15th Sep, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Unlawful breaches for our special needs kids in Solihull

Felix Nobes 15th Feb, 2018

ABOUT 40 per cent of Solihull children with specials needs who require a formal plan for their schooling had to wait longer than the legal maximum waiting time last year, we can reveal.

We have for weeks been reporting on parents’ claims of a “lack of provision” for their children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND).

Many complained of difficulties attaining an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan, for mainstream schools or special schools.

An EHC plan provides those aged up to 25 with a legally binding document outlining what support they need for their education.

Because these documents are so important, there is a legal 20-week maximum limit for them to be issued by councils.

Yet, alarmingly, the law has been breached in the cases of 78 Solihull youngsters since January last year, council figures obtained by us show.

This is around 40 per cent of the 194 EHC plans issued.

The delays are significantly affecting already disadvantaged youngsters’ schooling, parents say.

And the nightmare wait is made worse if families appeal.

In response to our investigation, Meriden MP Caroline Spelman pledged to support any affected families in her constituency.

She said: “Children with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the same opportunities as other children and it is important that we, as a borough, do all we can to support their learning and development.

“I sympathise with the parents who, in last month’s Solihull Observer, described the challenges they encountered when trying to access support from local (SEND) services.”

She added pupils with special needs are being awarded additional financial support from extra government funding to councils this year, and its new revised funding formula.

A joint report by watchdogs Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in December criticised Solihull’s performance with EHC plans.

Dame Caroline pointed to the report’s outcome in stating Solihull needs to improve.

Councillor Ken Meeson, Solihull’s cabinet member for children, education and skills, said delivering EHC plans on time is a “national problem”.

He also claimed additional resources are being made available to combat delays.

Solihull is also badly lagging behind other councils nationally in dealing with a backlog of re-assessments of special needs children’s old statements, as required under government changes.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, has said of EHC plan delays: “When councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support.”

Solihull council says it has received 19 statutory complaints about its EHC decisions in the last year, and 29 cases are going to tribunal.

Schools and special needs professionals are consulted when EHC plans are drawn up.

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