As Children’s Commissioner I am very concerned by the latest statistics on the number of tribunals for people appealing against local authority decisions about Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) for children with special educational needs – which has hit an all-time high of 13,700. This is further delaying children from accessing the vital support they need.
The statistics show that the number of appeals in 2022-23 is up by 2,600 (24%) from 2021-22. Since 2014, the number of appeals has increased every year.
These appeals represent children and families who are unable to get the support they need, the vast majority of whom are then successful in challenging a local authority’s decision. The proportion of cases found at least in part in favour of the appellant has also reached a record high of 98%, up from 96% in both 2021-22 and 2020-21.
Over a quarter (28%) of appeals were against refusals by local authorities to conduct an education, health and care assessment in the first place, which is the necessary first step towards getting an EHCP.
Despite only 32% of pupils with EHCPs having autism, almost half (45 per cent) of appeals were related to autistic children and young people – suggesting that autistic children may find accessing support particularly challenging.
This issue is a huge problem for so many children and families. In March of last year my Help at Hand team was contacted by an MP’s office to raise concerns about children experiencing significant delays in accessing special educational needs support in their area, particularly Education Health Care Plan assessments and reviews and for autism assessments.
The MP told us that this issue has been raised with him by 44 different families since he was elected in July 2022. The children’s ages spanned from pre-school to secondary school.
In my report last year on Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) we found that children want support to help them do well, but they often experience a system which is more interested in asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ than ‘how can we help?’.
As the data indicates, children and their families are often having to chase an EHCP to get the support they need to thrive in school.
A lack of funding and resources means that health and education professionals are no longer well positioned to provide for the children in their area, meaning families have to turn to the legislative guarantee of support that an EHCP brings.
Children with SEND are no less ambitious than their peers. The Big Ask, the largest ever survey of children in England, showed that they want to be in school, just like all other children.
We must focus on identifying and supporting children’s additional needs early, rather than expending huge resource on adversarial complaints processes which are disruptive to children’s education and care – and place huge stress on families.
Over the last few months, I have been speaking to children and young people all over England. When I speak to children with Special Educational Needs, they tell me they want the same things as every child – family, a caring environment to live in, love, job and a fantastic education.
I am extremely concerned by these statistics, which indicates a distinct lack of support for children with Special Educational Needs. Data published earlier this year showed that children and families are experiencing long waiting times for EHCPs as demand reaches new highs.
It’s welcome that the Government has published its SEND implementation plan, but we still have further to go to bring about urgent change for families.
It’s still taking far too long for children to get EHCPs and too long for them to be reviewed and updated. We need radical reform of the SEND system, so it is as ambitious for children as they are for themselves.