New official figures highlight grave concerns about the impact of the government’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) reforms on disabled children, according to a leading campaigner.
The figures show that some local authorities are lagging far behind others in implementing the government’s reforms.
Under the reforms, which came into effect in September 2014, following the Children and Families Act, local authorities in England have until April 2018 to move all disabled children eligible for support from SEN statements to new education, health and care plans (EHCPs).
The plans will last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family should receive across education, health and social care.
But the new Department for Education (DfE) statistics show a huge difference between local authorities in how quickly they are implementing the reforms, with some councils far more likely to be providing their disabled pupils with old-style statements instead of EHCPs.
One of the worst-performing local authorities is Tory-run Westminster, which – by January 2016 – had set up just 30 EHCPs, compared with maintaining 1,005 SEN statements, with just 1.1 per cent of children with statements issued with a replacement EHCP.
Labour-run Derby City Council had produced only 70 EHCPs and still had 1,200 statements, with just 3.1 per cent of children with statements issued with an EHCP.
These figures compared with Nottinghamshire County Council, which only had 675 disabled children with statements but 1,170 with EHCPs (and more than half of children with statements moved on to EHCPs), and City of York Council, with 190 statements and 380 EHCPs (and 63.4 per cent moved on to EHCPs).
There were also huge differences in how long families had to wait for their EHCPs, with only 8.3 per cent of EHCPs issued within the necessary 20 weeks by Oldham council, and 17.4 per cent in Kingston upon Hull.
This compares with 92.9 per cent in Nottinghamshire, and 99.1 per cent in Bedford.
Tara Flood (pictured), chief executive of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said she believed the figures show that many councils are struggling with education funding, partly because a significant number of disabled young people who previously were too old for statements are now eligible for EHCPs.
Flood said she believed that the government’s reforms will cause the number of disabled children in mainstream school to “decline sharply”.
ALLFIE is being approached by three or four parents a week concerned that their children are seeing a reduction in their support during the implementation of EHCPs.
Children who previously had statements are now being awarded lower levels of support under EHCPs, she said, with both schools and local authorities blaming the government’s reforms, and some families being told their child is no longer eligible for any support.
Flood warned that there had been little attempt to gather evidence on what was happening to the amount of support being offered to disabled children and young people as a result of the reforms.
Last week, educational support organisation The Key revealed that a survey of more than 1,100 school leaders showed than eight in 10 schools across England and Wales had insufficient funding to provide adequately for their disabled pupils, while almost nine in 10 school leaders had seen the support they receive for these children “affected detrimentally” by cuts to council services.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: “Just 20 months ago, we made fundamental changes to the way the SEND support system works for families – the biggest in a generation.
“These figures show that overall, since the introduction of our reforms, 74,000 young people with SEND now have EHC plans – clear signs that we are on track and progress is being made.
“Councils are learning new ways of working under the new assessment process, and we know there is still progress to be made to get this new system fully embedded.
“These figures were collected in January and therefore do not show the current picture.
“We are using this data to monitor how well councils are implementing their new duties, and to target the challenge and support we give them.”
DfE said it was investing £45 million between 2014 and 2017 in providing “independent supporters” in every area to help parents and young people “navigate the EHC needs assessment and plan process”, as well as funding an implementation grant of £35.8 million for local authorities.
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission will assess how effectively local areas are working together to implement the Children and Families Act, with all local areas to be inspected over the next five years, while DfE said it would also work with the Department of Health and NHS England to help “spread good practice as well as bring about necessary improvements”.