Disability

Special Needs Children; the Council’s “forgotten priority”

upsetchild_0Children with Special Educational Needs are a declared priority for Derby City Council, and specified as a “Must Do” in its 2015-18 Plan:

“… responding to the demands of legislative changes including; Welfare reform, the Care Act and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) reform”

So why is the Council failing so badly on a major new programme to help the 1400 children in the City with Special Needs?

One of those important reforms for SEND children was the introduction of the new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP).

An EHCP is a legal document. It identifies the needs of the child, or young person,  with special needs and specifies how those will be addressed by the health, education and social services. Prior to the 1st September 2014 a much less comprehensive document was created called an “SEN statement”

For children identified as having Special Educational Needs (SEN) from 1st September 2014, an EHCP must be created. For those who had an existing SEN ‘statement’, there is a plan to progressively convert those statements in to EHCP’s.

The Council has until 1 April 2018 to complete the entire transfer programme. The strategy was to convert ~ 1400 children as they move between schools, and a 3 year plan was issued in 2014. By February 2016 this was significantly behind plan, and a new version of the plan was issued that was backed up by £0.9m of government funding to aid with additional support. This plan committed to have completed 953 of the 1400 transfers by August 2016 – a monumental increase in delivery rate which was destined to fail. Thus far, by December 2016, 198 have been formally completed ( achieved around 18 per month)

The latest plan, confirmed in a Freedom of Information request in December 2016 is to finish 1065 by 31 August 2017 ( plan to deliver 133 per month)

This is a 7 times increase in the planned rate of completion! 

When asked, the Council cannot comment on how many they have started ( approx 6 month lead time from start to finish). By now, they should know they have started the 647 they promise to complete in March 2017. The plan is an empty promise.

What is particularly concerning is that Cllr Russell ( Cabinet member for Schools) in a Full Council meeting on 3 February 2016, in answer to Cllr Roulstone, seemed to brush off the significance of the new EHCP, and felt that having an old SEN statement was good enough.

Roulstone:“With roughly 18 month to 2 years left what re-assurances can be given to the parents that this ( the remaining plan) will  be done successfully”

Russell: “As I outlined in the original response, it doesn’t mean that a child hasn’t got a plan in place as their statement is still valid up until a transfer occurs even if the conversion is late. So I would say, yes, there have been issues and we are looking to re-invest into this particular service. For example in the current financial year, Derby schools and academies have had a total of £22.94m in their collective budgets to spend on children with additional educational needs – that’s over and above monies invested into statements and plans. So I just want to re-assure you that although conversion rates are not as high as we would like we are investing in that again but children who do have a plan – that statement is still valid”

On the 25th January 2017, in Full Council, it became evident through Councillor questions that the overall delivery of EHCP’s was woefully behind plan – Cllr Russell blamed this on Government cuts. The challenge was not made that additional funding had been given to deliver the programme, and that the Feb 2016 plan should have recognised the prevailing financial situation.

It is clear that they are totally out of control in delivering this programme.

Conclusion

With now just over 1 year left of a programme that has been going for just over 2 years , and only around 15% of the transfers completed. (56 were completed in the last 10 months). At this rate it will take at least another 5 years.

This is not just an issue that exists in isolation. The majority, if not all, of the SEN children benefit from the committed attention of Teaching Assistants on a daily, and in some cases, hourly, or constant basis. The dispute and strike action will be taking its toll in the short term. In the longer term, if the TAs do not succeed in their dispute, then experienced people will leave the profession ( many already have) and be replaced by less capable candidates, putting into doubt the quality of education for some of the most vulnerable children in the City.

The failure of this programme is symptomatic of a wider malaise in the way that whole system deals with SEN children – very much a “forgotten priority” for the Council.

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