It’s not fair that getting an EHC plan could depend on your postcode

30 May 2019, 16:23

The headlines from today’s new data on the number of education, health and care (EHC) plans show a dramatic 11 per cent increase in the number issued. But this belies a SEN postcode lottery, explains Karen Wespieser.

Looking into the detail of today’s SEND data reveals that where you live is likely to make a significant difference to the amount of that support SEND pupils receive.

Let’s start with the number of initial requests for an EHC plan.

Nationally, there has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of initial requests, but one in five authorities have actually seen a reduction.

This could mean fewer pupils with special educational need or disability in the cohort, but it could also suggest schools have felt pressured not to put in EHC plan requests, despite them being needed.

East Sussex council admitted at the education select committee earlier this month that they have been advising schools against applying for EHC plans. However the council actually saw a 33 per cent rise in the number of requests.

Next, we look at the number of initial requests for assessment for an EHC plan that were refused.

Nationally, this has seen a small increase from last year (from 23 per cent to 24 per cent), but this masks some pretty spectacular outliers.

For example, in Wolverhampton, Luton and Camden no EHC plans were refused. Yet in Westminster, Plymouth and West Sussex this figure was around 50 per cent.

So, what does this look like in terms of total EHC plans issued?

The number of new EHCPs has increased by 16 per cent nationally. Whilst it is natural to see some level in fluctuation in the numbers between years and between regions, 30 per cent of LAs have seen a reduction. This is up from 26 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

But why are there such dramatic differences? One issue may be the available funding.

Ministers have already identified high-needs funding as one of two areas most in need of a funding uplift in the forthcoming spending review, the other being post-16 funding.

The DfE is currently consulting on SEND funding arrangements and is due to report later this year.

Related to funding is also the provision of specialist support.

Dr Cath Lowther, educational psychologist, told the education committee earlier this year that a “drive for efficiency” by the government was resulting in her colleagues being told to identify pupils’ needs after seeing them just once, whereas some years ago they visited them “three of four times”.

Similarly, a survey of SENCOs published earlier this year revealed nearly three-quarters feel that they do not have enough time to ensure that pupils are able to access the provision that they need.

This lack of resource in some areas could lead to the variation in the success rate of applying for an EHC plan.

This is, of course, a false economy. Applying for an EHC plan can be a lengthy process and making mistakes that lead to a refusal, or not having the support to gather the required evidence in the first place, will only prolong this.

The longer it takes to get learners the support they need, the higher the risk of poor educational outcomes.

The data shows that, in some authorities, the system is working.

Looking at what is happening in these areas – how the journey from application to issue of EHC plan works – could be key to helping other parts of the system improve.

It is not fair on learners, teachers, schools or parents that to succeed in the EHC plan system, it might just come down to your postcode.

Correction: East Sussex council saw a 33 per cent rise in the number of EHCP requests, not a reduction as originally stated.

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  1. Mark Watson

    Of course the hated “postcode lottery” is exactly the same as the much supported concept of “local decision making”.
    When you get what you want you’re happy with local choice, when you don’t you shake your fist at postcode lottery.
    If you don’t want a postcode lottery, then the solution is to get Westminster to set the rules on when an EHC plan can be issued, and those rules will be set in stone and apply in the same way to inner-city London and Manchester as they do to Grimsby, Norfolk and Cornwall. No flexibility or discretion for any local authority. Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me …

    • A Brown

      It’s not a question of parents being happy because they ‘get what they want.’ It’s a question of improbably wide variations in providing the support that children and young people need if they’re to have any chance at all according to area which doesn’t tally with the baseline funding they’re receiving.

      Those children cannot cope in mainstream classrooms without support, so every parent should be lobbying for them to get it for the sake of their own children, whose learning will then not be disrupted. For the same reason, every teacher should be actively and loudly saying “I do not believe in discrimination and I want to see children and young people with SEND educated in mainstream whenever it is best for them, but I cannot do it without proper funding and facilities.”

      If our most vulnerable young people get that funding and facilities then everyone benefits. If they don’t, then we will return to the world where those with SEND will be shut away; out of sight and out of mind.

  2. Dr. Jennifer Hawkins

    Surely a child’s entitlement/rights should be the same wherever they live and laid down by law, tested and evidenced by Ofsted. The fine detail of how it is delivered should be decided by local government. The law is inadequate if it doesn’t provide LEA’s, schools and parents with a sensible framework against which to evidence their need for funds. Recommend “On the Fringes.” by Jackie Ward to schools who are attempting to use inclusive, child-centred, needs-based practice- just published this March and very clear on children’s current legal entitlement and practical approaches to provision.

  3. Angela woolley

    My child has been refused twice in Nottinghamshire and he has multiple diagnosis. He’s not progressing in his education and nothing is being done.

  4. Satish Shah

    Parents as individuals have no power. Teachers and Head Teachers are better placed to persuade for extra funding for SEND children. Sadly lot of them are focused on league table.

  5. Mark Watson

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the local-choice postcode-lottery is the best approach. I meant it when I said it depends on the specific each time. I think there should be much MUCH more funding for SEN, but my post was simply about how the funding is allocated and whether we think this is best done locally or nationally.

    One of the points above referred to having standard and fixed entitlement/rights (presumably decided by Parliament), with “the fine detail of how it is delivered decided by local government.” But if local government has any input in the process then we’re back to the situation of two families with identical circumstances where one gets an EHCP because they’re with Council X and the other doesn’t because they’re with Council Y.

    • A Brown

      It’s actually worse than that. Family A may have a stroppy sabre tooth tiger mum who’ll tackle the world for her child and has the education to make the SEN Code of Practice her bedtime reading and they’ll get an EHCP while Family B whose child may need it more but who don’t have the skills and tenacity to fight a system that seems to weaponise paperwork and delays. So even in the same LA what they get may be very different.

      (Obviously Dads can be stroppy sabre tooths too, but in my experience it’s usually Mum who changes career to become an advocate for the child because the last thing it can be called is ‘giving up work.’)

      I agree we need more money and a more diverse system because a lot of the cost is ferrying kids long distances to schools. It’s insane that some LA’s avoid building specialist provision because it attracts children with those needs to the area. I think we should be using technology more as well, because you could fit more children into specialist provision if a child was at a special school some of the time and working at home the rest and the physical and mental strain of being at school (and the infection risk for vulnerable children) could be reduced.

      • Mark Watson

        Totally agree with every point you make.
        I hadn’t heard about LAs avoiding building specialist provision for that reason. Not only morally indefensible, but financially very dubious as in my (limited) experience almost all LAs end up having to pay over the odds for specialist provision as they don’t have enough maintained spaces in county.

  6. I’ve been told Nottinghamshire is the worst performing in the country as regards giving these plans. Is it possible to see the information you obtained in order to see comparisons?