is a blanket policy in Croydon to stop funding post-19 SEN education placements, despite the reforms being put in place to ensure access to SEN education for up to age 25,” said one anxious parent with a teenager affected by the council’s obstructive approach to its legal obligations to provide such educational help.
And a senior councillor admitted to the secret policy which in 2016-2017 will see Croydon spending more around £150,000 on tribunal-linked activities, out of a £430,000 budget for SEND education provision.
“Every council has to do it,” the Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon, “otherwise they’d be broke, and then the government administrator would walk in.”
Under changes introduced in 2014, councils have to have an EHC, or education, health and care plan, for every child and young person aged up to 25 years old who needs more support than is available through special educational needs support. “EHC plans identify needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs,” says the government website.
But in Croydon, in common with many other local authorities, there have been long delays in implementing those EHCs, some of the delays seeing parents forced to go to a legal tribunal to get educational provision for their child.
Last year, Inside Croydon reported how Croydon Council had spent £110,000 per year on legal fees to Baker Small, a specialist solicitors firm which had been described as having a “callous” and “despicable” attitude towards some of the most vulnerable in society, as it worked to deny young adults with SEND their education. The council continued to use the law firm even after council leader Tony Newman declared that they should be dropped.
Now, figures from the council show that the council is still spending huge amounts of public money in its efforts not to deliver the education required for some of its vulnerable young people, and instead to prepare for the tribunals which seek to deny them that care and education.
Among other amounts, the council’s figures show:
- £15,000 spent on a mediation service, “Required to cover duty to ensure parents attend mediation before attempting to go to tribunal”;
- there’s £50,000 to pay for a EHC co-ordinator, “Required to undertake mediation requirements prior to parents appealing to tribunal”;
- there’s £35,000 for a tribunals administration officer;
- and £45,000 for project management “Required to work on embedding SEN reform as business as usual”.
And there’s £120,000 being spent in 2016-2017 by Croydon Council on three members of staff to complete the transfers to EHC – even though the council’s deadline for completing all such transfers was March 2016.
Since 2014, the Department for Education has given local authorities a grant each year to help them implement the SEND reforms. About £180million in SEND reform grant money has been doled out so far, and another £40million has been lined up for the next financial year. Croydon’s grant has increased from £208,200 in 2014-2015, to £295,200 in 2015-2016, to the £430,200 being spent in the current financial year.
The campaigning website, SpecialNeedsJungle.com, which conducted the FoI to 150 local authorities around the country, contend that the money is being ill-spent, on out-sourced and temporary staff, as well as legal defences, and that such spending is “more than a pity, it’s a tragedy”.
Potentially, they suggest that this system has managed to waste £500million, money that might be better utilised actually providing the special education required.
Matt Keer, at SpecialNeedsJungle, writes: “LAs need extra personnel to make the SEND reforms work – not just to carry out EHCP assessments, but also to convert existing statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments over to EHCPs. So most LAs have drawn on the DfE grants to bolster their in-house SEN assessment teams – extra case officers, educational psychologists, managers, and so on.
“However, a lot of this investment looks like it’s short-term. Nearly half of the spending on extra staff I tracked has gone to people who won’t be sticking around: temps, agency staff, short-term change management teams, and outsourcing…
“All LAs face challenges in getting the SEND reforms implemented, and bringing more staff in to get the increased workload done is absolutely necessary. But there are big drawbacks to relying on temporary and outsourced staff so heavily; when they leave, the expertise and experience they have gained leaves too.”
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Croydon Council and ‘autism awareness’ are two things that should never be seen side by side. Irony upon irony, as the flag flies today, this council is causing ongoing mental and physical suffering to one of their employees with autism and has made no attempt to raise their awareness to this condition in reality. They are also being taken to Employment Tribunal in a serious case of disability discrimination by an employee with autism. The departments from the top to the bottom are ill equipped to understand autism properly, including HR and Occupational Health. Senior management refer to an autistic employee as a problem they wish were gone. “Disability Confident” employer…? One can only be amused that the autism awareness flag is flying while this is going on directly under their noses and being swept under the rug.