Central Beds Council admits time it takes to produce education health and care plans is ‘unacceptable’

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A local authority has described the time it takes to produce education health and care plans (EHCPs) for children and young people with complex needs as "unacceptable".

Faced by ever increasing numbers, Central Bedfordshire Council completed 474 EHCPs last year. The average number in Central Bedfordshire from 2016 to 2019 was 214.

An inspection in November 2019 by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found "significant areas of weakness in the local special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) practice".

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A written statement of action was submitted by the council and BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group after a critical report.

CBC headquarters, Chicksands. Image: Google.CBC headquarters, Chicksands. Image: Google.
CBC headquarters, Chicksands. Image: Google.

New CBC director of children's services Sarah-Jane Smedmor today (May 12) opted to explain publicly the challenges it faces by issuing a statement. "Today we're expecting the Department for Education to release the SEN2 data," she said.

"The information provides a snapshot from January to December 2021 and shows a continued increase in demand for EHCPs. This has contributed to a decline in those being completed within 20 weeks in Central Bedfordshire.

"The number of plans completed overall has gone up by more than 100 per cent during the last two years.

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"Regrettably EHCPs completed within the 20-week time frame dropped from 51.2 to 10.8 per cent and from 61.9 to 12.7 per cent for those excluding exception cases."

In these exceptional cases, a local authority need not comply with the 20-week time limit where it might be impractical to do so.

"This level of performance is unacceptable," according to Ms Smedmor. "We know how fundamentally important EHCPs are to children and young people with complex needs getting the right support, while delays add to the stress and pressure on families.

"We owe parents an explanation about how we're addressing this. As part of our improvement plan, we want to provide better quality EHCPs.

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"We've invested in training for more than 540 staff in children’s services, local schools and from our health partners.

"A quality assurance framework has been developed and a new EHCP proformas to ensure the quality of these plans is consistent across Central Bedfordshire.

"We're on track for all our annual reviews for children and young people with an EHCP to be up-to-date by September 2022," she added.

"And targeted SEN support training for our staff in schools will enable them to better identify needs at an earlier stage and where a plan is required.

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"This early intervention offer is important as it enables schools to request extra funding for SEND children.

"The time frames for producing EHCPs has been a challenge because of the increase in demand and shortage of educational psychologists.

"There are a limited number of educational psychologists, so it's a highly competitive professional area to recruit to and we've had vacancies to fill."

A new principal education psychologist is in post and a deputy educational psychologist will join CBC in July.

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"It will be their role to oversee the timeliness and quality of psychological advice given by the educational psychologists," Ms Smedmor explained.

"We understand this explanation doesn't offer any remedy to the parents and carers waiting longer than they should for their child to receive an EHCP. But I hope it gives some reassurance that we're grasping the issues.

"EHCPs will remain a key focus of our SEND improvement work. We've the right professionals in the team to provide high quality and timely EHCPs to our families."