SEND experts call for 'national Education Health and Care Plan template' for pupils

The government should issue a national Education Health and Care Plan template so local authorities can properly meet their legal obligations to pupils with special educational needs, MPs have been told.

Local authorities have drawn up EHCPs, which replaced the old special educational needs statements four years ago, in different ways so that many pupils aren’t getting the support they need, MPs on the Commons education select committee heard this morning.

Schools rely on the support and attached funding laid out in EHCPs to access top-up funding from councils for higher need pupils. Ofsted has also previously warned pupils with special needs have better outcomes if they have an EHCP while those without statements or plans achieve less well.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, warned some crucial sections of EHCPs are being missed out by local authorities.

“Because there is no national template, people have interpreted the law beyond the law,” she told the education select committee during a SEND roundtable discussion today.

Because there is no national template, people have interpreted the law beyond the law

The new EHCPs replaced statements in 2014 and were supposed to provide more “holistic and efficient” SEND support for young people up to the age of 25.

But some councils are guilty of “poor practice”, said Lenehan, such as missing out  ‘section A’ of an EHCP which covers the pupil’s needs.

“Instead it disappears down the hills somewhere.”

She said a national EHCP template, following consultation, would be a “fairly simple short-term recommendation” to resolve quality issues with plans.

Tara Wood, director at the Alliance for Inclusive Education, backed the idea of a template, but added the government must make clear all EHCP provision should be delivered first and foremost in mainstream schools, not just in special schools.

“The template must start with […] the presumption for mainstream, and being really clear what that means”, she said.

The SEND Code of practice, which says schools must take all reasonable steps to support pupils with special educational needs, needs to be clearer for schools, she added.

Last year Ofsted warned children categorised as needing “SEN support” – rather than a formal EHCP – are more likely to have their needs overlooked, be excluded, and achieve less well than those with a legally binding EHCP.

The watchdog also warned its local area inspections reveal schools appear to be informally excluding pupils who require SEN support “too readily”, and that as a group they are particularly prone to being excluded.

Schools Week has also previously reported that pupils missed out on school places while they’re waiting for EHCPs to come through because of the associated extra support and money.

John Harris, a Guardian journalist and parent of a child with SEND, also backed calls for making the EHCP system “more uniform” this morning.

One of the problems with the “great archipelago of different frameworks” for the plans is being unable to give people the correct advice, he said.

Advice is particularly important in a SEND system which can be confusing for many parents, he said, but if plans are “wildly diverse” then parents can feel even more isolated and be less successful in securing one.