SEND: Demand for EHCPs rockets as councils struggle

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Urgent action is needed to help local authorities meet the rising demand for SEND support that is seeing 170 young people beginning Education, Health and Care Plans every day.

The Local Government Association’s (LGA) annual conference in Harrogate this week is calling on the government to scrap the high needs deficits that councils have built up.

It says that the “spiraling” costs of providing SEN support is outstripping the budgets councils have available.

The latest figures (DfE, 2022) show that requests for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) fell to 75,951 in 2020 following four years of increases. However, as the impact of Covid-19 eased, requests then jumped by 23% to 93,302 in 2021.

In the last year, councils have approved 62,180 new EHCPs – amounting to 170 children and young people starting a plan each day.

Overall, there are now 473,255 children and young people on ECHPs which represents an increase of more than 100% since eligibility for SEND support was extended in 2014 to people aged 16 to 25.

The Department for Education is currently consulting over proposed Green Paper reforms to SEND (DfE, 2022) and education secretary Nadhim Zahawi is set to address the LGA annual conference on Thursday (June 30).

The LGA also wants to see more inclusion of pupils with SEND in mainstream schools and is lobbying government for better incentives for schools to take in more children with SEND.

EHCPs were introduced as part of the 2014 SEN reforms and are intended to bring together education, health and social care services to support the needs of students with SEND.

Applications for EHCPs are assessed and granted/refused by local authorities and mainstream schools are expected to meet the needs of any EHCP students on roll using a notional £6,000 per student from the high needs element of the National Funding Formula as well as any “top-up” amount provided to the school by the local authority for individual pupils.

The government’s SEND review, which led to the Green Paper, recognised that the system is not financially sustainable and that navigating the SEND system “is not a positive experience for too many pupils and their families”.

Back in 2019, the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into SEND provision reached similar conclusions, warning that families were being exhausted by the “adversarial and bureaucratic” nature of the system.

MPs on the committee warned that funding was inadequate to meet demand. The report said that at school level, children on SEN Support in particular are being let down and their needs going unmet. As such, desperate families are applying for EHCPs, leading to huge pressure on the system.

The new Green Paper wants to achieve greater consistency in SEND support. It proposes:

  • “A new ational SEND and alternative provision system setting nationally consistent standards for how needs are identified and met at every stage of a child’s journey across education.”
  • “New local SEND partnerships bringing together education, health and care partners with local government to produce a local inclusion plan.” This will set out how each area will meet the national standards, when specialist support is needed, and the provision that is available within the local area (including alternative provision service focused on early intervention).
  • Support for parents and carers to express “an informed preference for a suitable placement” by providing a tailored list of settings – mainstream, specialist and independent. Parents will continue to have the right to request a mainstream setting.
  • A “standardised and digitised EHCP process and template to minimise bureaucracy”.
  • A streamlined redress process to “make it easier to resolve disputes earlier, including through mandatory mediation, while retaining the tribunal for the most challenging cases”.

The government has pledged £1bn in 2022/23 to support pupils with the most complex needs and an investment of £2.6bn over the next three years to expand and improve provision for pupils with SEND.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The fact that 170 children and young people with SEND are starting EHCPs each day demonstrates the huge pressures councils are under.

“While it was good the government set out much-needed reforms to tackle where the current SEND system is not working, these will take time to be implemented.

“Action is needed now to help councils meet the rising demand and spiraling costs of providing support that they are seeing on a daily basis. This is why we are urging the government to eliminate councils’ high needs deficits, which would help to significantly relieve the strain on councils’ budgets and enable them to better support children with SEND.”

Commenting on the LGA’s calls and the recent figures, Dr MaryBousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that scrapping high needs deficits for councils is the right move but that “a more fundamental change in attitudes and approach” is also needed.

She added: "Funding pressures in schools in general are leading to reduced not increased inclusion in mainstream schools. The loss of experienced and qualified teaching assistants and learning support assistants working with students in class means that many SEND students have little or no additional class support in mainstream settings, which leads to increased EHCP applications. The Green Paper fails to recognise the value of this support and includes just one paragraph about support staff.

"Delays in accessing support and diagnosis from specialist professionals such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapist and CAMHS leave many SEND students without the support they need in mainstream schools. In addition, pressures for all students to do SATs and GCSEs, along with an inflexible and overpacked curriculum, when for many these are inappropriate, lead to increased school anxiety, disaffection and increased applications for EHCPs."

  • DfE: Reporting Year 2022: Education, health and care plans, May 2022: https://bit.ly/3hDGAR0
  • DfE: Open consultation: SEND review: right support, right place, right time, March 2022 (closes July 1, 2022): https://bit.ly/36XJ61l


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