Lancashire special needs children 'highly likely' to get additional support after assessment - but some are still placed far from home
It puts the authority amongst the top quarter of councils in the country when it comes to the proportion of youngsters who go on to receive an education, health and care plan (EHCP) after an assessment has been carried out.
EHCPs are documents issued to enable children and young people up to the age of 25 to access the specialist support they need.
The number of those plans held by individuals in County Hall’s patch - which excludes Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen - leapt by almost 600 in the space of a year, a 7.5 increase, up from 8,095 in December 2020 to 8,691 12 months later.
The county council declined to produce an EHCP, post-assessment, in just 1.3 percent of cases during 2020, according to data obtained and collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) as part of a wide-ranging examination of SEND services across the country.
Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) analysis of that data shows that the average refusal rate for an EHCP across 151 local authorities in England that year was 4.8 percent. In 21 areas, more than 10 percent of assessments ended without an EHCP being issued.
Lancashire County Council also agreed to 91 percent of requests for an assessment to be undertaken - well inside the top fifth of authorities by that measure.
Meanwhile, the authority was amongst the third of councils with the lowest proportion of children with an EHCP who are placed in settings in other council areas, at 7.4 percent. However, the size of the county means that nevertheless equates to 641 pupils.
Of those, 59 were placed in local authorities more than 20 miles away from their home - and five were more than a hundred miles away. The furthest distance involved a young person from Skelmersdale who was sent to Newbury, around 193 miles away.
Lancashire is also in the top 15 areas of the country with the highest proportion of children with EHCPs who are placed in independent or non-maintained schools - 15.2 percent, or 1,022 pupils, as of January 2021.
As the LDRS has previously revealed, the authority’s attempts to create 24 new SEND units attached to mainstream schools got off to a slow start when expressions of interest were first invited 18 months ago - with uptake from the secondary sector initially being non-existent.
However, last September, the county council announced that it had agreed for six such units to open at primary level - to add to two that were already open - and said another four schools were going into informal consultations over housing proposed new facilities..
Secondary school interest had picked up by that point, with one new unit having been approved in Preston, at Ashton Community Science College, and four other schools across Lancashire beginning informal consultation.
Responding to the BIJ data on various aspects of its SEND performance, Lancashire County Council's executive director of education and children's services, Edwina Grant, said that children's education was one of the authority’s “highest priorities”.
She added: “That is why we have taken numerous steps in recent years to ensure that no child is left behind.
"Our Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Sufficiency Strategy was developed in response to the increase in demand for specialist SEND provision across Lancashire.
"In line with the SEND code of practice, it sets out that, wherever possible, children should be educated within their local community, in mainstream schools where appropriate.
"A series of decisions taken by our cabinet last September will mean that more children and young people will have access to the specialist provision they need within their local community.
"Another 40 SEN unit places will be available across the county by September 2022 and more than 150 from September 2023, as well as nearly 200 special school places that will be phased in gradually from September 2022.
"These steps should serve to reduce our dependency on more expensive independent or non-maintained schools.
"We are also asking our cabinet to take further steps to enable us to consider the development of additional SEN units in schools in areas of Lancashire that need them most.
"While it is pleasing to see the positive actions are making a difference, we acknowledge that there are always areas where we can improve, and we will continue to strive to do that so that every child and young person gets the best possible start in life."
Late last year, the county council was told by the Department for Education that it had made sufficient progress in the five remaining areas of concern out of the 12 that it was ordered to address in the wake of a damning OFSTED inspection report in 2017. That assessment had found that parents and carers were left “bewildered” by decisions made about their children, whose needs were not always being met.
The blistering verdict led to the county being put under close and regular monitoring as it sought to turn its SEND services around.
By 2020, the county’s local authority and NHS providers had been told that they had “transformed” the support provided to SEND children and their families - but were yet to make sufficient progress in some key areas.
Last April, Lancashire was advised to “build on” its progress and specifically tackle the then remaining areas of inconsistency across the patch, including waiting times for those being assessed for an autism spectrum diagnosis and in the provision of some services such as continence products.
At a final review meeting before Christmas, the county was told that no further monitoring visits would be required - and there were no outstanding areas of concern.
HOW TO GET A SUPPORT PLAN FOR YOUR CHILD
You can ask Lancashire County Council (or Blackpool or Blackburn with Darwen councils for residents in those areas) to carry out an assessment if you think your child needs an education, health and care plan (EHCP) because of their special needs or disabilities.
A young person can request an assessment themselves if they’re aged between 16 to 25.
A request can also be made by anyone who thinks an assessment may be necessary, including parents or carers, doctors, health visitors, teachers and family friends.
If the local authority decides to carry out an assessment, you may be asked for:
***any reports from your child’s school, nursery or childminder;
***doctors’ assessments of your child;
***a letter from you about your child’s needs.
The council must tell you within 16 weeks whether an EHCP is going to be made for your child and, if they do agree to issue one, it must be in place within 20 weeks of the initial request being made.
A draft EHCP is created before a final version is produced and the person who has requested it has 15 days to comment, including any request for a child to go to a special needs school or specialist college.
In the Lancashire County Council area...
8,691 – number of under-25s with an education, health and care plan (Dec 2021)
7.5 percent – increase in the number of education, health and care plans (between Dec 2020 and Dec 2021)
98.7 percent – proportion of assessments for an education, health and care plan which resulted in one being issued (2020)
641 – number of children with a care plan who are placed in settings outside the Lancashire County Council area (Dec 2021)
59 – number of children with a care plan who are placed more than 20 miles from home (Dec 2021)
193 miles – farthest distance a Lancashire child was placed from home
Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism data