Children with SEND – special educational needs and disabilities – are increasingly being failed by the system designed to support them. That’s according to no less an authority than the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
In a statement issued by the Ombudsman this month, it describes that statistic as “a startling figure” – 87 per cent compared to an uphold rate of 57 per cent of other cases it considers.
The report, Not Going To Plan?, looks at the common problems the Ombudsman is finding when investigating parents’ concerns. Serious issues include severe delays of up to 90 weeks – and regularly of more than a year – when issuing a plan, not anticipating local needs, communication and preparation for meetings, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.
The knock-on effect is that many children, often the most vulnerable in society, are not getting the right support at the right time, and this is having a significant impact on their education and attainment.
The Ombudsman is now investigating more complaints than it has ever done before. In 2018-2019 it received 45 per cent more complaints and carried out 80 per cent more detailed investigations about EHC plans than in 2016-2017.
“We are now upholding almost 9 in 10 investigations we carry out about Education, Health and Care plans,” said the Ombudsman, Michael King.
“This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work. 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.
“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,” King said. Many parents of SEND children in Croydon and Sutton will recognise that situation.
“While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.
“I hope this report puts the children and their families’ experiences in the spotlight and the battles they face, and ultimately more urgency on the whole SEND system improving.”
The report highlights a number of case studies from real investigations the Ombudsman has carried out in the past two years since the EHC plan system came into force, and offers councillors and senior council staff guidance and suggested ways they can scrutinise the services they offer families and the complaints they receive about those services.
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