DfE statistics show Local Authorities struggling to meet statutory timescales 05/06/2017 08:46

The Department for Education (DfE) has released the 2016-2017 statistics relating to special educational needs (SEN), largely focusing on the changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014. 

The Children and Families Act 2014 came in force in September 2014 and introduced Education Health and Care Plans (EHC Plans), which should replace all statements by 31 March 2018. 

IPSEA welcomes many of the positive changes the Children and Families Act has brought for children and young people. However, these changes have happened at a time of decreasing Local Authority (LA) resources and implementing them is not without challenge. Unfortunately, LA’s failure to assess children or prepare EHC Plans within the statutory time limits remains a significant feature of the many issues parents contact us about, and this problem is reflected in the figures released by the DfE. The figures also demonstrate that, at the current pace of transition from statements to EHC Plans, it is highly unlikely that transition will be completed by April 2018.

A summary of the key findings are:

EHC needs assessment refused - There were 14,795 initial requests for an EHC needs assessment which were refused during the 2016 calendar year, an increase of 3,860 (35.3%) from the 2015 calendar year. This increase could account for an increase in the number of requests made. However, in IPSEA’s experience it is not uncommon for LAs to refuse assessments based on their own policies, rather than the legal test for assessment, many of which set a threshold significantly higher than the legal threshold. 

Issue of EHCPs after assessment – There were 37,751 children and young people assessed during the 2016 calendar year. Of these, the vast majority (36,094, which is 95.6%) were issued with EHC plans. A further 10,654 children and young people were either still being assessed, or had completed the assessment but a decision had not yet been made whether to issue an EHC plan as of January 2017. 

EHC Plans issued within timescales – Despite the statutory 20 week time limit from a request for assessment being made to the issuing of the final EHC Plan, only 59.2% of EHC Plans were issued within the 20 week time limit in 2015. During 2016 this figure decreased to 58.6%. The figures demonstrate a significant regional difference. Outer London came out on top showing 71.1% of EHC Plans were issued within the time limits. However, the East of England came out significantly lower at 47.5%. 

Numbers of statements and EHCPs – There has been an increase in the number of statements and EHC Plans issued every year since 2010. The figures show in January 2017 there were 175, 233 children and young people with EHC Plans and 112, 057 children with statements. This reflects the widening of the age range introduced by the reforms covering 0-25 and is to be expected.  

Mediation and tribunal cases – in 2016, 24.9% (345) of cases which attempted mediation went on to appeal to the tribunal. This seems to show that mediation is working in the majority of cases and IPSEA view this as a positive step. However, it is not possible to tell from the statistics what the outcomes were for the parents who did not go on to appeal.

Progress transitioning to the new system – The deadline to transfer all statements to EHC Plans is April 2018. Between January 2016 and January 2017 32.7% of statements had transferred to EHC Plans. This suggests LAs are behind in implementing transition into the new system. With less than a year left IPSEA are concerned that LAs simply do not have the resources to complete transitions of the remaining statements. This is likely to result in transition assessments being rushed and inadequate, which may lead to children and young people missing out. 

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