Bristol City Council is the worst Local Authority (LA) in England for completing Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) within legal timescales. The data was released through the Department for Education this week. This is something we’ve previously reported on, but it’s the first time the council’s performance for 2019 has been comparable to that of other LAs.
By January 2020, there were 390,100 children and young people in England with EHCPs, a 10 per cent increase on 2018 statistics. The average number of children across the country previously holding statements of special educational needs (SEN) or EHCPs has increased each year since 2010. This wasn’t echoed in Bristol during 2017 and 2018, which experienced a significant drop before rising again.
The SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years states that the EHCP process – from initial request until the final plan is issued – must take no more than 20 weeks. There are exception cases to this. These include cases where the child or parent isn’t living in the LA for a continuous period of four weeks or more and the six week school summer holiday.
Of all new EHCPs completed in England during 2019 – excluding exception cases – 60.4 per cent were issued within the 20 week time limit. This is an increase from 60.1 per cent in 2018.
Bristol City Council managed to get through just 0.8 per cent on time. Even the next worst LA Walsall managed to get to the solid figure of 4.5.
New data was also collected for 2019 to find out how many children and young people were waiting for the provision specified on their EHCP. These figures include those in an education setting such as a mainstream school but waiting for a place in another setting to become available – such as at a special school. The figures also include those not in education at all, waiting for a placement to become available.
Statistics across England showed that there were 12,700 children and young people with an EHCP not receiving any provision in education settings. Or, were waiting for specified provision to become available in a different setting elsewhere. A total of 1,260 children – representing 0.3 per cent of all EHCPs – of compulsory school age were not in some form of education last year.
The statistics in Bristol for EHCP timeliness have been the source of contention amongst the special educational needs and disabilities (Send) community for some years. The newly released 2019 figures don’t yield many surprises.
Reliable data regarding Bristol Send has also been a massive issue, with Councillor Anna Keen commissioning a Send data review by the summer of 2019. The new permanent Director of Education and Skills Alison Hurley, has also had to take away data requested at People Scrutiny Commission public forum to look at it again as late as February 2020.
During 2019, Bristol was only able to complete 3 out of 410 EHCPs within the 20 week time limit. The total number of EHCPs held by children and young people in Bristol now comes to 2700.
Changes to the law in 2014 brought about the end of statements and the introduction of EHCPs. Statistics in the new DfE data states there were only 395 EHCPs completed during 2019, with just 3 being finished within the legal time frame. The Bristol years 2017 and 2018 are particularly interesting, seeing the number of EHCPs drop in the run up to the 2018 Judicial Review in Bristol before growing again. This was going against the rest of the country which was experiencing increasing numbers and may be put down to Bristol not following the clear legal test specified in the Send Code of Practice.
Growing numbers of EHCPs from 2014 can also be put down to the population bulge years in Bristol, for which adequate Send place planning in schools also did not take place.
The top ten worst local authorities for issuing EHCPs on time shows Bristol is not only late, but significantly late in comparison to the poor performance of other LAs.
The LAs with the best rate of meeting statutory duties are shown below, but it’s not always a simple comparison. Most of the best performing LAs for timeliness have much lower numbers of plans, but Gloucestershire does buck the trend. However, what the data doesn’t tell us is what the quality of plans is like and how lawfully they are written.
When compared against its statistical neighbours, Bristol again doesn’t do that well. It may be one of the LAs producing the most number of plans, but even Leeds managed to turn around the majority of their 594 plans on time.
The number of school aged children with an EHCP in Bristol jumps significantly by secondary school age during 2020. The effectiveness and timeliness in the identification of children and young people with Send is something the council is forced to address after Ofsted and the CQC found it was an an area of ‘significant weakness’ in their inspection result released at the end of 2019.
Other major Send issues that have come to prominence within the Send community during the last two years is off rolling and a lack of special school places.
In 2019, only 5 children and young people with an EHCP are listed as being in alternative provision (AP) or a pupil referral unit (PRU) despite spend on AP in Bristol being the highest outside of London last year. The same figure has jumped to 117 for 2020. Hospital School has slipped into special school category and the number of children and young people requiring a space at an independent special school has jumped from 50 in 2019 to 166 in 2020.
The number of children and young people in mainstream academy education with an EHCP has soared from 280 in 2019 to 543 in 2020. The statistic has also doubled in LA maintained mainstream schools.
In 2019, there were 54 children and young people with an EHCP not getting any education in school. According to the figures submitted to the DfE, a total of 6 were of compulsory school age and awaiting provision, 7 had arrangements made by their parents and 39 had other arrangements made by the council.
A staggering 120 were Neet – not in education, employment or training – aged 16-18.
In 2019, there were 626 initial requests for an EHCP in Bristol. A total of 101 initial requests for assessment were refused with another 15 children and young people refused an EHCP after assessment.
Some 460 children and young people were still in the system either being assessed or had been assessed but a decision to issue an EHCP had not yet been made. One request was made for a young person in youth accommodation, another failure in earlier identification. And, 59 mediation cases took place concerning the EHCP process of which 6 went to tribunal.
More Send data is expected later in the summer. What it needs is better scrutiny, transparency and more importantly accuracy. At People Scrutiny Commission in February this year, Alison Hurley told councillors: “The data hasn’t been routinely captured, what they’ve done is they’ve put together an average which is why the evidence about the time reducing, we’ve got to drill down into the data to be able to answer that.”
She also assured the scrutiny commission that an update on the general data dashboard would be coming to scrutiny on a ‘regular basis’ and would also be available to parents and carers on the Local Offer website.
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