Members of Parliament are seeking clarification in the face of reports concerning government objectives to reduce the quantity of Education, Health, and Care Plans.

 

The Education Committee has raised concerns and sought clarification from the Department for Education (DfE) regarding a recent report in The Observer. According to this report, the government entered into a contract with a consultancy firm in July 2022 as part of the Delivering Better Value in Send programme, with the apparent goal of achieving a minimum 20% reduction in new Education, Health, and Care plans (EHCPs) issued.

 

In a letter addressed to David Johnston, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Families, and Wellbeing, committee chair Robin Walker MP expressed concern over this revelation. This development appeared to contradict statements made by former children’s minister Claire Coutinho, who, during an evidence session in May 2023, asserted that the DfE was not attempting to limit EHCPs through the SEND and AP Improvement Plan.

 

Recent reports have also highlighted efforts by Kingston and Richmond councils to “manage demand” for EHCPs, further raising concerns about potential rationing.

 

Despite these concerns, the committee voiced its support for various proposals outlined in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan, released earlier in the year. These proposals included increasing the training of Special Educational Needs Coordinators and educational psychologists, standardising and digitising EHCPs, and boosting overall funding through the Change Programme.

 

The committee welcomed Coutinho’s confirmation that mandatory mediation would not be tested in the Change Programme. This decision addressed concerns raised by witnesses and families, who feared that mediation would become compulsory to resolve EHCP disputes before initiating tribunal appeals.

 

Additionally, the committee appreciated Coutinho’s announcement that inspectors who assess specialist settings would receive specific SEND training as part of the Ofsted strategy 2022-27, which includes both initial training and annual updates. However, the committee sought information on the proportion of inspectors with backgrounds in special schools.

 

In conclusion, Walker acknowledged that while the SEND and AP Improvement Plan contained many positive measures for the benefit of children and young people, issues such as funding, regional disparities, workforce challenges, early identification, and timelines continued to be sources of concern.

 

In response, a spokesperson from the Department for Education refuted claims that support for children and young people with SEND was being withdrawn. They emphasized that there were no specific targets for reducing EHCPs and highlighted the government’s substantial investments in high needs budgets and capital. The DfE’s reform plan aimed to enhance SEND support with earlier interventions, with EHCPs remaining available for parents as a vital option.

 

The Education Committee’s request for clarification reflects ongoing scrutiny of government policies and actions related to special educational needs and disabilities, ensuring that the rights and needs of children with SEND are adequately met.

 

A copy of the letter Mr Robin Walker MP sent to David Johnston Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Families and Wellbeing can be found here:

 

https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/41516/documents/204392/default/

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