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(UK) "Across the country, crisis in special needs services"; a 'perfect storm'

Dec 26, 2023, Bracknell News: Bracknell Forest parents face ‘anguish’ over SEND crisis

Near London

Parents feel anguish over delays and struggles to get support for children with special educational needs, the councillor responsible Bracknell’s schools and children’s services has acknowledged.

Councillor Roy Bailley made the comments in an interview with the LDRS about Bracknell Forest’s efforts to make things better for families – and the money problems that make that a challenge, warning that councils face a “perfect storm.”

Across the country a crisis in special educational needs services means many families face delays of weeks and even months as they wait for their children to get the support they need.

An update to the council’s health and wellbeing board in September suggested families could wait up to 30 weeks.

One of the biggest issues for parents is delays getting an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). …

But councillor Bailley admitted the council has had a “backlog” in applications – and that waiting for one leave parents “beside yourself with fear and worry” while their child waits for support.

“At the end of the day it’s kids at the end of this – it’s families. The stress and frustration,” he said. “The anguish in parents’ emails and letters I get is palpable.”

Councillor Bailley said the number of delayed EHCPs in Bracknell Forest is falling, and that the council is making improvements under a plan with the regulator Ofsted. But he admitted: “We’ve not always been good at responding in a timely fashion.”

The problem is the same faced by councils all over the country. The number of families asking for EHCPs is increasing, and the costs of providing special educational needs services are also rising with inflation.
Council leaders recently agreed to apply for a government grant aimed at funding SEND services in schools known as Safety Valve. But it comes with strings attached. Schools will have to pay for some of it by taking money out of their already-stretched mainstream education budgets.

And the council has to show it has a plan to balance its books – pushing it to look to cuts elsewhere. But it’s legally obliged to provide SEND services. Yet without the Safety Valve cash the cost of providing those services would be so much it could threaten the council’s entire stability.

Councillor Bailley says “years of government underfunding” lies behind the problem. “The reality is that local authorities are in crisis across the country,” he said. “There’s never been a worse time in the history of local government.”


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