LAs spent £100m on fighting SEND appeals then lost nine out of ten

Janet Downs's picture

Special needs pupils being let down

Councils spent nearly £100m in the past four years on fighting appeals against their rejection of special needs support, The Times reports (17 November 2018, behind paywall).

LAs strapped for cash are increasingly unwilling to issue education and health care plans (EHC)   which lay down additional support to meet the identified educational, health and social needs of a child or young person up to age 25.

Those applying for an EHC can challenge their LA if,  for example, the council decided not to complete an assessment.  If the problem can’t be resolved, then applicants can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) tribunal.

But such appeals cost time and money which could have been saved if the councils had produced an EHC in the first place.  Time is what children and young people don’t have.  Delays in issuing an EHC mean these youngsters don’t get their support entitlement.  Parents are being forced to spend money they can ill-afford to fight uncooperative LAs. 

The villains are recalcitrant LAs and national government for failing to fund LAs properly. 

The victims are vulnerable children who need help most.

Many LAs use law firm which mocked parents of SEND children

The Times editorial, entitled ‘School Bullies’ said £100m of taxpayers’ money has been spent by LAs fighting appeals.   In nine out of ten cases, the LA lost.  The leader also highlighted the use by many LAs of a controversial law firm which had had to apologise in 2016 for tweets which mocked parents of SEND children.  

False economy to deny support for SEND children

Delaying or denying support to SEND children and young people is false economy.  Early intervention can reduce the need for more expensive support later.  Refusing help now pushes the problem down the road.   More importantly,  it’s immoral – The Times makes this clear:

Children with special needs do not deserve punishment.  Councils should rethink their priorities’.

National government shares the blame

LAs who use dubious means to avoid issuing EHC should rightly be condemned.  But national government also shares the blame.   A few days earlier, the Guardian featured a survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) which projected a £536m shortfall this year in SEND funding.  The paper reported how some families have begun legal action against central government accusing it of not funding councils properly.   

The Department for Education (DfE) says  LAs will receive £6b in funding this year for young people with ‘more complex SEND’ – up from £5b in 2013.  But ‘more complex SEND’ excludes SEND youngsters whose needs are less complex.  And, as the DfE acknowledges, LAs are ‘facing cost pressures’.

But acknowledging a problem without solving it with action is hot air.    Central government must fund councils and schools adequately.


ADDENDUM 12.37:   Just found an email dated 16 November telling me that Statutory Guidance to Improve Young People's Wellbeing had just been published.  It 'covers the rationale and scope of the duty, and the responsibilities of local authorities to provide appropriate local youth services to improve young people’s well-being.'    The government's website says the guidance has just been published.  But if you click on the link you see a document dated June 2012.    Either the document's been sitting in someone's tray for six years or the government hasn't got round to updating the link.  Either way, it shows the government isn't on top of things.  Could it be distracted at the moment?

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