May 22, 2023, Derbyshire Times: Urgent meeting with Chesterfield MP as Derbyshire parents and headteacher say children with special needs are being 'left without support' https://www.derbyshiretimes.co.uk/news/people/urgent-meeting-with-chesterfield-mp-as-derbyshire-parents-and-headteacher-say-children-with-special-needs-are-being-left-without-support-4152540
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins, has called for an urgent meeting with Derbyshire County Council to discuss ‘unacceptable delays’ to Education, Health and Care Plans meaning children and schools are left without support.
An EHCP is a legally binding document outlining a child’s special educational, health, and social care needs and creating a plan of support.
Legally, the process should take a maximum of 20 weeks, but many parents and teachers have said this is now taking 40 to 50 weeks – meaning children are left without the support they need and can’t be accepted by special schools.
Melissa Leam, 32, from Condor, one of the parents affected by delays said tying to get an EHCP for her son, Ethan, 8, was a ‘nightmare’.
She said: “When I first applied for EHCP we lived in Nottinghamshire, 10 minutes away from the Derbyshire border, but all the closest special needs schools were in Derbyshire.
“My son started going to basic school but kept having meltdowns. The school itself said they cannot meet his needs because of how complex his autism is. It was awful.
"Trying to get an update from the council was a nightmare. They just tried to ignore me. I spoke to a local MP, it helped a bit, I had meetings with the council members, and talked to a senior special needs officer. But they kept saying they will not move Ethan to the special needs school for another year.
“Finally we decided to take this to the tribunal but just before, the council sorted out the documents for EHCP.
“We had to fight this hard for a basic right to education. It was a nightmare. I spoke to other parents fighting for the plan and facing the delays. It is detrimental to our struggling children and our mental health as parent. It should not be this difficult.”
Ellie Tomlison, 22, from Chesterfield, has also been affected by the delays. She applied to Derbyshire County Council for her son who suffers from sensory processing issues and is nonverbal.
But after 32 weeks Ellie had not heard back from the council and missed an application deadline for special needs school for September 2023….
“We have applied for the plan at the beginning of October and were told that the council will reply to us by January 16. I have emailed and called DCC so many times, tried different numbers but couldn’t get through and all I got back are automated email responses.
“This is much harder than it needs to be. There are so many loopholes and there’s nothing in place to support parents like me. I have contacted other parents of children with special needs online and they all have similar problems up and down the country.”
Sue Parkes, headteacher at Staveley Junior School said: “We are finding that many of the funding requests being made as part of an application for an EHCP are taking way beyond the expected 20-week limit currently and this does put an added burden on schools struggling to support children with additional needs with budgets already very stretched. The delays are also very difficult for parents who are left without a clear decision as to whether their child will be eligible for extra funding.”
Toby Perkins said he had been contacted by countless concerned parents over the last few months regarding the long delays to the EHCP process.He added: “This is leaving children without the support they need to ensure they are getting a full education, but also means time and resources at school are being stretched, affecting the education of all pupils.
Without an EHC Plan schools don’t get the extra resources they need to support children with special needs and children’s needs go undiagnosed and catered for.“I look forward to learning what has caused the delays that we are seeing currently and what actions are being taken to address it.”
A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council said Derbyshire has had a significant increase in the number of EHCPs and for the assessments and advice that go along with these and other local authorities are facing similar increases in demand.
They added: “As a result of this our performance in completing some ECHPs within the 20 week deadline has been impacted and has lead to delays in completing some of them on time. We are extremely sorry for any children, families and schools who are being negatively affected and we are working extremely hard to improve our performance.
“Derbyshire County Council is investing significant additional staffing resources to address these challenges as well as reviewing and restructuring its services to manage the demand in the future.
“The additional resources are being deployed to both catch up and finalise those that have gone over the deadline and to also keep current and new plans within the 20 week timescale.
”A meeting has been arranged with Mr Perkins and we welcome the opportunity to discuss with him the concerns that have been raised, as well as the additional steps we are taking to deal with the challenges that demand pressures are creating.”