On 7 September 2020, the Panorama programme considered the impact of the support system and found that a number of parents of children with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP) were unaware of their rights with regards to school attendance during lockdown.
Subject to a risk assessment, children with EHC plans were able to attend school. However, many children were left without any educational provision. This resulted in the heart-breaking scenes of children struggling to cope in lockdown with severe behavioural reactions including physical and violent outbursts as well as instances of self-harm. Parents’ accounts during the programme were poignant as they struggled to understand how they were left with such a lack of support from local councils.
Parents went onto share the content of their children’s EHC plans and it was alarming to see that simple aspects of the plan such as the name and gender of the child were incorrect. This is despite the promise that came with the introduction of EHC plans in 2014 that, they would be focused and tailored to the child’s needs. Although, it is pointed out in the programme that parents are allowed to comment on the content of EHC plans, these comments are not always addressed.
Panorama reported that parents were increasingly having to lodge appeals against EHC plans to challenge the content, with, a significant increase in appeals from around 400 in 2014 to 4000 in 2019. It was highlighted that local councils regularly spend millions of pounds on lawyers and experts each year to defend these appeals. Parents are increasingly having to seek out similar assistance to attempt to contend with local councils, but not all parents are able to access this assistance due to funding constraints. Data from the Ministry of Justice found that councils lost 92% of all tribunal appeals in the school year ending in Summer 2019.
During the Panorama programme local councils apologised for their Special Educational Needs (SEND) provision ‘falling short’ of what it would like to provide.
It was particularly shocking to see how one particular council had created internal policy targets in an attempt to reduce the overall number of EHC needs assessments granted to children whatever their needs maybe. They have since apologised and reformed their policy. Unfortunately, this is seemingly a policy adopted by other councils across the country where unnecessary obstacles are created for parents attempting to secure EHC needs assessments.
BBC Panorama also highlighted a unique case where parents challenged a council at mediation in respect of non-delivery of their children’s educational provision. The parents were offered £100,000 by the council on condition that they leave the respective council area and not return for 5 years. The parents were astonished that the council were willing to give them £100,000 but, not provide funding for educational provision. The council responded by stating that they thought the parents wanted to move and are of the belief that they can meet the children’s needs.
The Local Government Association stated they have provided the best level of service within the budgetary constraints that they have to contend with.
The Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, stated that the current SEND system ‘mitigates against the child being the priority’. He describes an adversarial and bureaucratic system that has been created, and, unless you are have the skills to navigate the system, difficulties will arise for parents in securing the right support for their children. The Local Government Association deny this, citing possible criteria issues as being stumbling blocks for parents to understand.
There are plans to further boost the total budget to help those with complex needs both this year and next. A review of special educational needs provision is underway.
It remains to be seen as to what improvements will be made following the review, however, parents fear that the current system is not conducive to assisting their children to achieve their potential. Many parents fear the long term affects this system will have on their children as they become adults.
Gurvinder Samra, specialist Education Solicitor at Shoosmiths has commented continuously that the earlier a child with SEN receives the correct amount of support in their education, the more likely it is that they will be able to acquire the independence skills to be less dependent on the local government as young adults.
Gurvinder says “we will assist parents wherever it is possible, and, if it cannot be done through formal instruction, then, we also deliver seminars across the country to inform parents of their legal rights and the ways to challenge their children’s EHC plans”..