Norman Lamb is demanding faster help for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who require a higher level of support, after it was revealed that Norfolk is one of the five worst performing local authorities at issuing Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for those people.
An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs. The national code of practice states that the local authority must issue a final EHC plan no more than 20 weeks after a needs assessment is requested.
However, new statistics published this week by the Department for Education reveal that Norfolk is the fifth worst performing local authority at issuing EHC plans within the 20 week time limit. In 2016, just 5.6% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks, down from 10.5% in 2015.
That is dramatically below the average for the East of England, where 50.8% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit last year. In England as a whole, 58.6% of new EHC plans made during 2016 were issued within the time limit, a slight decrease from 59.2% in 2015.
The worst performing local authority was Hartlepool, where 0% of new EHC plans were issued within the time limit (excluding cases where exceptions were made), followed by Dorset (1.9%), Hampshire (4.5%) and Walsall (5.3%).
National regulations allow for exceptions to the time limits in certain cases. Including cases where these exceptions applied, 5.8% of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks in Norfolk during 2016. This compared to 49.3% in the East of England and 55.7% in England as a whole.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Norfolk, is writing to Norfolk County Council to ask what steps are being put in place to speed up the process of issuing EHC plans. Commenting, he said:
“These are really shocking figures which demand urgent improvement. We are letting families and children down by failing to give vital support quickly enough.
“Young people with SEND who require higher levels of support in Norfolk are not getting it as quickly as people in the rest of the country, or even the rest of East Anglia. Perhaps the most alarming thing is that the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better. There is a real injustice here. Norfolk County Council must set out a clear strategy to reverse this decline and bring Norfolk’s performance up to the national average, at the very least.”
The Department for Education’s statistics on SEN and EHC plans for England (2017) can be accessed here. The statistics referred to above are contained in Table 8 in the Excel spreadsheet.