Complaints about SEN at alarming level

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found that children with special educational needs and disabilities are increasingly being failed by the system designed to support them.

The Ombudsman has revealed it is now upholding 87 per cent cases it investigates - a startling figure compared with its uphold rate of 57 per cent across all cases it looks at, discounting SEND cases.

The latest report, Not going to plan?, analyses the common problems the Ombudsman is finding when investigating parents’ concerns, including severe delays of up to 90 weeks when issuing a plan, not anticipating local needs, communication and preparation for meetings, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.

As a result of this, many children, often the most vulnerable in society, are not getting the right support at the right time, and this is having a significant impact on their education and attainment.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “We are now upholding almost nine in 10 investigations we carry out about Education, Health and Care plans. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work. Two years ago when the system was bedding in, we were concerned we were upholding around 80 per cent of investigations. That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.

“I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs. While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children. I hope this report puts the children and their families’ experiences in the spotlight and the battles they face, and ultimately more urgency on the whole SEND system improving.”

Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This report supports our long-term concerns that councils are in danger of being unable to meet their statutory duties for children with special educational needs. While we are pleased the government has announced an additional £700 million for children with special educational needs, without certainty over funding for the future the situation will get worse as the number of children who need support continues to increase.

“There are currently 354,000 pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – which state the support a child with SEND can receive, and is a 11 per cent increase since last year. This is why we are also pleased the government plans to review the system, and will work with them to get a clear picture of what more can be done to make sure vulnerable children can get the best support possible.”