In a move that has sparked significant outrage and extreme concern, it has been revealed that a funding relief agreement by the Department for Education with some local authorities, contains targets to cut 20% of Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCPs) for children with special educational needs. This decision has far-reaching implications for the vulnerable children who rely on their EHCPs for essential support and services. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this decision and examine the profound impact it may have on children with special needs and their families.
The EHC Plan: A Lifeline for Children with SEND
EHC plans are a vital part of the support system for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in England. These individualised plans are designed to identify the unique needs of each child and outline the specific support and services they require to access education and achieve their full potential.
The Importance of the right support
One of the key principles underlying EHC plans is early and accurate intervention. While many EHCPs are issued far too late to be considered “early”, putting in the right interventions provides children with the best possible chance of achieving their potential. This approach aligns with the government’s stated commitment to creating an inclusive education system that caters to all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
The Controversial Decision
Provision for disabled children with EHCPs is legally mandated. The number of EHCPs is rising because mainstream schools lack the staff, expertise and basic funding to meet children’s needs at the lower “SEN Support” levels of help, forcing parents to apply for statutory needs assessments. This is exacerbated by the lack of any recent increase to the amount schools get to provide this basic level of SEN Support. As a result, many, if not most, LAs are struggling with the financial cost of High Needs Provision, particularly for funding places in independent special schools. An increasing number have signed up to government schemes to bail them out and reduce costs — the “Delivering Better Value” (BDV) programme.
Deep within the BDV programme contract are arbitrary targets to reduce issuing EHCPs, and to increase ending existing plans, by at least 20%,. This has caused understandable worry among parents, educators, and advocacy groups. Parents have often fought long and hard to secure the plan needed. Meanwhile those parents whose child has recently been refused an assessment or plan will be wondering if their child has been a victim of the DBV contract. While the Government has denied that the 20% figure is a target that was communicated to local authorities, the fact remains it is there within the contract for contracted LAs to read. While fiscal responsibility is important, many argue that these cuts will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable children in society.
Impact on Children with Special Needs
If these cuts are implemented, there is no doubt that disabled children face losing needed help:
- Reduced Access to Support Services: Perhaps the most immediate and significant impact of the EHC plan cuts will be reduced access to crucial support services for children with special needs. This includes speech therapy, occupational therapy, and one-on-one teaching assistance, among others, as well as potentially other health and social care support contained within individual plans.
- Overburdened Schools: With fewer resources available for children with special needs, mainstream schools may find it increasingly challenging to accommodate the diverse needs of their students. This can lead to overburdened teachers and decreased quality of education for all students. Children without plans cannot access state special schools, and those needing the support of an independent special school—often those needing wrap-around support or small class sizes—will not qualify for fees paid by the council if a plan is removed early.
- Missed Intervention: Without an EHC needs assessment or plan in place, some children may miss out on appropriate interventions, access to specialist teaching, or a package of Education Out of School (EOTAS)support. for those who cannot attend school for medical reasons.
- Emotional and Psychological Impact: The uncertainty and stress surrounding these cuts can have a profound emotional and psychological impact on children with SEND and their families. Parents may struggle to access the support they need to help their children, leading to frustration and additional expense finding privately-funded solutions that they shouldn’t need to pay for themselves.
- Potential Long-Term Consequences: Targets to reduce EHC plans, without first funding the right training and funding for schools to develop in-house provision, will lead to long-term consequences for these children. Without the necessary support, children will struggle academically, socially, and emotionally, potentially limiting their future opportunities and independence.
- It is unclear if this could be interpreted as a “blanket” target for cuts to statutory support. The lawfulness of this is doubtless something public law barristers will be considering. This presumably depends on the way a council tries to implement a reduction to issuing or maintaining plans. This is something parents should be watching closely, as I am sure advocates will be.
The government’s apparent target to cut 20% of EHC plans has ignited a fierce debate about the priorities and responsibilities of the state in providing for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Children do not get EHCPs unnecessarily, and when appealed, 96% of parents prevail at the SEND Tribunal. We firmly believe the welfare of the most vulnerable members of society should remain a top priority. It is crucial for policymakers to reassess this part of the DBV contract to consider the long-term impact on the children who depend on these plans for their well-being and future success.
I would urge any parent who thinks their child may be affected by a refusal to assess, issue an EHCP, or an early ending to a plan, to get in touch below if you need professional legal support.
Rukhsana Koser, Partner, Langley Wellington, Education Lawyers