Special educational needs statistics are released by Department of Education

The Department for Education (DfE) has issued its first set of special educational needs statistics following the changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014.

The information published on 26 May 2016 is currently the only national source of data on all statements of special educational needs (SSEN) and Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).  The return of statistical information is mandatory for all local authorities (LAs).

The Children and Families Act 2014 came in force in September 2014, bringing in reforms to special educational needs and disabilities. The reforms introduced EHCPs which are to replace all SSENs by 31 March 2018. There is a time limit of 20 weeks to complete an assessment, leading to a final EHCP.

How are the reforms progressing?

The data collected gives information up to January 2016 covering:

There are numerous pages of special educational needs statistics but these must be read with care. Accompanying explanation of the figures collected highlights the many inaccuracies due to many factors including misinterpretation of the question, lack of an option to accurately record the information, lack of information, missing/incomplete data resulting in the removal of these figures from statistical calculations and overestimation.

A summary of the key findings are:

  • Numbers of statements and EHCPs – the combined number of SSENs and EHCPs has increased each year since 2010. There were 74, 210 EHCPs and 182, 105 SSENs at January 2016. This reflects the scope of the new reforms to include children and young people from birth and from 19 – 25 years.
  • Issue of EHCPs after assessment – during 2015, 96.2% of statutory or EHC needs assessments led to the issue of a SSEN or EHCP. During the same period, 10,935 requests for an EHC needs assessment were refused, an increase in 23.3% from the previous year for SSENs. Some of this could be accounted for by the increase in number of requests for assessments or it could also point to the combined effect of LAs tightening budgets and use of strict, and sometimes, unlawful criteria, in making decisions.
  • Statements and EHCPs issued within timescales – in 2015, only 59.2% of EHCPs were issued within the 20 week time limit with significant variation between regions across England. Outer London was the best at 71.1% of EHCPs issued within time limits, compared to the worst, East of England, at 47.5%. This is backed up by our own experience of variation in the efficiency of different LAs handling the assessment process.
  • Progress transferring cases to the new system – 18.2% of SSENS in place in January 2015 had transferred to EHCPs by January 2016 i.e. fewer than one in five children had successfully transitioned. The deadline to transfer over is April 2018. Given that by January 2016 we were over 1/3 way through the completed changeover timetable, (which must be completed by 31 March 2018), LAs are some way behind implementation. This calls into question whether local authorities (LAs) have the capacity to implement the requirement and whether all transitions will be completed by the completion date.
  • Personal budgets take up – the statistics show that there were 2, 205 personal budgets in place and reviewed during 2015, with a large variation between LAs in the level of take up. The commentary accompanying the statistics explains that the difference could be linked to a difference in policy with some encouraging families to take up budgets and others saying that their aim is to provide what families need in the local area so as to avoid the need for personal budgets. This again points to postcode lottery.
  • Mediation and tribunal cases – in 2015, 24.9% of cases (total 345 cases), went to tribunal appeals after mediation. This seems to show that mediation is working in the majority of cases and that can only be a good thing.

So, how are the reforms progressing? LAs are struggling to keep up. The changes brought about the Children and Families Act 2014 are encouraging but they have been brought about at a time of shrinking LA budgets. It is still incredibly difficult for the three bodies – Education, Health and Social Care – to cooperate, especially in discussions about funding. Families, children and young people should not have to wait half a year or longer to get the support that they need and they should not be in a position where they have to worry about whether or not there will be funding for them to continue with their education in the next year. Does more direction need to come from the Secretary of State for Education or is it the simple truth that no one wants to pay?

You can see the DfE’s full special educational needs statistics here.

An 18-page summary can be found here.

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