Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees asked to intervene with unlawful EHCP time frames:
An open letter from an independent Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) group in Bristol, has been released today, asking Mayor Marvin Rees to intervene with delays to the Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) and Needs Assessments in the city.
Bristol Independent Send Community, say that the delays in the ECH Needs Assessment process is causing the lives of the city’s most ‘vulnerable children’ to become ‘progressively worse’.
In March this year, Liberal Democrat councillor for Hengrove and Whitchurch Park Tim Kent, asked at a Member Forum about the percentage of EHCPs which were issued within the legal deadline of 20 weeks.
His response from the Mayor found that only 24 per cent of EHCPs were completed within statutory deadlines in 2018. Back in 2017, a 78 per cent of EHCPs were completed within the statutory timescale of 20 weeks.
In September 2018, Bristol City Council passed a Send Motion at full council proposed by Tim Kent, allocating £2.7M in funding for Send in Bristol. It came after a Judicial Review in the summer forced the council to stop making cuts to the High Needs Block. This was a result that Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Finance at the time said they were ‘disappointed’ by.
Kent said at the time of the Send Motion that Bristol was ‘failing’ in its legal duty towards Send children, with their outcomes being ‘poor’.
An EHCP is a legally binding document which is created for children and young people aged up to 25, who have more support needs than a school is able to provide. Through a Needs Assessment, plans identify educational, health and social needs, with professionals assessing the child and creating a plan to meet their needs.
Once a Needs Assessment request has been made, a Local Authority (LA) such as Bristol, must reply within six weeks (required by regulation 4(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014) with a decision of whether to do a Needs Assessment or not.
If the LA agrees to a Needs Assessment, they must get information and advice from the professionals required and specified by parents and respond within six weeks (SEN Reg 8(1)). The LA must notify the parents or young person if they will issue a plan within a maximum of 16 weeks from the initial request for assessment. By week 20, if a plan has been agreed, it should have been finalised.
BISC say this is not happening in Bristol, that they are in contact with Bristol families who are more than 30 weeks into the 20 week statutory process, with some being as far along as 50 weeks.
The delays are causing Bristol children to be missing out on education. ‘Many of these children are not in school at all; many more are languishing in completely unsuitable settings which are unable to meet their needs due to cuts and/or delays in funding the required provision,’ they write.
‘A significant number of children are awaiting placement in specialist provision because (with the exception of PMLD schools) capacity across the city has been reached and there are no available places until the next academic year.’
In September 2018, more than six months ago, Marvin Rees wrote a letter to BISC, acknowledging the ‘significant challenge’ managing the EHCP assessments and outlining steps to be put in place.
Rees wrote: ‘In response to this we have taken steps to make staff workloads more manageable and improve the service for families. We are increasing the SEND casework team’s capacity by over 100% – an increase of 20 posts and recruitment is now beginning so we hope to see positive changes within the next couple of months.’
BISC are challenging the promised 20 additional EHCP case workers, believing around half the number have been employed.
Today, Bristol City Council pointed an additional finger of blame regarding missed EHCP deadlines at individual services for not informing parents about ‘delays to undertaking assessments or returning reports’.
They wrote in response to a complaint from us that: ‘I am keen to reassure you that Bristol City Council’s senior leaders, Elected Members and the Mayor are sighted on these challenges and that local area capacity needs to be addressed in order that the Council continues to be compliant. Individual services have a responsibility for notifying parent/ carers or young people if there are going to be any delays to undertaking assessments or returning reports to the Local Authority well before the mandatory week 12 return date. This is not only the responsibility of the SEND Casework Team who coordinate the process but individual officers or clinicians should keep families updated in relation to any advice received.’
The open letter in full from Bristol Independent Send Community:
Dear Mayor Rees
We are writing to you to express our grave concerns regarding the functioning of Bristol City Council’s SEND department. Despite the Judicial Review in July 2018; the £3.5million increase to the High Needs Block in January 2019; and the promise of 20 new SEND case-workers in September 2018; life for many of our city’s most vulnerable children is getting progressively worse.
When, in December 2018, we queried what was happening in relation to these 20 additional SEND case-workers, we received vague and unhelpful assurances and confirmation that no new caseworkers had yet been employed. It now appears that the commitment has been watered down such that little more than half this number of new case-workers will actually materialise.
This unacceptable reneging on previous commitments is significantly contributing to the extensive backlog which the SEND department currently face. Recent figures for 2018 show that only 24% of EHCPs are being completed within statutory deadlines. This is less than a third of the number (78%) that were being completed on time in 2017. Every day we are hearing from families who are 30, 40 and even 50 weeks or more into the 20 weeks statutory process. Many of these children are not in school at all; many more are languishing in completely unsuitable settings which are unable to meet their needs due to cuts and/or delays in funding the required provision. A significant number of children are awaiting placement in specialist provision because (with the exception of PMLD schools) capacity across the city has been reached and there are no available places until the next academic year. The failure to complete assessments in time is negatively impacting the lives and future outcomes for hundreds of children and their families. Moreover it is not only unacceptable, it is also unlawful.
We demand that as a matter of urgency current cases, which are delayed at the assessment stage of the process are immediately reviewed and any outstanding assessments are outsourced privately to clear the backlog. Going forward it is clear that the Council must deliver on the promised increase in case-workers and do so as a matter of priority.
Bristol Independent SEND Community