Bristol EHCP 2018 Backlog is Over Director Tells Scrutiny

The Bristol EHCP backlog from 2018 has now been cleared, according to the Executive Director of People at a meeting last month.

Jacqui Jensen told councillors at People Scrutiny Commission at the end of October, that the 2018 backlog was now cleared and the 2019 backlog would be cleared by the end of 2020.

The Director failed to bring along any hard data to the meeting and there was no information given about how refusal to assess, wins at Send tribunal and the take up by schools of non-statutory support plans impacted on the figures.

Bristol City Council’s People Directorate Quarterly Performance Progress Report for Quarter 1 of 2020/21, was up for review at People Scrutiny Commission at the end of October.

Meeting papers stated: ‘During the period January to March, 211 new EHC needs assessment requests were received. In the same period last year 165 were received which is an increase of 46 statutory assessment requests. This increase in demand needs to be monitored alongside the productivity of the team.

‘7.4 % EHCPs were completed in the 20 week statutory time frame in comparison to 0% in the same time period last year. The team recognises that there is still distance to travel and is committed to improving the number of EHCPs produced in the 20 week time frame. In addition to this they are also committed to continuing to clear the backlog of legacy cases that are outstanding.

Over all 135 plans were completed in quarter 1 (including plans from the back log defined as those outside the 20 week time frame) in comparison to 51 completed in the same time period last year. Therefore, 84 more EHCPs were completed this year in the same time period which is a significant increase in the productivity of the team.

A greater proportion of cases could be completed in the 20 week time period if the backlog of legacy cases were not being prioritised alongside those new cases (defined as cases that can be completed in the 20 week time frame). However, we must continue to work on completing those cases outside the 20 week time frame given the length of time families have been waiting for assessments and plans.’

Jensen admitted during scrutiny that although in this time period they had completed 7.4 per cent of EHCPs on time compared to last year’s figures, it was from a ‘really low base’ and nothing to ‘applaud’ them on.

By law, Bristol City Council is required to complete 100 per cent of the EHC needs assessments to finalised plans within 20 weeks. This target was deemed so unachievable that the council is currently only aiming to complete 20 per cent within statutory timelines as their target.

During the meeting, Councillor Tim Kent asked how many EHCPs are currently waiting to be processed, in light of Jensen saying that the situation around the provision was ‘improving’.

Jensen replied saying she had not brought data to the meeting other than the information in the report, although said she would send the data requested onwards.

Kent said: “Because back in February it was just under 500 cases that’d not been processed, applications had not been processed. Having looked at the data of how many have been processed since then compared to how many applications have come in, and even if you take account for the fact that some of the applications would have been refused at the six week assessment point, it appears to me that none of the legacy cases as they are referred to here have actually reduced. In fact, if anything, they’ve gone the other way. According to the data presented to us here today.”

In reply Jensen said: “When we started getting accurate data, and you know the position we were in twelve month ago, we had backlogs going back to 2018. We’ve now cleared the backlog 2018, we’ve cleared our last legacy cases from 2018.

“By the end of November, we will have cleared the legacy cases for 2019 and we will then be on 2020. We have never been in that position where legacy cases have been in the same year as we’ve been working in. Now albeit that will only be November December and then we’ll be into 2020/21.

“But, we should be able to timeline based on the evidence we’ve had over the last twelve months. We should be able to timeline that for you and in the coming months and quite quickly as the where we think we will have cleared that backlog and we will be only producing the work that comes in to us.

“But the information that I just gave you indicates that we have absolutely moved on that backlog. And what the team have tried to do, they’ve really tried to work on it ethically so rather than just take the cases as they come in, to get the 20 week, a much better figure, we have worked really diligently balancing what they take from legacy cases and what they take from new cases coming in and they’ve really tried to balance that well.”

Jensen promised to supply the requested data to Councillor Kent finishing: ”without a shadow of a doubt we have drove down legacy cases.’

Kent called it ‘some good news to hear’ clarifying: “So what I’ve heard you say is that by the end of November there will actually be no EHCP applications which will be older than twelve months.”

Jensen said: “After the end of November there will be no legacy cases that came in in 2019.”

Kent continued: “I understand why the target was set at 20 per cent but just to point out, that does mean the council does plan to break the law in 80 per cent of all EHCP applications received this year. Just to point out that’s what that target is.”

The current EHCP ‘data dashboard’ is buried on Bristol City Council’s Local Offer website in an August Written Statement of Action Update

In it the council states that SEND assessment coordinators are splitting their work on the basis of 2/3 backlog cases and 1/3 new Needs Assessments.

The paperwork also says that this was deemed a ‘fair and sensible approach’ by Bristol’s DfE adviser. The August Written Statement of Action Update also states: ‘This means that, although timeliness has improved, we won’t see the full effect of improved timeliness until the number of overdue cases is reduced to a level that lets the team increase the balance of new needs assessments being worked on.’

The approach means that new EHC requests are being prioritised over those currently in the queue, which will also show ‘improved’ timeliness on scrutiny statistics.

Overall improvements to the process started to come at the end of 2019, after interim Director of Education Alan Stubbersfield – paid £116,678 for six months work – was replaced by Alison Hurley in a permanent position.

In January 2020, the SEND team expanded by an additional much-needed 24 staff. The recruitment was announced months after Jensen had told Send parents that 20 new caseworkers was something that the council ‘didn’t need’.