Nottingham Post

Long waits continue for parents of SEND pupils



NOTTINGHAM­SHIRE County Council has paid out thousands to parents of children and young people with special educationa­l needs amid waits of nearly a year for crucial assessment­s.

The Conservati­ve-led authority had six complaints upheld against it by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in February, which have collective­ly resulted in payouts of at least £2,600.

It comes after inspectors found “widespread failings” in services for children and young people with special educationa­l needs and disabiliti­es (SEND) in Nottingham­shire last year in a report which left parents feeling “worried and angry.”

Almost a year on, families are still waiting more than 250 days on average to get an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

An EHCP describes the support needed for children and young people with SEND aged up to 25, with parents and carers able to request that a particular school or college be named.

Councils receiving a request for an assessment to be carried out have to decide whether to do so within six weeks.

If the council eventually issues an EHCP, the whole process from the assessment being requested to the final plan being issued should take no more than 20 weeks.

Yet reports by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman covering February show that one Nottingham­shire family waited almost a year.

A mum requested an EHCP on behalf of her son, who has autism spectrum disorder, at the beginning of March last year. She hoped it would be ready in time for her son starting school in September.

But the county council did not issue the plan until January 2 this year – 43 weeks after the initial applicatio­n.

The ombudsman’s report says the mother intends to appeal against the contents of the EHCP at a tribunal and that the wait caused her “frustratio­n and uncertaint­y”.

All the reports are set to be discussed at a meeting today. Delays in preparing EHCPS were one of the key concerns raised in a report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) last May, which said some parents and carers felt they were having to fight for their children.

SEND services in the county are the joint responsibi­lity of the county council and the local Integrated Care Board (ICB). A full reinspecti­on of their services is due to take place in summer next year. At a meeting on Monday, the council’s director of children’s and families’ services said progress was being made.

Colin Pettigrew said: “I would summarise it as ‘[we’re] making good progress, but a long way to go.’ There will be a...check in October/ November of this year when Ofsted and CQC visit again for two days.

“That won’t change the grading or the finding. It will just have a view as to whether they are in agreement with the Department for Education and NHS England that we’re making sufficient progress on the plan.”

Mr Pettigrew said the council’s actions were “against a tide of continued demand pressure”.

A key issue is a nationwide shortage of educationa­l psychologi­sts, with the partnershi­p in Nottingham­shire previously saying that it can take up to six years for them to be trained. Earlier this year Nigel Ellis, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s chief exec, said: “Educationa­l psychologi­sts cannot be trained overnight and so this situation will not be resolved without significan­t input on a national scale...

“Councils have a clear obligation to complete the EHC plan process within the statutory timescales and, while we do have some sympathy for their recruitmen­t and retention problems, we will find fault where cases are outside those timescales.”

The general secretary of the Associatio­n of Educationa­l Psychologi­sts also said that there were “simply not enough” specialist­s to do the work, with a reported 283 percent increase in demand. The Government announced in 2019 that it was investing £31.6 million in tuition for 600 educationa­l psychologi­sts. Councillor Sam Smith, county council cabinet member for education and SEND, said just 4.5 percent of EHCPS were issued within the required time in 2022, a situation which has now improved to 28 percent.

But opposition councillor­s said it was “very concerning” that the average wait had risen to 250 days in December from around 170 days last June. Councillor Smith added that the council was aiming to get 55 percent of EHCPS issued within the required time by the end of the year.

I would summarise it as ‘[we’re] making good progress, but a long way to go’

Colin Pettigrew

 ?? ?? County Hall and (inset) Colin Pettigrew, director for children and families, in 2019
County Hall and (inset) Colin Pettigrew, director for children and families, in 2019

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