Education Lawyers Welcome Call to Improve SEND System

8th October 2019

A stark report commissioned by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman released today has highlighted that families with children with SEND are facing lengthy delays and are being forced to fight for what their child is entitled to.

Under the current system, children with SEND may be assessed for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, which is used to ensure that a youngster's needs are met in each of these areas as they grow up.

Council chiefs have said that the findings of the report supports their concerns that Local Authorities are at risk of not being able to meet their legal duties to SEND children; a concern echoed by leading Education Lawyers.

Sarah Woosey, a Partner and Education Lawyer at Simpson Millar said, “We are not surprised with the Ombudsman’s experience around SEND. We are regularly instructed by families who have been denied access to services that they are legally entitled to in both education and social care.

“We are busier than we have ever been with such work and see a lot of cases being fully contested which, in previous years, we would have been able to settle quickly and sensibly with Local Authorities.

“The funding going into Local Authorities and into education is simply not enough to ensure that these families have the services they are entitled to and that is extremely worrying.”

An FOI conducted by Simpson Millar revealed that in 2019, 1644 children with EHC’s in place in England did not receive notification of their secondary school deadline by the legal deadline, leaving many in limbo.

Sarah added, “We have some children who were due to start secondary school in September but the delays issuing decisions means appeals are still ongoing in the SEND Tribunal currently. The Tribunal is prioritising these appeals, but they too are seeing unprecedented numbers of appeals.

“Other issues we see include some families who have waited almost 10 months for a decision following annual review of their child’s EHC.

“This can be resolved relatively quickly by Judicial Review proceedings but parents don’t immediately contact Solicitors and so there are no updates or amendments to provision over the course of a year so they continue to either go without provision or with inappropriate provision for their needs year after year potentially.

“In some cases the children we represent are actually forced out of mainstream education, not because mainstream education was inherently unsuitable, but because of delays in receiving an EHC which means that the school does not have the ability to access the necessary resource to meet their needs.  

“In cases such as this they face long periods of absenteeism from schools whilst an appeal is processed which inevitably has a detrimental impact on both their educational needs and their mental health.

“We hope that this report will shine more light on the issue, so Local Authorities can take responsibility for letting these children down and take action to improve the system going forward.”

 

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