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(UK) Tipton: "Long wait" for SPED plans/massive strain on budgets/huge backlog

Tipton, W. Midlands

The long wait for education, health and care plan applications to be processed not only denies pupils with special educational needs the right support, it also puts massive strain on schools’ budgets, as this headteacher explains

Leaders in schools around the country will know how many pressures we face at present: huge funding gaps, challenging student behaviours and increasing numbers of children with special needs to name just a few.

What’s more, the funding we receive to meet the additional needs of our most vulnerable students is wholly insufficient.

If, like my school, you are committed to inclusion, you can end up with a disproportionate number of children with resource-heavy and expensive needs and not much extra funding to provide support because the money available to local authorities to give to schools is completely insufficient….

While the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding is insufficient to meet the needs of children with a diagnosis and an education, health and care plan (EHCP), there is absolutely nothing for children who clearly have special needs but no diagnosis - a portion of students that grows all the time.

Sometimes they do not get a diagnosis simply because the systems to spot and support pupils do not exist in the scale required.

We have over 1,550 children in our school, with 300 arriving from 30 primary schools every year, so it’s not surprising that things get missed.

For example, I recently spent a morning shadowing a Year 7 class who were building a reputation for being challenging. Sitting beside one particular child, it became obvious he was exhibiting many characteristics of autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Up to that point, many thought he was just naughty, refusing to work and engage with staff. But as a former Sendco, my spider senses were tingling. He is now undergoing some assessments and the initial thoughts are that this is a young man who will need an EHCP.

Sadly this situation of an undiagnosed need is becoming increasingly common: at the point of transition to our school around one-third of Year 7 students were on the SEND register with a ‘K code’ for MLD (moderate learning difficulties) as they required additional in-class support but nothing specific was diagnosed.

In an attempt to try and better support these students, our Sendco, in partnership with the trust’s director of SEND, led an audit and assessment process of pupils and reduced this number by 75 per cent.

Furthermore, MLD was recategorised as speech, language and communication needs (SLCN); social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs; or a specific learning difficulty (SpLD), so we could shape our provision to be more suitable.

This also meant we could spot those students who would benefit from being put on to an EHCP.

There are many reasons why some students who should have an EHCP don’t. Sometimes there is a lack of awareness of the processes to follow; how teachers can refer students to the SEN team.

Occasionally, there can be a lack of evidence, with these children frequently missing because of emotionally based school avoidance.

Delays in applications

We currently have 25 students with EHCPs and have another five applications agreed in principle. We are in the process of applying for a further 12 EHCPs, and the SEND team have identified a further 15 children who could be eligible.

That would more than double our current number of EHCPs and if all applications are approved, we would receive a further £180,000 in funding.

That would be a big benefit to these pupils and how we can support them - but it can take a long time for these applications to be processed. With finite pots of cash, the threshold for funding decisions seems to be getting higher and higher.

In fact, there is a huge backlog waiting to be assessed and agreed, and some children will finish school before a decision is made….


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