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(UK) Essex: Worse SPED assessment rate in the country

May 14, 2024, BBC News: Parents' anger over special needs response

E. England

Parents have heckled senior councillors at a meeting over delays to assessments for children with special educational needs.

About a dozen parents were at the Essex County Council meeting on Tuesday.

Only about 1% of children in the county receive an assessment for an educational health care plan (EHCP) within the legal time limit of 20 weeks.

The council's Conservative cabinet member for education, Tony Ball, said we have "let down" the young people of Essex.

No question time

The full council meeting at County Hall in Chelmsford was told that 19 questions had been submitted by families about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

But just one was allowed to be asked during the meeting's public question section, which lasts 30 minutes.

Mother-of-two Hannah Harding, from Uttlesford, said: "We have been denied that opportunity to ask questions and are very disappointed."

Liberal Democrat opposition councillor Marie Goldman suggested that not allowing extra questions was "giving the impression" of wanting to avoid the issue.

Fellow Lib Dem councillor Jude Deakin said: “This council is denying the right of parents to ask sensible and important questions"

Hannah Harding has given up work while she navigates the SEND process

Outside the meeting, parents told of the sacrifices they had made to look after their children while awaiting an EHCP assessment.

Mrs Harding, 39, has a six and ten-year-old with additional needs, including autism, and said she could be waiting up to a year for an assessment to be carried out on her youngest.

The qualified teacher said: "Unfortunately I have not been able to work for the vast majority of two years.

"I loved my job, but I've had to stop and focus on my children."

And on the current system for assessments she added: "It is a minefield and it is utterly soul destroying every single day to constantly be emailing and chasing."

Another mother Elizabeth Castle, 42, from Chelmsford, said her teenage son was in a SEND secondary school, but that other children were getting "shoe-horned" into mainstream.

"My son is traumatised because of certain schools that have suspended him for reasons that pertain to his autistic nature," she explained.


Having an EHCP puts public funding in place to support a child or young person with additional needs.

Mr Ball faced jeers in the council chamber as he said 2,237 of EHCPs still needed to be assessed, and of those, 26 families had been waiting more than a year.

“I make no secret that within Essex our performance is unacceptable and has let down the children and young people of Essex," he said.

“I have before and do again apologise to the families that are affected."

The county council is due to spend £1m [$1.3M] on paying for extra assessment specialists in a bid to reduce its backlog.

Ralph Holloway, the head of SEND strategy at the council, previously confirmed the rate of 1% was the lowest of any local authority in England.

A council spokesperson explained there was "limited" time for questions at meetings.

"It would also be unfair on others who wish to raise different issues if all of the questions focused on one subject," they added.

The Department for Education (DfE) published its SEND and alternative provision improvement plan last year, promising to end a "postcode lottery" system in England.

Thirty-three special free schools would be built and an extra £4.8m [$6.1M] would be provided to expand "specialist taskforces".



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